Land acquisition: Court awards N82.7m against Total

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Justice Letam Nyordee of the High Court of Rivers State has awarded N82.7 million against Total Exploration & Production Nig. Limited, TEPNL as compensation for a claimant, Mr. Ken Ojiri, whose property was directly affected by the company’s gas pipeline and the mandatory setback.
In the suit filed by Ojiri against the oil exploration company, he claimed that his parcel of land measuring 13.642 plots covered with a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) located at Rukpokwu in Port Harcourt was unlawfully entered into by Total Exploration Nig. Ltd, without his permission.
According to him, he bought the said land for the purpose of establishing an oil service station and other businesses in January 2011 for N106,413,840 million.
Already, TEPNL has filed an appeal over the judgement, praying the court for a stay of action pending the determination of the appeal.
The Claimant, however, argued that in July 2011, the company with its estate surveyors “delineated a right of way and mounted survey beacons on the land without any form of notice”, claiming that the land had been jointly acquired by the Federal Government of Nigeria and Government of Rivers State for them to construct a high pressure gas pipeline, the Northern Option Pipeline (NOPL).
Ojiri submitted that there was no acquisition as neither the state nor the Federal Governments revoked his right of occupancy over the land till date.
He claimed further that a year after the acquisition, TEPNL offered him the sum of N1.5 million as the compensation for only 2.9584 plots of land and surface rights, even though the presence of the gas pipeline condemned the entire land.
He said that the controversies surrounding issue of compensation continued while the company mobilized Saipem Contracting Nigeria Limited, its contractor to forcefully enter the land and proceed with the construction of the high pressure gas pipeline with the aid of armed security men, which made him to file a suit No. PHC/1711/2012 against the company, praying among other things that the court declare that the Defendant being a private limited liability company, “has no right to compulsorily acquire, enter or embark on any form of activity pursuant to the Oil Pipeline Licence No. 1489 on any part of the Claimant’s land measuring 13.642 plots and situate at  Rukpokwu in Port Harcourt and covered by a Deed of Assignment dated 26th January, 2011 without the payment of the sum of N140,900,000.00 as compensation to the Claimant for the land as assessed and contained in the Professional Report dated 16th July, 2012 and N67,158.00 for surface right.”
Beside, he prayed the court to declare that the Claimant having purchased his land for business purpose is also entitled to compensation for loss of profit and expenses as a result of the Defendant’s interference with the Claimant’s land.
Delivering his judgement, Justice Nyordee found merit in the case, and held that there was no valid acquisition of the land and awarded the sum of N71,171,807.50 for 9 plots at the rate of N7,824,547.10 which was the price the claimant bought each plot in January 2011.
The court also awarded him the sum of N11.5 million being the cost the claimant incurred in prosecuting the case and a sum of N67,158.00 being the compensation for surface rights.
The court granted a 10% interest per annum on the judgment sums from February 23, 2018 until the entire sum is liquidated. 
The case lasted from 2012 to 2018, while Ojiri claimed he has been deprived of the use of the land from July 2011 till date, while the company continues to make profitable use of the land to convey gas and built a bar across the land and on the pipeline with an inscription “property of Total E & P Nigeria Limited” to prevent the use of any part of the pipeline as a thoroughfare or access road.

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