The Supreme Court has adjourned till January 5, 2024, for judgment in the appeal by oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company, against an N800 billion judgment debt.
The apex court adjourned for judgment after parties adopted and argued all pending applications in the matter.
The applications included a request for stay of further committal proceeding in appeal number, CA/OW/489/2020; an order setting aside Ex-Debito Justitiae, Notice of Appeal filed in Appeal Number SC/CV/393/2022 and an application for an order striking out Ex Debito Justitiae, Notice of Appeal filed in appeal No. SC/CV/393/2022.
The apex court, last year, ordered all parties to maintain the status quo in a contempt proceeding filed against the Managing Director, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) Osagie Okunbor, and three management staff members of the company.
Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, who led a five-member panel of justices of the apex court had issued the order while delivering ruling in the appeal marked SV/CV/398/2022, filed by Osagie Okunbor and others over alleged disobedience of the orders of the Court.
The order was made on grounds that the pending applications filed before the court were contentious and could not be taken then.
The apex court also ordered parties to file written addresses and to maintain the status quo pending the hearing of all the contentious applications.
However, after all pending applications had been taken, the apex court fixed January 5 for Judgment.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri, Imo State had ordered the Managing Director and the other three management staff of Shell Petroleum Company to appear before it to show cause why they should not be committed for contempt of court.
The three-man panel led by Justice Rita Pemu, had on March 23, 2022, expressed displeasure with the management of Shell for disobeying two court rulings against the company.
The judge held that Shell had disobeyed the lower court ruling and they ran to the appellate court, which also ruled that Shell should deposit the N800 billion judgment sum against it to the court of appeal account. But the company still disobeyed the ruling.
Dissatisfied, the alleged contemnors, through their counsel, Chief J.J. Onanigbo Okpoko, SAN appealed the ruling.
Shell had applied for a motion seeking an order staying the execution of the Federal High Court judgment in appeal number CA/OW/498/20 and appeal number CA/OW/490/20 respectively.
On the other hand, counsel to 1st to 88th respondents, Mohammed Ndarant Mohammed, SAN, prayed the court to ignore the motion for an order staying execution and urged the court to mandate the appellants to deposit the money in an interest-yielding account pending the final determination of the appeal.
Mohammed also raised the fears that the appellants were preparing to close shop in Nigeria and relocate to another country, which would jeopardise the judgment if nothing was done.
THISDAY had previously reported that the Owerri Appeal court had ordered Shell to deposit N800 billion (about $2billion) in 48 hours over alleged oil spillage.
This came after Shell appealed a November 2020 Federal High Court ruling that ordered Shell to pay 800 billion naira ($1.95 billion) to 88 communities of Egbalor Ebubu in Rivers state, who had accused the company of an oil spill that damaged their farms and waterways.
The three-man panel had on March 14, ordered Shell Plc to stop selling any assets in Nigeria until a decision was reached on its appeal of the nearly $2 billion penalty.
The judges said Shell, acting through its agents or subsidiaries, was restrained from “selling, allocating, vandalising or disposing off any of its assets/properties pending the determination of the appeal.
Disappointed with the ruling, Shell approached the Apex Court seeking a stay of the execution of the decision until the appeal is determined.
Alex Enumah in Abuja