By Alex Enumah
The Supreme Court was yesterday urged to reject request by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited to review and set aside a N17 billion judgment entered against it last year.
The Supreme Court had on January 11, 2019, upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which had slammed a N17 billion damages against the oil giant for oil spillage in Ejama-Ebubu in Tai Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.
However, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, Shell International Petroleum Company Limited and Shell International Exploration and Production BV in an application dated July 24, 2019, urged the apex court to set aside its judgment of January 11, 2019.
Objecting to the request yesterday, the respondents, however, urged the court to dismiss Shell’s request “being frivolous and an attempt to ridicule the integrity of the apex court.”
The respondents are Isaac Agbara, Chief Victor Obari, Chief Humphrey Ogiri, Chief F. N. Ogosu, Chief Joseph Ogosu, Chief John Ogosu, Chief G. O. Nnah, Chief George Osaro, Chief Adanta Obele and Mrs. Laleoka Ejii.
The lead counsel to the respondents, Chief Lucius Nwosu (SAN), described Shell’s request as scandalous and an affront to the finality of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
In urging the court to dismiss Shell’s application for being incompetent, Nwosu submitted that the Supreme Court cannot sit on appeal in its own judgment.
He said by Order 2, Rule (29)(1) of the apex court rules, the court can only entertain an application for it to set aside its own decision when such a request is made within a reasonable time, adding that the applicant’s request came in July 2019 (seven months) after the Supreme Court delivered judgment in the appeal marked: SC.731/2017.
Nwosu further contended that the Supreme Court, by its unanimous judgment of January 11 last year, put an end to the 30 years old legal tussle on the oil spillage suffered by the respondents and their people in the oil producing region.
The senior lawyer further argued that the action of the oil giant was a deliberate abuse of court process with a weighty request based on 23 grounds.
While insisting that Shell’s application is incompetent and that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear it, the respondents’ lawyer drew the court’s attention to a letter of the Supreme Court dated February 14, 2019, in which the current Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, made it clear that the appeal by Shell Petroleum had become spent.
He further informed the court that the judgment being sought to be set aside by the oil company had already been partly executed with over N1 billion recovered by the respondents, adding that section 235 of the 1999 Constitution makes the Supreme Court a final court in the land, and that no appeal can be entertained from the Supreme Court decision.
Nwosu, therefore, pleaded with the apex court to reject the invitation by Shell company to sit as an appellate court in its own judgment so as not to make the court eat its words.
The senior lawyer noted that the same shell, which is reluctant to pay damages to Nigerian victims of its oil spillage, had in similar situations pay over $206 million to victims in Mexico.
But Shell, through its team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), described the opposition of the respondents as frivolous because it has no bearing with jurisdictional issue.
Olanipekun contended that what the respondents tagged a judgment was a ruling and not a final judgment.
He submitted that Shell’s request has a judicial precedence, adding that the oil giant would not have come back to the Supreme Court to seek review of its judgment if there was no precedent.
The senior lawyer faulted the claim that the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in its January 11, 2019, decision, arguing that there cannot be a dismissal when a matter had not been heard on merit.
He, therefore, pleaded with the apex court to dismiss the preliminary objection to its client’s application for judgment review.
The five man panel led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, after listening to the submissions of the parties to the preliminary objection, adjourned to November 27, 2020, for ruling.