Supreme Court orders Shell to pay Delta communities N30million compensation

The Supreme Court on Friday finally decided a 32-year-old case against the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, ordering the company to pay N30,288,681 compensation for oil spillage in four communities of Delta State.

The four communities – Obotobo, Sokebolo, Ofogbene (Ezon Burutu) and Ekeremor Zion (Ezon Asa) – had, through some of their leaders, instituted separate suits against the oil company before the then Bendel State High Court in 1983.

The Bendel State High Court in a judgment on May 27, 1997, granted the prayers of the plaintiffs and awarded N4,095,085 to Obotobo; N13,278,306 to Sokebolo; N7,392,589 to Ofogbene (Ezon Burutu) and N5,522,701 to Ekeremor Zion (Ezon Asa).

On May 22, 2000, the Court of Appeal in Benin City dismissed Shell’s appeal and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.

Dissatisfied with the Court of Appeal’s judgment, Shell had further appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Justice John Fabiyi-led panel of the Apex Court dismissed the appeal filed by Shell on Friday holding that the appeal lacked merit, awarded N500,000 cost against Shell and in favour of each of the communities.

Justice Kumai Akaahs, who read the lead judgment, also held that the damages awarded in favour of the communities were not baseless.

Other members of the panel – Justice John Fabiyi, Clara Ogunbiyi, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun and Chima Nweze – agreed with the lead judgment.

Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal to the effect that the “direct compelling and largely uncontradicted evidence available to the learned trial judge, I am convinced that the damages awarded by the learned trial judge are not baseless or erroneous or in any event, as that offensive as the awards are amply supported by evidence.”
The apex court added that the respondents’ right to fishing in the creeks was affected.

It added that payment of compensation was made to each of the various communities for loss of income suffered by the community members, who had a right to fish in the creeks located in the community.

The court held, “The award is for the temporary loss of fishing right caused by the oil spillages. The second issue is resolved in favour of the respondents and against the appellants on the principle that the rights of common fishery in tidal waters is a public right both under the Common Law and Natural Law, and was not affected by Section 3(10) of the Minerals Act, which was first enacted in 1916.”
The Supreme Court also faulted Shell’s argument that the trial court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the cases in view of the promulgation of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Decree no.59 of the 1991, the Federal high Court (Amendment) Act 1991 and the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993 on the ground that the cause of action arose before the enactment of the laws.
It held, “The concurrent findings of fact made by the two courts are not perverse. I find that the appeal totally lacks merit.

“It was fought principally on the assumption that the Admiralty jurisdiction is exclusively vested on the Federal High Court, and the consolidated suits which were commenced in 1983 before the then Bendel State High Court ought to have abated after the promulgation of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Decree No. 59 of 1991, the Federal high Court (Amendment) Decree No. 60 of 1991 and 16 of 1992 and the Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No. 107 of 1993.

“This appeal is therefore dismissed in its entirety and I award costs of N500,000 to each set of respondents in the consolidated suits against the appellant.”
Credit: Ade Adesomoju/Punch