By John Ameh
A High Court in Benue State has given an interim injunction ordering Dangote
Coal Mines Ltd to stop its split mining operation at Effeche-Akpali pending the determination of the substantive case.
The court, presided over by His Lordship, Honourable Justice D.E. Igoh of the Benue State Judicial Division Holden at Okpoga, Okpokwu LGA, Benue-South Senatorial District of Benue State, granted the interim injunction on 10th September 2020 in the case between Chief Joseph Moro and four others as plaintiffs and Dangote Coal Mines Ltd as sole defendant.
In the suit No. OKP/HC/11/2020, Justice Igoh held that he found merit in the application having perused the motion ex-parte, the supporting affidavits and exhibits as well as the written address.
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He therefore gave an order of interim injunction restraining Dangote Coal Mines Ltd from carrying out any mining activities, exploration” in the territory or farmland of the plaintiffs as a result of the contamination of the communal source of water, River Umabe, pending the hearing and determination of motion on notice.
In the order, which was obtained by National Record, Justice Igoh declared: “I find merit in the application which is granted as follows: An order of interim injunction shall be restraining the Defendant, his servants, agents, privies or any other person claiming through him, from carrying out any mining activities, exploration on the territory/farm lands of the plaintiffs which has caused contamination of the communal River (Mabel River) that serves several communities, pending the hearing and determination of motion on notice vide OKP/HC/31M/2020, adjourned to 13/10/2020 for hearing.
Dangote Violating Order
Although granted over a week ago, Dangote Coal Mines Ltd is still carrying on with the coal exploration in violation of the order, our correspondent who was at the mining site yesterday and today (Thursday and Friday), reported.
Our correspondent also confirmed that with the company going on with the mining exploration, the attendant pollution of Rivers Umabe and Okpokwu as well as Okollo Stream which several communities depend on for drinking, domestic and other uses, continues to intensify unabated.
When contacted via whatsapp message if he was aware of the interim injunction, the Admin Manager at the mining site, Mr Nuhu Eluja, simply told National Record: “I will confirm. Have a great weekend.”
Further inquiries through text and phone call to confirm our information that the company’s lawyer was in court when the order was granted failed as Mr Eluja neither responded to the text nor picked our call.
Similarly, when reached, the Head of Corporate Communication, Northern Region, Mr Jibrin Abubakar, told National Record that he is not aware of the injunction and that if given him, he would try to reach the Chief Corporate Communications Manager in Lagos, Mr Anthony Chiejina. Although the order was immediately sent to Mr Jibrin via whatsapp, he however had not responded as at the time of going to press, almost three hours after he got it.
However, one of the plaintiffs in the matter, who pleaded anonymity as he was not authorised to speak on the court case, told our correspondent that though the lawyer may have told the company, the company may not have been officially served with the court order.
Asked how he came about that information, he stated that he asked a court official who told him that the court had not approved the transport allowance for the court bailiff who is to serve the company as at last Thursday (yesterday). He said the order is likely to be served either on Friday or Monday, next week.
Origin of the Case: A N500 Million Suit
It could be recalled that Akpali Community in Ugbokolo Ward of Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State slammed a N500 million suit against Dangote Coal Mines Limited for environmental degradation and unlawful trespass.
The suit was filed on Monday, July 20, 2020 (not Tuesday, August 18, 2020 as previously reported) in the Benue Judicial Division, which granted an exparte order for substituted service on Dangote on July 2020.
The plaintiffs in the suit include Chief Joseph Moro, the Clan Head of Akpali Community; Akpali Ai-Agbidi Development Association; Mr Sunday Agbidi, President General of Ai-Agbidi Development Association; Owoicho Clement, Chairman, Home Branch of Ai-Agbidi Development Association; and Mike Inalegwu, Youth President of Akpali Community.
The plaintiffs in their four-point prayers are asking the court for a declaration that the act and conduct of Dangote Coal Mines Limited constitutes invasion of their territory/farm lands for mining purposes without the due consent of Akpali Community and its people who farm on the land.
Asserting that the act is unlawful, illegal, unconstitutional and a trespass into their territory and farm lands; they asked for an order of perpetual injunction directing Dangote Coal Mines Ltd to vacate their territory/farm land in addition to paying a court-awarded order for general damages in the sum of N500,000,000.00 (Five Hundred Million Naira only) payable to the plaintiffs and their people for wrongful penetration or invasion into their farm lands and as well as contamination of their main sources of water.
Genesis of Pollution
Dangote Coal Mines Limited, a subsidiary of Dangote Group of Companies, has since March this year been engaged in the strip mining of coal in the community at Efeche-Akpali.
Since the mining exploration commenced, several communities spanning four local government areas who depend majorly on Okollo Stream, River Umabe, and River Okpokwu have been crying out that Dangote’s mining activities have polluted these rivers thereby endangering their lives and denying them a key source for their social and economic existence since the rivers are sources of water for drinking, domestic, agricultural and other usages.
Apart from the case between the company and the host community of Akpali, several other communities from the four local government areas in Benue South Senatorial District, namely Okpokwu, Ohimini, Otukpo and Ado are currently working together for a class action litigation arising from the ecological degradation and pollution of these Rivers Umabe and Okpkwu as well as Okollo Stream.