A 47-year old Nigerian, Mr. Friday Okolo (Photo 1: left) has sued an indigenous Nigerian Oil & Gas company, another defendant and a third party for illegal entry, continuous trespass and consequent drilling of oil and gas on his private land without paying compensation.
The opposing parties in the lawsuit are Midwestern Oil and Gas Company Limited (the first defendant), Chief Sunday Ochonogor, a native doctor and herbalist (the second defendant) who is sued in his personal capacity and on behalf of the Umuachi Family of Umusadege Quarters in Kwale, Delta State and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) sued in the corporation’s capacity and on behalf of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources (the third party).
According to the Writ of Summons filed at the Federal High Court Headquarters sitting in Abuja, by an Abuja based human rights lawyer, oil & gas attorney, author, legal writer/scholar and a political scientist, Nnamdi Ebo Esq., on behalf of Mr. Friday Okolo, a native of Kwale (the plaintiff), his lawyer asked the defendants and the third party to enter appearance for the lawsuit so that the plaintiff can prove his case at the trial of the action in open court.
In his statement of claim, Mr. Friday Okolo alleged that in 1998, while living and working in Lagos as an electrical rewirer, he purchased outrightly, two plots of land from Chief Sunday Ochonogor (the 2nd defendant) of 14 May Overe Street, Kwale in Delta State. According to the aggrieved Kwale man, the land is along 36/38 Kwale-Ozoro Expressway, Kwale formerly Oleh/Ogwashi Uku express Road in Utagba Ogbe, Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State.
Photo 2: Midwestern Oil & Gas 30,000 BOPD Central Processing Facility in Kwale, Delta State.
Mr. Friday Okolo claims that he has possessory title and possessory rights to the private landed property which he pleaded and is confident that he will prove both possessory title and possessory rights at the trial of the lawsuit in Abuja.
Mr. Friday Okolo averred that Chief Sunday Ochonogor sold the said land to him in an outright purchase for a consideration. The plaintiff further averred in his pleadings that he has, in exclusive possession, all the formal, relevant, necessary and legal documents, original documents certified and endorsed by all the professionals accredited with the land deal who all superintended the contractual agreement with its attendant obligations to the bilateral commitment to the land sale and transfer between him and the second defendant.
Mr. Friday Okolo further averred that the said land was sold to him from the portion of land allocated to Chief Sunday Ochonogor (an elder of Umuachi family kindred) under the Ukwani Customary Land Tenure by Chief Sunday Ochonogor himself of Umuachi Family and the Umuachi Family were aware of the land transaction which culminated in the sale and transfer by Chief Sunday Ochonogor in 1998.
Mr. Friday Okolo averred that when he purchased the land from Chief Sunday Ochonogor with the knowledge of his Umuachi family members, Chief Sunday Ochonogor put him into physical possession of the land some time in June 5, 1998 in the presence of three men: Ofuokwu Columbus, Ossai Friday and the late Opochi Ochonogor the brother of Chief Sunday Ochonogor.
In his statement of claim, Mr. Friday Okolo said that in March of 2012, he noticed a trespass on his land and the exploitation of oil and gas resources therein and discovered to his chagrin that without his consent and permission, Chief Sunday Ochonogor and other members of the Umuachi family had leased out his private land to Midwestern Oil and Gas and encouraged the oil and gas company to trespass onto his private land and the oil and gas company commenced physical drilling activities on his two plots-portion of land without his permission.
The Plaintiff averred that he did not permit and/or authorize the 2nd Defendant or anybody whatsoever to make any deal on his land, on his behalf. He challenged the 2nd Defendant and the 2nd Defendant pleaded with him and proposed to give him another land in Kwale, an offer he flatly refused and rejected outright.
The Plaintiff averred that this continuous and sustained trespass is carrying on with impunity by Midwestern Oil and Gas (the first Defendant), who is currently drilling oil/gas on the plaintiff’s land armed with an Oil Mining Lease/Oil Mining Licence – in the oil wells: UMU-10, UMU-11 and UMU-12 located at the Oil Mining Lease designated OML 56 in Umusadege after surreptitiously entering and obtaining the plaintiff’s land by deception in collusion with the 2nd Defendant and the Umuachi family kindred of Kwale, Delta State.
