By Abiola Olawale
The First Bank of Nigeria (FBN) has ran into legal conundrum as authorities on Tuesday confiscated the bank’s assest in Port Harcourt over the $479 million (N189 billion) judgement debt owed Ejama-Ebubu, a community in Tai Eleme Local Government, Rivers State by the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of Nigeria.
Federal High Court officials and the Police operatives stormed the main First bank branch in Port Harcourt, on Tuesday to execute the order issued by the court on November 30, 2020, which convicted Shell of the damages due to oil spillage caused in Ejama-Ebubu community, to confiscate the bank. The bank had stood as guarantor for the oil company.
Now, the community wants assets belonging to Shell and First Bank to be confiscated and sold to help settle the judgment debt.
While reacting to the development, First Bank, one of Nigeria’s largest banks released a statement on Wednesday.
The statement said, “The confiscation of the properties was unjustified, illegal and a reckless misuse of the machinery of Justice.
“The seizure ignored an interim court ruling obtained by Shell in December that restrains First Bank from paying out any money toward the judgment debt and prevents the community from taking steps to compel the bank to do so.”
The statement also said, the bank has filed its own pending motion seeking to cancel the decision permitting the confiscation of its property.
The New Diplomat recalls people of Ejama Ebubu community took Shell to court in 2001 because of the oil spillage that happened in the community in 1970.
The spillage destroyed the only river serving the community, as well as fish ponds and farm lands.
However, it took nine years after the case had been filed against Shell, before the presiding Judge, Honorable Justice, Ibrahim Buba, pronounced the verdict. Buba ordered the oil company to pay the people of Ejama-Ebubu the total sum of $100 million as a compensation for the damages the oil spillage caused in the community.
But Shell appealed the judgement at the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 2010. The oil company said they had wiped out the spillage in the community. The oil company didn’t take responsibility for the spillage adding that it was as a result of the destruction that happened during the Nigerian Civil war in 1967 to 1970.
On November 30, 2020, a five-member panel of justices dismissed the application on the grounds that it had no merit since the court had taken a decision on the appeal and the court could not reverse itself.
The judgment which was prepared by Justice Centus Nweze and read by Justice Chukwudumebi Oseji in Abuja, held that the the application had no merit. The court the ordered the oil company to pay the sum of $479 million.
According to the court, the damages and interest have now accumulated to a whopping $479 million, an equivalent of Nigerian N189,118,317,113.94 according to the Friday’s official exchange rate.