By Israel Umoh
After expiration of a 40-year-old tenancy on the soil of Akwa Ibom State, Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN) now called ExxonMobil is battling multiple court cases to avoid being ejected from its operational headquarters at Qua Iboe Terminal, Ibeno in the state, Straightnews can authoritatively reveal.
Information gathered by Straightnews shows that in 1969 MPN arrived at the shores of the then South Eastern State in which Akwa Ibom State was part, the conglomerate entered into a lease agreement with the government and the host community on July 11, 1970 for 40 years’ interval.
Col. Esuene signed the lease agreement
The anonymous source told Straightnews that ”Col Udoakaha Jacob Esuene, then military governor of South Eastern State signed the agreement between the state government and Mobil Producing Nigeria, a company engaged in exploration and production of petroleum and the Eket people from Eket, Esit Eket and Ibeno Local Government Areas.”
In the legal document in possession of Straightnews, Michael Okon Ani, OFR, then Secretary to the Military Government in the presence of Akpanika M. Ikot, Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, South Eastern State signed for the state government.
John Jacob Browne, General Manager, Mobil Producing Nigeria and James L. Burton, Secretary, Mobil producing Nigeria signed for the conglomerate.
Straightnews sees in the document that ”Under revision periods, subject to paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (2) 8 of the aforesaid State Lands Law, rent shall be revised every 20 (twenty) years.’’
One of the options to extend or renew, according to the lease agreement, is ”If the lessee not less than three months before the expiration of this lease gives a written notice to the Governor that it wishes to extend or renew the lease, such lease will be extended or renewed for a further term of forty years on the same terms and conditions as set out in this lease, save this right of extension or renewal.’’
”The Lessee has, upon the execution of these presents, paid to the Governor the sum of £95,256 (ninety-five thousand, two hundred and fifty-six pounds) being prepaid rent in respect of the parcel hereby demised representing fifteen years ending on the first day of February, 1985…,’’ the document states.
Ebiye, Attah, Akpabio issued Certificate of Occupancy
”However, Group Captain John Ebiye, then military administrator of Akwa Ibom, set the ball rolling by issuing Certificate of Occupancy to MPN for 99 years.
”Before the lease agreement expired in 2010, Obong Victor Attah who ruled Akwa Ibom from 1999 to 2007 had issued another Certificate of Occupancy to MPN to last for 99 years.
”In 2003, Attah issued Certificate of Occupancy no. IBE/16/2003 to the company. By then, MPN had seven more years to renew another lease agreement. This underscored that fact that there was a lease agreement that was to lapse in 2010.
”Normally, the government should not have signed the Certificate of Occupancy for the company. It was an administrative error. You cannot issue a Certificate of Occupancy to an individual or company that has no title document or deed of conveyance on any land but only a lease agreement,’’ a lawyer told Straightnews.
”Owing to foot-dragging in renewing the agreement, Eket, Esit Eket and Ibeno as host communities also filed a suit at High Court, Eket compelling the conglomerate to renew the agreement with them.
”In a suit no. HEK/7/2018 filed in January 2018, the plaintiffs want to claim N500 billion renewal fee of new lease agreement from the defendant (ExxonMobil) to last for 50 years, N10 billion for damages/trespass and N100 million as cost of action.’’
Mr. Kanu Agabi, SAN, a one-time Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation is lawyer defending the rights of the host communities.
The source told Straightnews that ”Unfortunately, with three years for MPN to go, Chief Godswill Akpabio who ruled Akwa Ibom from 2007 to 2015 issued another Certificate of Occupancy to ExxonMobil to last for 99 years.’’
However, the source also said ”In 2015, Governor Emmanuel wrote to ExxonMobil demanding the company to pay about $100 billion to the government as renewal fee for the lease agreement. Yet, the company was grand-standing.
Governor Udom revokes the Certificate of Occupancy
”On discovering that the Ebiye, Attah and Akpabio administrations had issued Certificates of Occupancy to ExxonMobil to last 99 years each, Emmanuel had on November 1, 2017 issued REVOCATION OF CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY no. IBE/2/98 that put an end to the avalanche of certificates of occupancy.’’
In the letter, the Governor averred ”Whereas by a Certificate No. IBE/2/98 issued under the hand of Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria dated the 31st day of March, 1998, which Certificate was registered as No. 1 at Page 1 in Volume 152 of the Lands Registry Office in Uyo it was certified that Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, formerly known as Mobil Producing Nigeria Limited, incorporated under Companied Decree 1968 as No. 6284 dated 16th June, 1969, whose head office is at Mobil House, Lekki Express Way, Victoria Island, Lagos State of Nigeria, was granted Statutory Right of Occupancy in and over the land described and more particularly delineated on Survey Plan No. AK/UQ.7 (Tracing No. AKU.281 A) containing an area of approximately 551.273 hectares in Plot Nos. ‘A’ and ‘B’ (Fronting Douglas Creek) at Ibeno, Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria.
