The Supreme Court has affirmed the acquisition of 45 per cent equity stake in Oil Mining Lease (OML) 11 and Kidney Island in Port Harcourt by the Rivers State government.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment prepared by Justice Centus Nweze and delivered by Justice Samuel Oseji on Friday
dismissed the suit by Shell Petroleum Development Company which sought the setting aside of the N17 billion judgment made against it in 2019.
It will be recalled that the Supreme Court had in January 2019, upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which awarded N17 billion damages against SPDC for a devastating oil spill that ravaged farmlands, rivers and streams in Ejama-Ebubu in Eleme Local Government Area of state, decades ago.
Shell, which was the operator of OML 11 and Kidney Island in Port Harcourt, had, in July 2019, filed a suit at the Supreme Court to set aside its earlier judgment on the ground that the apex court did not go into the merit of its appeal before upholding the decision of the Court of Appeal.
Justice Oseji declared that the apex court cannot revisit its earlier decision on the matter and, to this end, it dismissed Shell’s appeal for being incompetent and lacking in merit and held that parties are to bear the cost of their litigation.
Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, had in September last year announced the acquisition of Shell’s 45 per cent interest in OML 11 oilfields and Kidney Island in the state.
The governor had directed the state Ministry of Finance Incorporated to make a bid of USD 150,000,0900.00, supported by a bank guarantee and cash payment to the Deputy Sheriff in the sum of N1 billion, the later payable to the Judgement Creditors while the former is escrowed.
The Ejama-Ebubu Community had filed a suit against Shell over un-remedied pollution that took place since 1970 as admitted by SPDC vide letters they wrote seeking to clean the spill in 2006 while the case was at the trial vourt.
The suit between Shell and Ejama-Ebubu community was finally disposed in 2017 but Shell and its parent companies took out a further appeal to the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2017, which was considered and dismissed by that court in a judgment read by Hon. Justice B. Akaahs.
After losing at the High Court, Shell gave the successful Ejama -Ebubu plaintiffs a bond guarantee stipulating that First Bank of Nigerian Limited would pay them the value of the judgment debt and interests thereon in the event that SPDC’s appeal to the Court of Appeal fails.
Shell having lost the matter at the Court of Appeal, the Ejama-Ebubu Community commenced enforcement by domiciling the judgment in the state High Court and levying execution on SPDC moveables in its industrial area in Port Harcourt.
Shell had invited the community and offered it N7 billion as against the judgment debt of N194 billion, which the community refused to accept.
Afterwards, the community approached the court for an order granting it leave to sell SPDC’s immovable property in OML 11 and their kidney Island support base in Port Harcourt.
It was on this basis that the Rivers State government placed advertisement of the said immovable assets for auction after the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice alerted the government of the matter.
Governor Wike had said that rather than standby and watch other persons or group purchase Shell’s 45 per cent interest in OML 11 and further exacerbate the poverty of the people of the state, the government had to weigh in and bid for the purchase of SPDC interest already set down for auction.