By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Supreme Court, on Friday, dismissed an application Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited filed to set-aside the judgement that ordered it to pay N17billion to some Ogoni communities in Rivers State that were affected by oil spillage that occured in 1970.
The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a five-man panel for Justices led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vovour, held that an application the oil giant brought for a review of the judgement that was entered against it in 2019, lacked merit.
In the lead judgement of the apex court that was prepared by Justice Centus Nweze but read by Justice Chukwudumebi Oseji, it upheld a preliminary objection that 10 traditional chiefs from the affected communities in Rivers State, filed to challenge the application.
The Supreme Court affirmed the finality of the verdict it gave on January 11, 2019, which settled the oil spillage case that dragged between Shell and the communities, for 31 years.
Meanwhile, lead counsel to the communities, Mr. Lucius Nwosu, in his reaction to Friday’s decision of the apex court, noted that the judgement sum, with the accrued interests for the 31 years period, stood at about N182bn.
Nwosu noted that it was the same oil spillage case that led to the execution of environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, by the military regime.
He said the Supreme Court had earlier issued Ganishee Order Absolute for payment of the judgement debt to the affected communities.
The communities had in their preliminary objection, accused Shell of abusing judicial proceedings by attempting to re-litigate a matter that was earlier decided by the Supreme Court.
They stressed that the apex court had in 2019, upheld a Court of Appeal judgment that awarded damages against Shell for oil spillage in Ejama-Ebubu in Tai Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.
The communities, through their Chiefs, noted that the fresh application by the oil giant, which was filed seven months after the initial appeal marked SC/731 was dismissed, was a calculated attempt to move the Supreme Court to sit on appeal over its final judgement.
Relying on Order 2 Rule 29(1) of the Supreme Court Rules, the Chiefs who filed the preliminary objection for themselves and on behalf of the ancient “Onne eh Ejama” Stool in Council, Chiefs, Elders, Men, Women and Children Ejama-Ebubu in Tai Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers, contended that the apex court cannot review or set aside its final judgement, except to correct clerical errors or accidental slips.
Besides, they prayed the Supreme Court to punish all the lawyers that filed the fresh application on behalf of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd, Shell International Petroleum Co. Ltd and Shell International Exploration and Production BV.
They further informed the court that the judgment the Appellants sought to set aside had been partly executed, with over N1 billion recovered by the Respondents.
Nwosu, SAN, told the apex court that the same Shell that was reluctant to pay damages to Nigerian victims of its oil spillage had in similar situations, paid over $206 million to victims in Mexico.
He said the previous litigation lasted over 30 years before the N17billion damages was awarded against Shell by the Court of Appeal.
Likewise, he drew attention of the panel of Justices to a letter the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, wrote to indicate that with the earlier verdict of the court, issues the oil company sought to reopen through the fresh appeal, was already spent.
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