Map 1: OML 56 Umusadege Field Location | Operated by Midwestern Oil & Gas.
Sequel to field activities, Midwestern Oil & Gas commenced operations in 2001 and upstream activities in 2005, and following a steep learning curve for field development, the first oil was achieved by Midwestern Oil & Gas and her stakeholders at the Umusadege field in April, 2008 at flow rates of some 3,000 barrels of oil equivalent (bold) from re-entry of the Umusadege-1 well, and this has rapidly been increased to approximately 15,000 bopd through additional development drilling on private land belonging to Mr. Friday Okolo without paying any compensation to him whatsoever.
Map 2: UMU-11 Well Spud in Umusadege Field, location of Umusadege field in OPL 283 | Operated by Midwestern Oil & Gas.
In the statement of claim, Mr. Friday Okolo averred that it was on the 15th day of April, 2008 that the Midwestern Oil & Gas began the illegal/unlawful occupation of his private land in Umusadege in Kwale, Delta State, and on that date, the oil and gas company perpetrated the continuous trespass and drilling of oil on his land without let or hindrance, without paying any compensation or annual rent to him.
The Kwale man averred that with the permit and license (i.e., authorizations) issued by the third party/Ministry of Petroleum Resources (unwittingly) to the 1st Defendant, the 1st Defendant undertook expropriation: taking his property, depriving him of his property and changing the character of his land without his permission – in cahoots with the 2nd Defendant and the Umuachi family kindred.
The plaintiff also included two subpoenas to be served on two officials of Midwestern Oil & Gas at their head office in Lagos and their operational base in Kwale Delta State respectively. There are other tools of trial advocacy at his lawyer’s disposal including two motions against Midwestern Oil & Gas, the colluding trespasser drilling oil/gas on private land without permission, or paying compensation, annual rents, benefits and other payments, whatsoever, therein – which is obtaining in all oil producing communities, on every communal or private land – where there is oil/gas in the Niger Delta.
In his claim, the plaintiff is seeking the recovery of possession or damages for collusion and fraud antecedent to conducting oil business consecutively, and continuous trespass on private land without permission. In addition, the plaintiff is claiming from the defendants jointly and severally, 6 (six) declarations and 12 (twelve) reliefs including particular claims against Midwestern Oil & Gas (the first defendant), for various damages/reliefs – to Mr. Friday Okolo (the plaintiff).
Some of the declarations being sought by the plaintiff include the following: that the Plaintiff is the beneficial owner of all that area of land measuring approximately 1037.955 square meters being and lying at Oleh/Ogwuashi Uku Express Road, Umusadege Quarters, Utagba Ogbe in Ndokwa West LGA of Delta State.
That the third party/Ministry of Petroleum Resources ought to have vetted Midwestern Oil & Gas’ claims to land during the exploration bidding rounds for the 70% oil and gas interest in Umusadege Field with a diversified portfolio of hydrocarbon assets located in OML 56 – on a portion of private land belonging to the plaintiff; and that all that parcel of land on which the 1st Defendant is currently drilling oil is not communal land.
Before filing the suit Mr. Friday Okolo and his lawyer Barr. Nnamdi Ebo had written a one month pre-action notice of intention to commence the suit dated July 30, 2018 and served upon NNPC/Ministry of Petroleum Resources (the third party) clearly and explicitly stating the cause of action, the particulars of the claim, the name and place of contact of the intending plaintiff and the relief which he claims.
