Supreme Court Rejects Shell’s Request to Reopen N17bn Judgment

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By Alex Enumah

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited for it 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 whopping N17 billion damages against the oil giant for oil spillage in Ejama-Ebubu in Tai Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.

But the appellants, which include 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, prayed the apex court to revisit with a view of setting the judgment of January 11, 2019 aside on claims that the apex court did not go into the merit of their appeal before upholding the decision of the lower court.

However, the apex court, in a unanimous decision prepared by Justice Centus Nweze and delivered by Justice Samuel Osuji, held that the appeal filed by Shell is unmeritorious.

The court in addition held that it could not revisit its earlier decision on the matter and accordingly dismissed the appeal for being incompetent and lacking in merit.

Justice Osuji however held that parties are to bear the cost of their litigation.

At the proceedings of September 22, Chief Isaac Agbara and nine other respondents had urged the court to reject the request for being frivolous.

The respondents had, in their preliminary objection, argued through their lead counsel, Chief Lucius Nwosu (SAN), described Shell’s request as scandalous and an affront to the finality of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Nwosu, while urging the court to dismiss Shell’s application for being incompetent, submitted that the Supreme Court could not sit on appeal in its own judgment.

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.

Nwosu further contended that the Supreme Court by its unanimous judgment of January 11, last year, put an end to the over 30-year-old legal tussle on the oil spillage suffered by the respondents and their people in the oil producing region.

Nwosu drew the attention of the apex court panel to a letter of the Supreme Court in which the current Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, while reacting to a clarification to the January 11, 2019 judgment, 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.

He therefore pleaded with the apex court to reject the invitation by Shell company to make the court 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 who 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 Petroleum company 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 for 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.