Court Garnishees First Bank Account with CBN over Judgment Debt of N182.7bn

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Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, has made a garnishee order compelling the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to pay the people of Ejama Community in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State a total sum of N182.7 billion. The amount is to be deducted from the account of First Bank of Nigeria Plc. in the custody of the CBN.

Lawyers to Ejama community told newsmen last night they have since served the CBN the garnishee order absolute.

The humongous amount represents the punitive measures slammed on Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) Limited for devastating the community and its environs and ecosystem with oil spillage.

Ekwo made the order absolute against the CBN and First Bank Plc. sequel to a similar one made by Justice Ibrahim Buba on June 3, 2019 while delivering judgement in a suit brought before him by the representatives of Ejama community, who have been in a long legal battle with SPDC.

In his ruling, Ekwo after hearing Mathew Echo with Princewill Akinseye George and others, held, “That an Order Absolute is hereby made upon the Order Nisi of this court made on June 3, 2019 compelling the garnishee to pay over to the judgement creditors/applicants monies belonging to the guarantor/surety/debtor (First Bank of Nigeria Limited) in the garnishee’s (CBN) custody in satisfaction of the judgement debt in Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/231/2001 (later renumbered Suit No. FHC/ASB/ CS/57/2010): Chief Isaac Osaro Agbara & 5Ors. V. C.B.” & 2 Ors. Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/562/19 2/ Agbara & Ors, vs. the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited & Ors., which judgement debt the guarantor/surety/debtor secured and guaranteed to pay the judgement creditors in the sums of: (a) as special damages; (b) Interest for delayed payment for five years from 1996 at 25 per cent per annum i.e. (c) 25 per cent of the said sum till the date of judgment. (d) N10 billion as general damages; and (e) 10 per cent interest on the judgement debt till payment giving a total of N76, 871,175,831.18 as at June 14, 2010, being the date of the judgement but with the accrual of post judgement interest totalled N182.768, 696,651.89.”

The case, which started in 1991, was originally instituted at the Rivers State High Court, Nchia Division, by six indigenes of Ogoniland against the 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.

The plaintiffs alleged that it was the same case that led to the Ogoni struggle championed by the late Mr. Ken Saro Wiwa.

The State High Court eventually entered judgement in their favour against Shell, whereupon the defendant appealed against the said judgement.

However, in 2001, a fresh suit was commenced by some representatives of the Ogoni people before the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba claiming N17 billion and interests on the said sum for the losses allegedly caused by the oil spills.

Buba, after listening to the submissions of the parties in the suit, in his judgement in 2010, awarded N17 billion to the representatives of the Ogoni people.

The court equally granted the Ogoni chiefs 25 per cent interest charge on the principal sum of about N17 billion. SPDC then appealed against the judgement and applied for a stay of execution of the judgement pending the appeal. As a condition for granting the stay of execution, the court required Shell’s bankers, First Bank, 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.

Accordingly, in December 2018, the judgement creditors (Ogoni representatives) not only commenced garnishee proceedings at the Federal High Court in Owerri presided over by Justice Lewis Allagoa, it also filed contempt proceedings against the bank before Buba who delivered the judgement in Port Harcourt in 2010 but now sitting in Lagos.

Before then, Shell and First Bank had proceeded to the Supreme Court, which last year, dismissed their appeal. It was following the dismissal of the their appeal by the apex court that the Ogoni chiefs resumed the garnishee proceedings which they have now won.

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