The Court of Appeal, Owerri Division will on January 25, 2022, hear the application of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), seeking to stay the execution of an N800 billion judgment entered against it by a Federal High Court in Owerri, Imo State.
The appellate court would also on that date hear all other pending applications including that of the plaintiffs/respondents seeking an order of court directing Shell to deposit the said judgment sum with the court as condition for hearing the application for stay as well as another seeking to set aside the Notice of Appeal filed by Shell on the grounds it is incompetent and an abuse of court process.
Justice T. G. Ringim of the Federal High Court, Owerri, Imo State, had in a judgment delivered on November 27, last year, held SPDC, Shell International Exploration and Production BV (SIE&P) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) liable for oil spillage from their facility in Ejalawa community in Oken-Ogosu swamp farmlands in Egbalor of Ebubu/ Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.
One Chief Isaac Torchi and 87 members of the Ejalawa community had dragged SPDC, SIE&P BV, NNPC to court over oil spillage which they claimed damaged their environment as well as source of livelihood.
Other defendants are Shell International Company Limited and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
The plaintiffs had in the suit dated January 16, 2020 asked the court to determine whether by the combined provisions of the 1999 Constitution, Oil Pipeline Act, African charter on humans and peoples Rights, Oil and Gas Pipeline Regulations, they “are entitled to compensation from the defendants for a continuous injury of hydrocarbon oil spillage, rain acid pollution, non-cleansing, non-maintenance of ruptured pipes of 1-3 defendants pipes across plaintiffs farmland and causing a lot of killings of plaintiffs’ amateur children, economic tree, contamination of drinking water causing irreparable damage to the plaintiffs and relations farm products, fish bond, fish net, machines worth several billions of naira that occurred on September 18, 2019 till date which they remain continuously uncompensated”.
Part of the reliefs sought include a declaration that plaintiffs are entitled to compensation to the sum of N800 billion for damages done by spillage caused by the defendants.
They also sought for another order directing shell to depollute and rehabilitate the destroyed farmland, ponds and agricultural products, as well as a 10 percent post judgment interest from the date of the judgment and litigation cost of N1 billion.
Delivering judgment, Justice Ringim held that there were evidence rupture at the defendants Akuka/Ebubu flow line named AKA-EBU-ONU-BAN 55 situated in the plaintiffs land.
According to the judge there were convincing evidence that the narrow diameter 4 inch pipes laid by the defendants in 1970 and which had a lifespan of 15 years and which was suspended above the earth was abandoned by the defendants, adding that the abandoned 4 inch pipes ruptured and spilt large volume of crude oil into the Oken-Ogosu swamps/farmlands.
“I am convinced that there were oil spills in the Eken-Ogun farmland swamp of the plaintiffs since September 18, 2019 and still continue without remediation as could be gleaned from the uncontroverted facts”, the judge held, adding that the defendants themselves attested to have visited the area to see for themselves.
“Having held that there are spillages in the land of the plaintiffs occasioned by the negligence of the defendants, the judge accordingly ordered: that the plaintiffs are entitled to compensation of N800 billion for their farm products, fish ponds, several fish farms, fish net, machines, non-cleansing and non-maintenance of ruptured pipes of the first and third defendants that caused irreparable damages to the plaintiffs several farmland hydrocarbon oil spillage or oil spillage that occurred on September 18, 2019 and affected several farmlands of the plaintiffs’ 2390 hectares of farmlands at Ejalawa community in Oken-Ogosu swamp farmlands in Egbalor of Ebubu/ Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.
“That the defendants shall promptly and expeditiously remediate the land of the plaintiffs to its International Agricultural Soil (IAS).
“The first and third defendant shall depollute and rehabilitate the farms and more particularly the fish ponds, of the plaintiffs”.
The judge held that two per cent of the judgment interest from the date of judgment be paid the plaintiffs in addition to another N1 billion being cost of litigation against the first, third and fifth defendants.
Displeased by the decision the defendants then approached the Court of Appeal to set it aside.