A Federal High Court in Abuja has made a garnishee order absolute compelling the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to pay the people of Ejama Community in Eleme local government area of Rivers State a total sum of N182.7billion.
The amount is to be deducted from the account of a first generation bank in the custody of the CBN.
The whopping sum represents the punitive measures slammed on Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) Limited for devastating the community and its environs and ecosystem with oil spillage.
The court headed by Justice Inyang Ekwo made the order against the CBN and the first generation bank sequel to a similar one made by Justice Ibrahim Buba on June 3, 2019 while delivering judgment in a suit brought before him by the representatives of Ejama community, who have been in a long legal battle with SPDC.
In his ruling, Justice Ekwo, “That an Order Absolute is hereby made upon the Order Nisi of this court made on June 3, 2019 compelling the garnishee to pay over to the judgment creditors/applicants monies belonging to the guarantor/surety/debtor in the garnishee’s (CBN) custody in satisfaction of the judgment debt in Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/231/2001 (later renumbered Suit No. FHC/ASB/ CS/57/2010): Chief Isaac Osaro Agbara & 5Ors. V. C.B.” & 2 Ors. Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/562/19 2/ Agbara & Ors, vs. the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited & Ors., which judgment debt the guarantor/surety/debtor secured and guaranteed to pay the judgment creditors in the sums of: (a) as special damages.
“(b) Interest for delayed payment for five years from 1996 at 25 per cent per annum i.e. (c) 25per cent of the said sum till the date of judgment. (d) N10 billion as general damages; and (e)10 per cent interest on the judgment debt till payment giving a total of N76,871,175,831.18 as at June 14, 2010, being the date of the judgment but with the accrual of post judgment interest totaled N182.768,696,651.89.”
The case, which started in 1991, was originally instituted at the Rivers State High Court, Nchia Division, by six indigenes of Ogoniland against the Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Netherlands, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, United Kingdom, and SPDC over alleged oil spills that occurred when Shell operated in the community.
The plaintiffs alleged that it was the same case that led to the Ogoni struggle championed by the late Mr. Ken Saro Wiwa.
Judgment was eventually entered in their favour against Shell by the state High Court, whereupon the defendant appealed against the said judgment.
But in 2001, a fresh suit was commenced by some representatives of the Ogoni people before the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba claiming N17 billion and interests on the said sum for the losses allegedly caused by the oil spills.
Justice Buba, after listening to the submissions of the parties in the suit, in his judgment in 2010, awarded N17 billion to the representatives of the Ogoni people.
The court equally granted the Ogoni chiefs 25 per cent interest charge on the principal sum of about N17 billion. SPDC then appealed against the judgment and applied for a stay of execution of the judgment pending the appeal.
As a condition for granting the stay of execution, the court required Shell’s bankers to provide a guarantee of the judgment sum, a condition which was complied with.
But Shell’s appeal failed at the Court of Appeal on technical grounds, ostensibly because it filed its processes out of time and without regularising them.
Accordingly, in December 2018, the judgment creditors (Ogoni representatives) not only commenced garnishee proceedings at the Federal High Court in Owerri presided over by Justice Lewis Allagoa, it also filed contempt proceedings against the bank before Justice Buba who delivered the judgment in Port Harcourt in 2010 but now sitting in Lagos.
Before then, Shell had proceeded to the Supreme Court which last year, dismissed their appeal.