SERAP takes Buhari govt to ECOWAS Court over illegal pipelines, oil theft

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against the government of President Muhammadu Buhari over “the failure to probe the operations of illegal oil pipelines between 2001 and 2022, to name and prosecute those suspected to be involved, and to recover proceeds of crime.”

The suit was filed by SERAP, Chief Eric Dooh, (who is suing for himself as a leader of the Goi Community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, and on behalf of the Goi Community), and 15 other concerned Nigerians.

The suit followed recent reports of the discovery of at least 58 illegal oil pipelines used to steal the country’s oil wealth. The stealing is reportedly carried out through the illicit pipeline connected to the trunk line via an abandoned pipeline, and linked to a location in the high sea, where they load crude oil into vessels and sell overseas.

In the Suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/53/22 filed last Friday before the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja, the Plaintiffs are seeking: “an order directing and compelling the Buhari government to immediately probe the reports of operations of illegal pipelines and oil theft, name and prosecute suspected perpetrators.”

The Plaintiffs are also seeking: “an order directing and compelling the Buhari government to fully recover any proceeds of crime, and to respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of the people of Niger Delta that have continued to suffer the effects of oil theft by non-state actors.”


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In the suit, the Plaintiffs are arguing that, “The Buhari government is failing to uphold its international legal obligations to ensure that the country’s oil wealth is used solely for the benefit of Nigerians, and that the wealth does not end up in private pockets.”

The Plaintiffs are also arguing that, “Poor and socio-economically vulnerable Nigerians have continued to pay the price for the stealing of the country’s oil wealth apparently by both state and non-state actors.”

According to the Plaintiffs, “Despite the country’s substantial oil wealth, successive governments have largely squandered the opportunity to use the wealth to improve the lives and well-being of ordinary Nigerians.”

The Plaintiffs are also arguing that, “the illegal pipelines have been operated for many years without notice, implying a flagrant violation of international human rights obligations to ensure the proper, effective and efficient management of the country’s wealth and natural resources.”

In the suit filed on their behalf by their lawyer Kolawole Oluwadare, the Plaintiffs contend that, “The plundering of the country’s oil wealth has resulted in the downward trend in revenue and increasing level of borrowing, with reports of a projected N11.30 trillion deficit budget for 2023.”

The suit, read in part: “The unaddressed plundering of the country’s oil wealth has for many years contributed to shrinking revenue, chronic underfunding of public goods and services such as education, health, and safe drinking water, recurring budget deficits, growing level of borrowing, and unsustainable debt profile.”

“There are violations of the economic and social rights of the people of the Niger Delta including the rights to an adequate standard of living, and to economic and social development – as a consequence of the plundering of the country’s resources through the operations of illegal pipelines by non-state actors.”

“The Buhari government has failed to exercise due diligence to prevent and combat oil theft; to investigate and prosecute suspected perpetrators, and recover proceeds of crimes; and to respect, protect, promote and fulfil people’s rights.”

“The Plaintiffs contend that the resulting loss from the plundering of the country’s wealth and natural resources by non-state actors and state actors through the operations of illegal pipelines is a contributory cause of poverty and underdevelopment in the Niger Delta.”

“The Plaintiffs further contend that the majority of the people of Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole continue to be denied access to basic necessities of life such as clean water, quality education, healthcare, food, a clean and healthy environment, and economic development.”

“This illegal oil connection has been operating for nine (9) years with about 600,000 barrels per day of oil lost in the same period.”

“According to a Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) audit report, 160 million barrels of crude oil valued at $13.7 billion were stolen between 2009 and 2012.”

“The Plaintiffs contend that the destruction of vessels used for crude oil theft by security agencies under the command of the Defendant was illegal and was done to conceal the identity of the perpetrators.”

“It is further contended that the forfeiture of any vessel used for illegal activity can only be lawfully carried out pursuant to the order of a Court of competent jurisdiction.”

The Plaintiffs are therefore asking the ECOWAS Court for the following reliefs:

  1. A DECLARATION that everyone in the Niger Delta is entitled to the internationally recognized human right to an adequate standard of living, to life and human dignity, to a clean and healthy environment; to wealth and natural resources, to human dignity, and to economic and social development.
  2. A DECLARATION that the failure and/or negligence of the Defendant to prevent and combat oil theft through the operations of illegal pipelines by non-state actors, and to investigate, arrest, name and prosecute the perpetrators of this oil theft and operation of illegal refineries, and recover the proceeds of crime, is unlawful, as it violates Nigeria’s international human rights and anti-corruption obligations and commitments.
  3. A DECLARATION that the failure and/or negligence of the Defendant to investigate the reports of operations of illegal pipelines and to recover the proceeds of crime is unlawful, as it amounts to depriving the Nigerian people of their right to the enjoyment of their wealth.
  4. A DECLARATION that the failure of the Defendant to provide access to justice and effective remedies including reparation for the victims, is unlawful as it amounts to breaches of obligations to ensure the human rights guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  5. AN ORDER directing the Defendant and/or its agents individually and/or collectively to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the human rights of the people of Niger Delta that have continued to suffer the effects of oil theft and plundering by non-state actors.
  6. AN ORDER directing the Defendant to pay adequate monetary compensation of $500 million US Dollars ($500,000,000.00) to the victims of these crimes and human rights violations within the Niger Delta Region, and any other forms of reparation that the Honorable Court may deem fit to grant.
  7. SUCH FURTHER orders the Honorable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of this suit.

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.



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