From Eric Ikhilae, Abuja
A lawyer, Lucius Nwosu (SAN), has asked the Supreme Court to reject the request by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited to set aside a N17 billion judgment given against the oil company last year.
The apex court had, in a ruling on January 11, 2019, upheld an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal over a June 14, 2010 judgment of the Federal High Court, which awarded damages against the oil company in an oil spill at 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, Nwosu, who is the lawyer to the victims and judgment creditors, queried the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to entertain Shell’s application, which he said was intended to make the apex court sit on an appeal over its decision.
The lawyer contended that Shell’s application was an abuse of court process because there was no longer a pending appeal on which it wanted the court to act.
He noted that, on learning about Shell’s fresh application, his clients wrote the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) to enquire about the status of the oil company’s appeal.
Nwosu said in a reply, dated February 14, 2020, the CJN’s response showed that Shell’s appeal “is a spent appeal”.
Nwosu queried: “If the CJN has said the appeal is spent, how can the same appellant come and revive the spent appeal?”
The lawyer, who said his clients had taken steps to execute the judgment, added that the same Shell, which was reluctant to compensate victims of its oil spills in Nigeria, had paid about $206 million 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 in courts across 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 its merit.
Citing past instances where the Supreme Court had granted a 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.”
The lawyer argued that an appellant, whose appeal was either struck out or dismissed, can approach the court to set aside the decision.
He averred that his client’s appeal had not been heard on its merit at the Court of Appeal and at the apex court.
According to him, an appeal not heard on the merit cannot be said to have been dismissed.
Olanipekun also faulted Nwosu’s claim that his clients had started executing the judgment, stressing that they had recovered only N2 billion out of the N17 billion total judgment sum.
The lawyer argued that his client’s case was supported by the refusal of a United Kingdom (UK) 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 verdict.
Olanipekun, who frowned at Nwosu’s attack on the lawyers in the case, urged the apex court to reject the preliminary objection.
A five-man panel of the court, led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, adjourned till November 27 for ruling.