Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to release the sum of N81.9 billion in its custody to oil producing communities in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.
Justice Taiwo made the order while delivering judgment in a case for garnishee order absolute against the defendants.
The amount was standing to the credit of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and its joint venture partner, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (NNPC).
The plaintiffs, Ibeno communities led by Obong Effiong Archianga and nine others, had dragged the NNPC, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and ExxonMobil Corporation to court, seeking the payment of N100 billion compensation for economic losses suffered from oil spillages caused by the defendants during exploration.
The plaintiffs, through their lawyer, Chief Lucius Nwosu (SAN), claimed that the spillage caused environmental degradation in their communities, hence the need for compensation.
Justice Taiwo had on June 21, 2021, made an order, awarding the cost of N81.9 billion to the plaintiffs, who are now judgment creditors.
The court had ordered that the money must be paid within 14 days after which 8 per cent interest will be accruable on the principal sum annually.
On December 15, 2021, in a garnishee nisi proceeding, the apex bank had insisted that it had to get the consent of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) before enforcing the garnishee judgment.
But delivering judgment on Monday, Justice Taiwo dismissed CBN’s claim and ordered the bank to release funds belonging to NNPC and Mobil to the tune of N82 billion to the judgment creditor.
According to the judge, it was wrong for the apex bank to say it has to get consent from AGF before attaching the judgment debt, insisting the apex bank is not a public officer.
Justice Taiwo therefore held that: “The January 6, 2022 application for an order nisi is made absolute against the apex bank.”
Earlier, the court had dismissed an application challenging the service of garnishee order nisi on the judgment debtor.
Justice Taiwo noted that the coming into force of the Petroleum Industry Act had altered the name of the judgment debtor.
However, the court said the CEO, directors and employees of NNPC are still those of NNPC Ltd, adding that the NNPC Ltd inherited assets and liabilities of NNPC.
“It follows that the suit identity of the judgment debtor has been known, and the misnormer will be corrected, since it’s a mistake of a name.
“Judgment debtor is juristic person, and the applicant has not suffered any injustice upon the mistake in the name of the applicant.
“Stance of applicant’s counsel is colourful and technical. The court has power, suo moto to grant amendment of the name if mistakenly written,” he held.
According to him, “When a misnomer occurs, it does not vitiate the subject matter of the case.
“The object of the court is to make findings and dispense justice and not to punish a litigant for a misnomer.”
The judge also stated that the judgment creditor can enter claims “jointly and severally” against the judgment debtor.
“I find merit in the address of the judgment creditor, particularly paragraphs 4.14 to 4.18 of his address.
“The application of the judgment debtor dated December 24, 2021 is hereby refused,” the court held. (Source: ThisDay Live)