A former Legal Adviser and Managing Counsel, Legislative Development with Shell Petroleum, Chief Madaki Ameh, yesterday hailed the unanimous ruling of the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division, directing Shell to make a deposit of N800 billion with the court.
Presiding over the matter Justice Rita Pemu, had instructed that Shell Nigeria and its parent companies, should deposit the judgment debt of N8OO billion (about $1.95 billion) in an interest yielding escrow account controlled by the court.
She also halted any further sale of its onshore and offshore assets belonging to Shell in Nigeria , pending the determination of the substantive appeal.
The court ordered that Shell: “Whether acting by itself or through its agents, officers, employees, servants, privies, representatives, subsidiaries or otherwise howsoever called or described from selling, allocating, vandalising and or disposing off any of its assets/properties including official structures, oil wells, oil fields, installations, vehicles, equipment, investments, offshore or onshore or any of its properties of Nigeria pending the hearing and determination of this appeal.”
In the case between Chief Isaac Obor-Ntito Torchi & 87 others, the court urged the oil giant to deposit the said judgment sum into the court’s interest yielding account, pending the determination of the appeal.
The applicants had approached the Court of Appeal with a view to upturning a judgment of a Federal High Court, Owerri, which had found them guilty of polluting farmlands as well as rivers and other surroundings in Ejalawa Community in Oken-Ogosu, Egbalor Ebubu/Eleme Local Government of Rivers State.
Justice T.G. Ringim of the Owerri Division of the Federal High Court, had earlier in November 2020, ordered Shell to pay the sum to members of Ejalawa Community, being compensation for damages to their farmlands and other destruction caused by oil spillage from the activities of Shell in the area on September 18, 2019.
However, shell in the appeals marked: CA/W/498/20 and CA/OW/490/20 respectively, also applied for a stay of execution of the judgment of the trial court.
In arguing the appeal, Shell’s lawyer, Mr. Sonny Wogu, had urged the court to stay the execution of the judgment of Ringim pending the hearing and determination of his clients appeals against the judgment.
This was vehemently opposed by lawyer to the respondents, Mr. Mohammed Ndarani, who pleaded with the court to rather mandate the appellants to deposit the judgment sum in an interest account pending the final determination of the appeal.
THISDAY had reported that Ndarani had expressed fears that the appellants were set to close their office in Nigeria and relocate to another country, which would jeopardise the judgment if nothing was done.
But in a statement, Ameh, who is an energy expert and Managing Partner, BBH Consulting, in his reaction, said that the “bold” ruling, the biggest award ever made in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, sends the right signals to operators in the industry that it is no longer business as usual.
He said that the ruling by the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division demonstrated the readiness of the Nigerian judiciary to protect the rights of the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta.
According to him, these rights have long been trampled upon for decades since the beginning of oil and gas exploration and production in Nigeria.
He urged Shell to live up to its responsibility as a good corporate citizen and a global operator by respecting the Nigerian judiciary and complying with this order of the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division within the time frame of 48 hours stipulated by the court, as the company would do in other areas of the world where it operates.
He urged the oil and gas producing communities in the Niger Delta to remain vigilant and be prepared to legitimately agitate for the protection of their inalienable rights guaranteed under several international conventions to that effect.