‘‘And WHEREAS the said Certificate of Occupancy is null and void having been issued in error and not in accordance with the provisions of the Land Use Act 1978 Act, Cap L5, Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2010.
”NOW THEREFORE, in furtherance of the powers conferred on me by the Land Use Act, I hereby revoke with effect from the 1st day of November, 2017 the said Right of Occupancy,’’ the Governor added.
”Thereafter, on April 18, 2018, the state government issued ExxonMobil a seven-day Notice to Quit. On April 27, 2018, the government issued Notice of Owners Intention to recover its possessions from the conglomerate. Yet, MPN has not vacated the land nor renewed the lease agreement. At the moment, ExxonMobil remains illegal occupant at Qua Iboe Terminal, Ibeno,’’ a lawyer who did not want his name in print told Straightnews.
Akwa Ibom gives ExxonMobil a 7-day Quit Notice
Dr. Charles D. Mekwunye of Charles Mekwunye & Co, 13 A Niger Street off Aso Road, Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos, is the leading lawyer for the plaintiff.
In a letter dated 18th April, 2018 and entitled SEVEN DAYS NOTICE TO QUIT routed to the Chairman and Managing Director of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, An ExxonMobil Subsidiary, Mobil House, Lekki Expressway, Victoria Island, Lagos, Mekwunye wrote ”We act as Solicitors to the Akwa Ibom State Government of Nigeria (‘the Lessor’) and on her behalf do hereby give you SEVEN DAYS notice to quit and deliver up possession of the land situate at the mouth of the Qua Iboe River, on the East bank, measuring about 9.899 (nine point eight-nine-nine) acres, which was leased to you by the then South-Eastern State of Nigeria (now Akwa Ibom State) for a period of forty (40) years which took effect on the 17th of July, 1970 and was duly registered as No. 1 at Page 1 in Volume 12, CAL/SDR/SES/200/70-71 of the register of deeds kept in the lands registry, at the office in Calabar now kept at the land registry in Uyo in Akwa Ibom State, for which the term of years granted has expired by effluxion of time on the 16th of July, 2010 and which you now unlawfully hold over as a tenant at sufferance.’’
Government gives Notice of owner’s intention to apply to recover possession
After non-compliance with the letter, Mekwunye, lawyer to the plaintiff wrote again to the Chairman and Managing Director of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, An ExxonMobil Subsidiary, Mobil House, Lekki Expressway, Victoria Island, Lagos.
In the letter dated 27th April, 2018 and entitled: NOTICE OF OWNER’S INTENTION TO APPLY TO RECOVER POSSESSION, he wrote ”We act as Solicitors to the Akwa Ibom State Government of Nigeria (‘the Lessor’) and on her behalf do hereby give you NOTICE that unless you peaceable possession of the land situate at the mouth of the Qua Iboe River, on the East bank, measuring about 9.899 (nine point eight-nine-nine) acres, which was leased to you by the then South-Eastern State of Nigeria (now Akwa Ibom State) for a period of forty (40) years which took effect on the 17th of July, 1970 and was duly registered as No. 1 at Page 1 in Volume 12, CAL/SDR/SES/200/70-71 of the register of deeds kept in the lands registry, at the office in Calabar now kept at the land registry in Uyo in Akwa Ibom State, for which the term of years granted has expired by effluxion of time on the 16th of July, 2010. And which you now hold over unlawfully as a tenant at sufferance be given to the said lessor on or before the expiration of SEVEN (7) DAYS after the service of this notice on you, we shall on Monday the 7th day of May apply to the appropriate court to enter and recover possession of the said land and eject any persons therefrom.’’
Though the quit notice had expired, the state government and the conglomerate have not reached a compromise, making the status quo to remain till date.
According to an anonymous source, ”Subsequently, the government filed a suit at Eket High Court to eject the company from the land since it has failed to comply with the government’s order in the suit no. HEK/49/2018, claiming more than $100 billion lease agreement from the company.’’
Lucius Nwosu, SAN is the lawyer representing Ibeno community on the matter while Dr. Eyinofe Atake, SAN of Eyinofe Atake & CO, 16A Oladimeji, Alo Street, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos, Nigeria, is the leading defendant’s lawyer.
To pacify the situation, the state government is said to have built and inaugurated Dakkada Towers along Banking Layout in Uyo and appealed to ExxonMobil to relocate its operational headquarters to the state capital.
ExxonMobil disclaims government as its landlord
But in a dramatic manner, ExxonMobil is alleged to have disclaimed the state government as its landlord and declared support for Eket communities comprising Eket, Esit Eket and Ibeno as its landlords.
Meanwhile, the court cases between the plaintiffs and the defendant are still pending in the High Court, Eket awaiting final determination and perhaps appeal.