Court Orders Shell to deposit N800b judgement sum over spillage

  • Restrains oil giant from selling onshore/offshore properties

Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has suffered a major setback in its bid to stay the execution of an N800 billion judgment sum. The Owerri Division of the Court of Appeal while ruling in a motion for stay of execution filed by SPDC and Shell International Exploration and Product BV, ordered the applicants to deposit the judgment sum into the interest yielding account of the Court of Appeal within 48 hours of the judgment.

The appellate court in the unanimous decision delivered by Justice Rita Pemu, further ordered the applicants not to dispose of any of their assets both onshore and offshore within and outside Nigeria pending the hearing and determination of the appeal.

The applicants had approached the Court of Appeal with the view of upturning a judgment of a Federal High Court, Owerri, which had found them guilty of polluting farmlands as well as rivers and other surroundings in Ejalawa Community in Oken-Ogosu, Egbalor Ebubu/Eleme Local Government of Rivers State.

Justice T.G. Ringim of the Owerri Division of the Federal High Court, had in November 2020, ordered Shell to pay the sum of N800 billion to members of Ejalawa Community being compensation for damages to their farmland and other destruction cause by Oil Spillage from the activities of Shell in the area on September 18, 2019.

However, shell in the appeals marked: CA/W/498/20 and CA/ OW/490/20 respectively, also applied for a stay of execution of the judgment of the trial court. The appellate court had on February 25, had adjourned ruling indefinitely on the motion for stay. In arguing the appeal, Shell’s lawyer, Mr Sonny Wogu, SAN, urged the court to stay the execution of the judgment of Justice Ringim pending the hearing and determination of his clients appeals against the judgment, The Trumpet gathered.

This was vehemently opposed by lawyer to the respondents Mr Mohammed Ndarani, SAN, who pleaded with the court to rather mandate the appellants to deposit the judgment sum in an interest account pending the final determination of the appeal.

He had expressed fears that the appellants were set to close their office in Nigeria and relocate to another country, which would jeopardize the judgment if nothing was done. However, when the court reconvened late Friday March 11, 2022, it agreed with the submission of the respondents and ordered Shell Nigeria and its parent companies, Shell International Limited, London and Shell Exploration and Production B.V. Netherlands to deposit the total sum of N800 billion into an interest yielding escrow account controlled by the Court of Appeal within 48 hours of the ruling.

By the ruling, Shell has up to Tuesday March 15, 2022 to comply with the order for the Court of Appeal to stay the execution of the trial court’s judgment. Meanwhile, the appellate court also made another order restraining, Shell Nigeria and its parent companies from disposing any of the assets of the company, whether onshore or offshore, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive appeal which is slated for May 5, 2022.

By this order, Shell cannot sell any of its joint venture assets in Nigeria in respect of which they are already receiving bids from onshore and offshore investors and are expecting to rake in about $3 billion. Report has it that Shell over the last 10 years have been disposing its onshore and shallow water fields to Nigerian independent producers.

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Chief Isaac Torchi and 87 others had dragged shell Petroleum Development Company Limited, Shell International Company Limited, Shell International Exploration And Production BV, Attorney General of the Federation and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) over claims of oil spillage which destroyed their environment including their source of livelihood.

Delivering judgment in the suit, the court found shell culpable and also held that the plaintiffs are entitled to compensation in the sum of N800 billion for their farm products, fish ponds, several fish farms, fish nets, machineries.

The court also found Shell culpable of non cleansing and nonmaintenance of ruptured pipes of the and 3rd Defendants that caused irreparable damages to the Plaintiffs several farmlands, hydrocarbon oil spillage or oil spillage, that occurred on 18″ September, 2019 and affected several farmlands of the Plaintiffs 2,390 hectares of farmlands at Ejalawa Community in Oken Ogosu Swamp farmlands in Egbalor of Ebubu/Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.

Justice Ringim also ordered Shell to promptly and expeditiously remediate the land of the Plaintiffs to its International Agricultural Soil (IAS). The Court also ordered Shell to depollute and rehabilitate the farms and more particularly the fish ponds in the communities. The Court also awarded the cost of One Million Naira (N1,000,000.00) in favour of the Communities as cost of action against the defendants

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