The Supreme Court has been asked to reject the request by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited to set aside a N17billion judgment given against the oil company last year.
The Supreme Court had in a ruling on January 11, 2019, upheld an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal in respect of a June 14, 2010 judgment of the Federal High Court, awarding damages against Shell in relation to oil spill in Ejama-Ebubu in Tai Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.
In a preliminary objection, representatives of the victims of the spill, led by Chief Isaac Agbara argued that Shell’s application was an affront to the dignity and constitutional finality of the Supreme Court.
Arguing the preliminary objection on Tuesday, lawyer to the victims and judgment creditors; Lucius Nwosu (SAN) queried the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to entertain the application by Shell, which he said was intended to make the court sit on appeal over its decision.
Nwosu contended that the application by Shell was an abuse of the process of the court, because there was no longer a pending appeal on which it wants the court to act.
He noted that, on learning about the fresh application by Shell, his clients wrote the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) to enquire about the status of the appeal by the oil company.
Nwosu added that in a reply dated February 14, 2020, the CJN’s response said the appeal by Shell, marked: SC/731/2019 “is a spent appeal.
“If the CJN has said the appeal is spent, how can the same appellant come an revive the spent appeal?” Nwosu said.
Nwosu, who said his clients have taken steps to execute the judgment, noted that the same Shell that is reluctant to compensate victims of its oil spill in Nigeria had paid about $206million damages in similar circumstance in Mexico.
He regretted that Shell was unwilling to abide by the decision of Nigeria’s apex court after subjecting the victims to over 30 years of strenuous litigation across courts in the country.
In a counter-argument, lead lawyer to Shell, Wole Olanipekun (SAN) faulted the preliminary objection on the grounds that it raised no jurisdictional issue.
Olanipekun argued that what Nwosu referred to as judgment of the apex court was just a ruling, given when the case was not heard on the merit.
Citing past instances where the Supreme Court had granted similar application as the one filed by Shell, Olanipekun said “what we are asking to be set aside is a ruling, not a final judgment.”
Olanipekun argued that an appellant, whose appeal was either struck out or dismissed, can approach the court to have the decision set aside.
He noted that his client’s appeal has never been heard on the merit, both at the Court of Appeal and at this court, arguing that an appeal not heard on the merit cannot be said to have been dismissed.
Olanipekun faulted Nwosu’s claim that his clients have started executing the judgment, noting that they have only recovered just N2billion out of the N17b total judgment sum.
He argued that his client’s case is supported by the refusal of a United Kingdom court to grant the request by Nwosu’s clients for the execution of the judgment; on the grounds that the respondents admitted that there were errors in the computation of the damages awarded in the judgment.
Olanipekun, who frowned at Nwosu’s attack on the person of lawyers in the case, urged the court to reject the preliminary objection.
A five-man panel of the court, led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour adjourned till November 27 this year for ruling.