Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos, yesterday convicted First Bank Plc, its chairperson, Ms Ibukun Awolaja, and the managing director, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, over their refusal to honour the payment of N122 billion bond guaranteed by the bank. The conviction of the trio was as a result of the N122 billion judgement debt against Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in an oil spill suit filed by Ejama community in Ogoniland, Rivers State.
After convicting the contemnors, Justice Buba refused to make pronouncement on their serving term but suspended it for three months to enable the bank and its officials purge themselves of the contempt.
The judge stated that, if by September 6 the convicts failed to purge themselves of the contempt proceedings, they would immediately go to prison. Before convicting the bank and its officials, Justice Buba had dismissed all the applications filed by their counsel Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, describing contempt proceedings as abuse of court process.
Ten indigenes of Ejama community, in the substantive suit, had sued Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Netherlands, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, United Kingdom, and SPDC, over alleged oil spills that occurred when Shell operated in the community, at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt. Justice Buba had, in his judgement in 2010, awarded N17 billion to the representatives of the Ogoni people.
The court equally granted the Ejema chiefs 25 per cent interest charge on the principal sum of about N17 billion.
SPDC had appealed against the judgement and applied for a stay of execution, pending the appeal. As a condition for granting the stay of execution, the court required Shell’s bankers, First Bank Plc, to provide a guarantee of the judgement sum. This condition was complied with. But Shell’s appeal failed at the Court of Appeal on technical grounds, ostensibly because it filed its processes out of time and without regularising them.
Consequent upon the failure of the appeal of SPDC and the refusal of First Bank to honour the payment of the judgement debt, which the bank had earlier guaranteed through a bond, the applicants, through their lawyers, Chief Lucius Nwosu, SAN, A.A. Lawal-Rabana, SAN, and Ken C. Njemanze, SAN, filed Form 48 and Form 49 (committal to prison) against the bank, its chairman and managing director.
However, ruling could not be delivered in the contempt proceedings until yesterday, due to several applications that were filed by the contemnors, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which sought to join as party in the suit, and SPDC.
Meanwhile, Justice Buba, has adjourned ruling till June 19, in another application seeking to dismiss the entire application.