* Hearing for April 30

The Supreme Court has invited the Attorney General of the Federation(AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) and some others senior lawyers to offer expert opinions in relation to an oil spill case brought against the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Also invited as amici curiae (friends of the court) are President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Abubakar Mahmud, one of his processors, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) and Z.A Nwosu (SAN).

The case in which the Supreme Court seeks the lawyers’ opinions is an appeal filed by a group, Centre for Oil Pollution Watch (COPW) in relation to an oil spill recorded in Abia State in 2006, which allegedly caused damage to the environment and aquatic life.

COPW started the case before the Federal High Court in Lagos, with the NNPC as defendant.

It was the plaintiff’s case at the trial court that the spillage was from some NNPC’s oil pipelines and that it destroyed the Ineh and Aku streams in Isuikwuato Local Government of Abia State.

The group claimed that the Ineh and Aku streams were the only sources of water supply to Acha community.

The plaintiff also claimed that the spillage destroyed the aquatic lives in the streams and the community’s source of potable water.

It stated that the NNPC only stopped the leakage but failed to do a clean-up of the environment, leaving the inhabitants of the affected community to continue to use the polluted water because there was no alternative water supply.

The prayed the Federal High Court to compel the NNPC to clean the contaminated environment in Acha community of Isuikwuato Local Government of Abia State.

The NNPC objected to the plaintiff’s case, challenged its locus standi (its right to initiate the suit) and urged the court to dismiss the siut.

In its judgment, the Federal High Court upheld NNPC’s objection and dismissed the suit on the grounds that the plaintiff was without locus standi, a decision the group appealed at the Court of Appeal, Lagos.

In its judgment on January 28, 2013, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Federal High Court and dismissed the appeal, prompting COPW to approach the Supreme Court.

When the case came up on Monday, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, who is leading a new panel of seven Justices said although the appeal was earlier heard by a five-man panel of the court, the need to re-hear the case arose during a routine conference held on it by the Justices of the court.

He said the Justices also agreed at the conference to invite amici curiae.

Beside the AGF, who was represented by the Solicitor-General of the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, others attended yesterday’s proceedings. Apata said Malami was outside the country.

Justice Onnoghen, however announced the postponement of the hearing scheduled for Monday.

He said “certain developments” which occurred “over the weekend” (without any explanation) accounts for the postponement.

The CJN said the appeal would now be heard de novo (afresh) on April 30.

Mahmud was however, not comfortable with the CJN’s sudden change of schedule.

The NBA President said he had to cancel an important engagement to make it to the court on Monday.

He urged the court’s Registry to always endeavour to notify parties before hand about such sudden change of schedule.

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  1. Interesting case indeed. Similar class action was before the Appeal Court in the UK brought by a community in rivers State against Shell -BP which was dismiss as UK Shell-BP not Shell-BP Nigeria.
    The Group – Centre for Action against oil pollution should have taken cue from the oil pollution class action in USA between the BP and the inhabitants of the affected state before filing their action.

    The action should be a class action in conjunction with the Acha Community of Isukwoato Local Government of Abia State. The Court should also consider the association of the group with the Acha Community and whether the group is registered as a group for the purposes of representing the communities. The court should also consider the wider impact of such damage to the communities especially where it affected the most essential utilities of life such as water supply to the communities.

    The locus standi of this group will be in doubt if not Acha Community as a co-Claimants. Is the group a legal entity established by law to represent in that capacity? There are so much questions to answer before jumping the hurdle of locus standi in this matter. The Acha Communities can in alternative come before the court in a class action in their own right to complain.