Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Supreme Court was on Tuesday asked to reject the fresh move by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited to review and set aside a N17B judgment debt it incurred last year over the oil spillage the company made some Nigerians to suffer. This is contained in a notice of preliminary objection filed by Chief Isaac Agbara and nine others who are victims of oil spillages, in response to the application by Shell Oil Company to set aside the judgment of the court.
The Supreme Court had in January 11, 2019 upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal and that of a high court which had slammed a whopping N17 billion damages against the oil giant for oil spills suffered by the people of Ejama-Ebubu in Tai Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State.
The oil spills victims while rarguing the preliminary objection on Tuesday 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 cannot 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 years 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, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, while reacting to a clarification to the January 11, 2019 judgment, made it clear that the appeal by Shell Petroleum had become spent and finally laid to rest.
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 oil spills victims 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 paid over $206 million to victims in Mexico.
But Shell Petroleum company through its team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN and supported by Lateef Fagbemi SAN, described the opposition of the oil spills victims as frivolous because it has no bearing with jurisdictional issue.
Olanipekun contended that what the oil spills victims 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 the judgment against it 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 parties to the preliminary objection fixed November 27 for ruling on whether to set aside N17B judgment debt or not.