The Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to pay a judgment sum and interest of N182.7bn to Ogoni community from the account of First Bank of Nigeria.
FBN manages the account of Shell Petroleum Development Company which the court compelled to pay the sum for causing damage to the community and its environs as a result of oil spillage.
While making the garnishee order absolute, the presiding judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, ordered the CBN to deduct the sum from the FBN’s account and pay the people of Ejama Community in the Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Justice Ekwo held that the Order Absolute was made upon the Order Nisi made on June 3, 2019, compelling the garnishee (CBN) to pay the judgment creditors monies belonging to the guarantor (First Bank of Nigeria Limited) in the garnishee’s custody.
He said the ruling was in satisfaction of the judgment debt in Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/231/2001 (later renumbered Suit No. FHC/ASB/ CS/57/2010): Chief Isaac Osaro Agbara and five others vs CBN and two others as well as Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/562/19 2/: Agbara and two others, vs the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited and others.
The ruling read in part, “The guarantor/surety/debtor secured and guaranteed to pay the judgment creditors special damages; and interest for delayed payment for five years from 1996 at 25 per cent per annum i.e. 25 per cent of the said sum till the date of judgment; N10bn as general damages; and 10 per cent interest on the judgment debt till payment giving a total of N76,871,175,831.18 as at June 14, 2010, being the date of the judgment but with the accrual of post judgment interest totalled N182.768,696,651.89.”
The case, which started in 1991, was originally instituted at the Rivers State High Court, Nchia Division, by six indigenes of Ogoniland against the Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Netherlands, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, United Kingdom, and SPDC over alleged oil spills that occurred when Shell operated in the community.
The plaintiffs alleged that it was the same case that led to the Ogoni struggle championed by the late Mr. Ken Saro Wiwa.
Judgment was eventually entered in their favour against Shell by the state High Court, whereupon the defendant appealed against the said judgment.
However, in 2001, a fresh suit was filed by some representatives of the Ogoni people at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba claiming N17bn and interests on the said sum for the losses allegedly caused by the oil spills.
Justice Buba in his judgment in 2010 awarded the sum to the plaintiffs.
The court equally granted the Ogoni chiefs 25 per cent interest charge on the principal sum of about N17bn.
SPDC appealed the judgment and applied for a stay of execution pending the appeal. As a condition for granting it, the court asked Shell’s bankers, First Bank, to provide a guarantee of the judgment sum – a condition that was complied with.
But Shell’s appeal failed at the Court of Appeal on technical grounds.
Accordingly, in December 2018, the judgment creditors (Ogoni representatives) commenced garnishee proceedings at the Federal High Court in Owerri and filed contempt proceedings against the bank before Justice Buba who delivered the judgment in 2010.
After the Appellate Court ruling, Shell and First Bank proceeded to the Supreme Court but their appeal was dismissed.
Following the dismissal by the apex court, Ogoni chiefs resumed the garnishing proceedings.