By John Ameh

THE rural community of Akpali in Ugbokolo Ward of Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State has slammed a N500 million suit against Dangote Coal Mines Limited for environmental degradation and unlawful trespass.

The suit was filed on Tuesday (yesterday) in the Okpoga Judicial Division of Benue State High Court, which has fixed Tuesday, October 13, 2020 for mention.

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 then, several communities have been crying out on the claim that the mining activities have polluted their main sources of water for drinking, domestic, agricultural and other usages.

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The plaintiffs in the N500 million 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 in invading their territory/farm lands for mining purposes without the due consent of Akpali Community and its people who farm on the land, is unlawful, illegal, unconstitutional and a trespass; an order of perpetual injunction directing the defendant to vacate their territory/farm lands forthwith; an order awarding general damages of the sum of N500,000,000.00 (Five Hundred Million Naira only) against the defendant in favour of the plaintiffs and their people for wrongful penetration/invasion into their farm lands and territory without their consent being first sought and obtained; and the cost of the action in the sum of N1,000,000.00 (One Million Naira only) for filing, services and maintaining this suit.

In a 13-paragraph affidavit he deposed to, Chief Joseph Moro, the Clan Head of Akpali Community, asserted, among other things, the following:

“That the subject matter of this suit is an unlawful trespass of the plaintiffs’ territory/farms land in Efeche-Akpali in Okpokwu L.G.A. of Benue State, within the jurisdiction of the Honourable Court.

“That sometimes in March, 2020, the Defendant approached Akpali Ai-Agbidi Community and expressed its interest in mining of coal in Efeche-Akpali and was to come to the Chief’s palace to discuss the modality only to surreptitiously go behind the Plaintiffs and discussed with a faction/one kindred group as against the Chief representing the whole community.

“That in furtherance to the above paragraph, a purported agreement was said to have been drafted and executed between the defendant and “Efeeche Akpali Community” represented by four persons namely, Mr. Samuel Ameh, Onoja Patrick, Monday Okoh and Emmanuel Ogah to the exclusion of the plaintiffs and their people…

“That in compliance with the above purported agreement, some amount of money was said to have been paid to  one Mr. Samuel Ameh, alongside with 3 others who jointly executed the said agreement with the defendant, namely, Onoja Patrick, Monday Okoh and Emmanuel Ogah to the exclusion of the plaintiffs and their people who equally farm on the  communal land.

“That the said land belongs to the whole community and not a particular kindred as it has been a tradition that any discovery on a communal land, the proceeds of such sale or lease of such, shall be benefited by all members of the community from such negations among the community, the kindred and the Development Association that is in charge of the welfare and security of the entire community.

“That the entire negotiations and compensation was characterised by infidelity, fraud and done in bad faith as neither the Community Head nor any of the Plaintiffs or their representatives was made a party to the transaction.

“That the commencement of the said mining of coal has caused flood and environmental degradation to the farmers in the community as their farm lands were seriously damaged.

“That upon the plaintiffs’ discovery of the above shady deal, they immediately expressed their total displeasure via a formal letter of demand dated 28th day of May, 2020 written by their solicitors, (Star-Lane Attorneys & Associates) and served the defendant, calling for a holistic review and readjustment of the entire transaction in order to prevent further crises in the community but the said letter was not honoured by the defendant as the defendant never took any step in furtherance of peace. The said letter of demand is hereby pleaded and shall be relied upon during trial.

“That members of the community are fomenting trouble and if nothing is done timorously, the mining in the territory of the plaintiffs will create serious security and environmental challenges.”

While our correspondent initially gathered from a source in Akpali Community that the relevant officers of the defendant, Dangote Coal Mines Limited, were evading service, we however gathered from the mining site at Efeche-Akpali, just before going to press, that the company has been served at the Lagos headquarters of Dangote Group, from where a copy was dispatched to the mining site at Efeche. Efforts to reach the plaintiff’s counsel proved abortive as at press time.

On Monday, National Record had reported that several communities spread across four local government areas in Benue South Senatorial District are in various stages of preparation for litigation arising from the ecological degradation and pollution of three main rivers on which they depend.

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