The Opu-Nembe Kingdom of Bayelsa State, one of the host communities of OML 29, has described as shocking the “provocattive statement” credited to the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, that the legal redress sought by the community in Bayelsa over renewal of the OML 29 lease would not affect the licensing process or disrupt oil production.
Kachikwu who spoke on the sidelines of the just concluded Nigeria Oil and Gas Opportunities in Yenagoa noted that he was yet to be served the court processes.
He said the disagreement between the operators of the oil bloc and members of the host communities had no bearing with the licencing process.
Reacting to a question on the position of the government on the litigation, kachikwu had said the process would go on as scheduled.
“To start with, I have not been served with the court processes and the case cannot affect oil production,” he had said. “We cannot halt oil production because there is a disagreement with the community.”
But the legal counsel to Opu-Nembe Kingdom, Iniruo Wills, faulted the Minister’s claim.
Wills, who is also President of the Ijaw Professionals Association (Homeland chapter), said: “That is a careless lie and a shocking disregard for the legal process and rule of law.
“It unveils the Minister’s sheer contempt for oil producing communities of the Niger Delta, and is extremely insensitive coming from such a highly placed public policy executive, especially a very senior lawyer, for its obvious potential to provoke host communities to take matters into their own hands, which we do not encourage and must do everything to avoid, including the plaintiff communities’ adoption of the legal process that Ibe Kachikwu is now thumbing his nose at.”
It would be recalled that the people of Opu-Nembe (Nembe-Bassambiri) in Bayelsa State on March 26 urged the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, to halt the renewal of lease for OML 29 to Aiteo pending the outcome of a substantive suit before the court.
The development is sequel to plans by the Minister of Petroleum Resources to renew the lease of OML 29 oil block to Aiteo for $82 million without regard to the position of the community in Suit No. FHC/YNG/CS/62/2015.
The plaintiffs are Ikaonaworio Eferebo-Igoma, Iyerite Chiefson Awululu-Atubu, Ayebaesin Edoghotu-Omoh, Markson Amaegbe-Orutari, B.C. Benwari-Yousuo and Doibo Evans representing OML 29 host communities.
The defendants are Attorney-General of the Federation, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Federal Ministry of Environment and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.
Others are Aiteo Exploration and Production Ltd, Attorney-General of Bayelsa State and The Deeds Registrar, Bayelsa State Ministry of Lands.
The application sought an order restraining the Minister of Petroleum Resources from granting any application for the renewal of OML 29 “beyond the subsisting 30-year term”.