The scope of Locus Standi in cases pertaining to environmental degradation has been extended by the Supreme Court. In a recently reported decision of the court in the case of: Centre for Oil Pollution Watch v. Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (“NNPC”) (2019) 5 NWLR (Pt.1666) 518 SC, the court overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal which held that the Appellant had no locus standi to bring an action against the NNPC for failing to clean up or reinstate the Ineh/Aku streams/rivers after its corroded pipeline ruptured, fractured and spewed its entire contents into the surrounding streams and rivers of Ineh and Aku in Abia State, Nigeria.
In the statement of claim of the Centre for Oil Pollution Watch (“the Centre”) at the Federal High Court in Lagos, it described itself as a Non-Governmental Organisation (“NGO”) carrying out the function of ensuring reinstatement, restoration, and remediation of environments impaired by oil spillage/pollution. In defending the action filed by the Centre, the NNPC denied liability for the oil spillage and also filed an objection challenging the locus standi of the Centre to file the action. The Federal High Court agreed with NNPC’s objection and struck out the Centre’s action. The Centre filed a Notice of Appeal against this decision at the Court of Appeal, however the Court of Appeal affirmed the ruling of the Federal High Court and dismissed the Appeal.
The Centre, being dissatisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal, subsequently filed a Notice of Appeal at the Supreme Court against this decision. In allowing the Centre’s appeal, the Supreme Court held that it would be wrong for the court to allow outdated technical rules of locus standi to prevent public interest groups from bringing an action to Court in order to vindicate the rule of law and stop unlawful conduct According to the Supreme Court, government agencies and parastatals are not only accountable to law makers for the way in which they carry out their functions, they are responsible to the court of justice for the lawfulness of what they do, and of that, the Court is the only judge. Thus, in environmental matters, such as the instant one, Non-Governmental Organisations, such as the Appellant in the instant case, have the requisite locus standi to sue.
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