Mr. Friday Okolo also sent a petition through his lawyer demanding justice – to Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu the Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources, who is also the Chairman of the NNPC Board and the Odogwu of Onitsha-Ugbo – to intervene and stop the injustice in Kwale which caused the insufferable living standard of the petitioner, Mr. Friday Okolo, which is being severely downgraded continuously since March of 2012, by the dispossession of his hard-earned acquisition of private land in 1998 by Mid Western Oil and Gas in cahoots with Chief Sunday Ochonogor/Umuachi Family in his hometown of Kwale, Delta State – in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Mr. Friday Okolo averred that Midwestern Oil & Gas has paid compensation and continues to pay annual rent, pledges, dues, benefits and other sundry payments to Chief Sunday Ochonogor/Umuachi family kindred as “landlords” for more than a decade, even after Chief Sunday Ochonogor had sold his own portion of land to him and surreptitiously came back on the rebound to join his Umuachi family kindred to enjoy and benefit from the same land he had earlier disposed of as a landowner and vendor to him (Mr. Friday Okolo) in 1998.
The Plaintiff on three occasions notified the 1st Defendant that he is the owner of the said parcel of land and made several representations to the 1st Defendant about his interest in the land on 30th July, 2012, 27th March, 2013 and 5th August, 2013. He filed two lawsuits against the defendants at the Delta State High Court, Kwale and one lawsuit at the Federal High Court, Asaba on the matter, as a land case, all to no avail. The plaintiff pleaded the said representations and lawsuits which he will rely upon at the trial of the lawsuit in Abuja.
Photos 3: 1st & 2nd pages – The Writ of Summons filed by Mr. Friday Okolo’s lawyer on his behalf at the Federal High Court Headquarters sitting in Abuja, Nigeria.
Mr. Friday Okolo has fled his hometown of Kwale in Delta State and is in hiding because there have been series of threats to his life. In the course of fighting for what belongs to him, the Kwale man, his relation Uche Ochade Issiah and three others were arrested and committed to Kwale Prison from February 5, 2018 to March 14, 2018 on trumped up charges by the police in Kwale, and on Friday August 17, 2018 his kindred elder, Chief John Agha, was arrested by the police in Kwale and has been thrown into Kwale prison on trumped up charges.
According to Mr. Friday Okolo, he is presently and continuously undergoing humiliation, his life has been threatened several times and he cannot go back home to his hometown of Kwale because his life is in danger and he believes that they will kill him. The aggrieved man claims that he has since been subjected to intimidation and harassment by unidentified alleged agents of Midwestern Oil & Gas and Chief Sunday Ochonogor who sold the land to him in 1998.
Mr. Friday Okolo told our reporter that he shunned demands by Kwale natives for militancy against Midwestern Oil & Gas and Chief Sunday Ochonogor, and has instead vowed that he will pursue his case of trespass and drilling oil and gas on his private land by deceit and obtaining his land by deception being currently perpetrated by Midwestern Oil & Gas in collusion with Chief Sunday Ochonogor – up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria –
– if that is what it will take to either retrieve/repossess/retake/take-back his legitimately acquired private landed property which he acquired in 1998 and be given back all his possessory rights and benefits therein; OR be paid his due and commensurate compensation by Midwestern Oil & Gas (according to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended), and be paid his due annual rents and benefits as obtained in the Niger Delta, which is currently being paid surreptitiously in his name – to the 2nd defendant/Umuachi Family – which payments, dues and benefits have been pending for more than a decade.
It is noteworthy that this lawsuit filed by Mr. Friday Okolo’s lawyer, Barr. Nnamdi Ebo, on his behalf, is the first time in the history and annals of oil exploitation in Nigeria, in which a trail of human misery and degradation occasioned by collusion, trespass and drilling oil/gas on community or private land without paying compensation, depriving the landowner or landowners of their land in the Niger Delta by deception, collusion and trespass, where an oil/gas company drilling oil/gas in the Niger Delta is not confronted or challenged by the prevalent violent militancy in the Niger Delta, but has been confronted and challenged by a legal process seeking justice in a Court of Law, without shedding human blood.
Photo 4: Federal High Court Headquarters, Abuja.
A date has not been set for the commencement/trial of this momentous lawsuit because the judges are still on break, to resume on the 17th of September, 2018. As early as the 24th of September, 2018, the lawsuit will be assigned to a judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria Headquarters sitting in Abuja. Indications are that the Supreme Court of Nigeria is Mr. Friday Okolo’s avowed aim and destination in case he is dissatisfied along the judicial road-step to find justice – in order to promote and seek his final justice.
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