The Supreme Court on Tuesday fixed November 27 to decide if it can entertain an application by an oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company, requesting a revisit of the court’s January 11, 2019 judgment ordering it to pay N17bn to some Ogoni communities in Rivers State affected by an oil spill linked to the company.
The apex court had in the case which had lasted about 31 years from when it started at the High Court, issued the N17bn order in favour of Ejama-Ebubu in Tai Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State, represented by Chief Isaac Agbara and nine others.
A five-man panel led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour fixed the date for ruling shortly after the communities’ lawyer, Chief Lucius Nwosu (SAN), argued his preliminary objection to the application and was opposed by Shell’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN).
The Tuesday’s proceedings was full of emotion as Nwosu (SAN), urged the apex court not to only dismiss the application, but make an order against all the senior lawyers in Shell’s legal team as “deterrence” for the filing of the application which he alleged was aimed at ridiculing the integrity and finality of the decisions of the apex court.
Olanipekun’s team had big shots in the legal profession including Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN), and Wale Akoni (SAN).
Incidentally, Olanipekun and another legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), separately led the bids by the All Progressives Congress and the party’s governorship candidate in the last Bayelsa State governorship election, David Lyon, to have the Supreme Court review its February 13, 2020 judgment which had overturned the party’s victory in the poll.
Incensed by the top lawyers’ requests for the review of its final judgment, the apex court in dismissing the applications on February 26, 2020, deprecated them for the filing of the applications which it adjudged to be “aimed at desecrating the sanctity of the court”, and awarded N30m punitive cost against each of them.
Agabi was also the leader of the legal team of Emeka Ihedioha and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, which filed the application seeking the review of the January 14, 2020 judgment of the apex court which removed him from office as Imo State governor and declared Hope Uzodinma as the valid winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in the state.
The Supreme Court’s seven-man panel on March 3, 2020 dismissed the application via a majority of the six-to-one split ruling, but was not hard on Agabi as it previously was on Babalola and Olanipekun.
Nwosu described Shell’s request on Tuesday as scandalous and an affront to the finality of the Supreme Court.
He said the application was a deliberate abuse of court process.
He said the judgment being sought to be set aside by the oil company had already been partly executed with over N1bn recovered by the respondents.
He said although Shell was reluctant to pay damages to Nigerian victims of the spillage of its oil in Nigeria, had in similar situation paid over $206m to victims in Mexico.
He urged the court on Tuesday to award “exemplary and punitive costs” against Shell “in favour of the registrar of the apex court for their deliberate vexatious abuse of the apex court’s process by instructing and paying counsel to ridicule the final court of the land”.
While he urged the court to issue “an order” it might “deem fit to make in deterrence against each and every Senior Advocate of Nigeria whose name appear as counsel or counsel” in the application, he urged the court to make “an order cautioning each and every member of the outer bar” whose name appeared on the application.
“I dare not go on so that I will not say things that will make me to shed tears. This is a case that has taken 31 years,” Nwosu said.
But Shell’s lawyer, Olanipekun, described the preliminary objection to his client’s application as frivolous, adding that it was “meant to scandalize the court and to even scandalize the counsel”.
Olanipekun cited series of Supreme Court decisions including the ones written by some members of the apex court’s panel which sat on Tuesday which he said permitted him to file applications similar to the one he filed on behalf of his client.
He said the judgment of a court which was not issued on merit could be set aside as requested by his client.
Responding to the request by Nwosu that he and his colleagues should be censored by the apex court for filing the application, Olanipekun said, it was an attempt to destroy colleagues in the legal profession.
He said Nwosu saw opposing lawyers as an enemy that must be conquered.
“We should not destroy ourselves. It is not persona,” he said.
He added that he had “done a lot for the profession with pride and in the law”.
He spoke about how he led about 100 lawyers including some in Nwosu’s team to defend the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen (retd), at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
He said he and his colleagues were only doing their job as a lawyer, adding that his client would not have come back to the Supreme Court to seek a revisit of the case if there was no precedent.
He urged the court to dismiss the preliminary objection to its client’s application for judgment review.