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N700bn spill compensation: Court adjourns suit by Shell hosts

A Federal High Court in Yenagoa on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, adjourned until May 4, hearing in a N700 billion oil spill compensation suit filed by members of Aghoro I community in Bayelsa State.

oil spill
Spilled crude oil spreading around a spill site

The people of Aghoro I in Ekeremor Local Government Area (LGA) in Bayelsa sued Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) over a May 17, 2018 oil leak from the oil firm’s Trans Ramos Pipeline.

When the suit came up for hearing of pending motions, Counsel to SPDC , Mr O. Onasanya, SAN, challenged the jurisdiction to hear the case because he said it was statute barred.

He further argued that the originating process in the case through originating summons which does not provide for oral evidence and cross examination of witnesses deprives the defendants of their rights to fair hearing.

“The size of the claims is better imagined, and gives me sleepless nights and I will do everything legally possible to defend our position including approaching the court of appeal.

“The witnesses who  arrived at the cost in damages, must be brought into the witness box for cross examination because we have denied the allegations they made and it cannot stand,” Onasanya submitted.

He further said that he was also seeking the relief of the court to approach the Court of Appeal to interpret the statutes as it concerns one of the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs.

Counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr Mohammed Mohammed, SAN, told the presiding judge, Justice Isa Ndahen, that the efforts of the defendants to challenge the court’s jurisdiction and seek relief to approach the appeal court was a delay tactic.

Mohammed noted that the Supreme Court rule on cases that started by originating summons requires that when there is a challenge on jurisdiction, the court should take the motions alongside the substantive case.

He said that it was strange and a breach of procedure for a party to seek leave of a trial court to approach the appellate court on a motion which he described as an attempt to buy time and frustrate the plaintiffs.

Following heated arguments between counsels, Justice Ndahen urged the senior advocates to show leadership to younger counsels to ensure speedy dispensation of justice.

Ndahen regretted that, in spite of his meeting with the senior advocates aimed at fast tracking the processes, he was besieged with plethora of applications including the one challenging the court’s jurisdiction.

“This case cannot be different from other cases and we must make progress.

“I have met with all the senior advocates who are ministers in the temple of justice to ensure we make progress.

“We have been going back and forth without making progress and keeping other litigants waiting.

“I will fix a date exclusively for this and take all the pending motions and applications,” Ndahen said.

He adjourned until May 4 to hear the pending applications with priority to the one challenging jurisdiction.

The plantiffs are Mr Victor Akamu, Pastor Erebimienkumor Goddey, Mrs Jane Alex, Miss Edith George, Mr Isreal To money and FASF Associates Ltd on behalf of Aghoro 1 community at Ekeremor LGA, Bayelsa.

They are seeking redress for the damages caused by the oil spill and are claiming that the N33.49 million offered by SPDC was a far cry from the N700 billion claim based on impacted area damage assessment.

Listed as defendants in the suit are Shell Petroleum Development Company, Shell International Exploration and Production BV, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

By Nathan Nwakamma

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