A High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, has sentenced the Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company, Mr Osagie Okunbor, and two other top officials of the oil firm to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour for contempt.
The other two officials convicted by the court are Nike Onyilola, who is the SPDC Secretary and Head of Legal Department; and Keibi Atemie, who is the Deputy Country Head of Legal/Managing Counsel, Global Litigation, Sub-Sahara Africa.
Delivering judgement on Tuesday in Suit Number PHC/1929/2018, the presiding judge, Justice George Omereji, said the three persons were convicted for refusing to obey a court order in 2008 instructing them to forfeit land where Bonny Crude Oil terminal was located.
The court order, according to Justice Omereji, was given 10 years ago by Justice Margaret Opara of the Rivers State High Court.
It was gathered that the said land belonged to the Jumbo Major House of Bonny and the Brown House of Finima in the Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Though the convicted Shell officials were not in court, Justice Omereji instructed the police and other law enforcement agencies to arrest and send them to prison.
The Jumbo Major House and Brown House, who are all landlords to Shell in the Bonny LGA had approached the court in Suit Number PHC/1956/2007 and complained about the tenancy and compensation for their land.
It was also learnt that Justice Opara had in 2008 instructed that Shell should give up the Bonny terminal for violating the terms of tenancy and surreptitiously getting a Certificate of Occupancy from the then government of Rivers State for the said land.
Thirty per cent of Nigeria’s crude oil is said to be produced and exported from the land owned by Jumbo Major House of Bonny and the Brown House of Finima.
Shell had after the ruling in 2008 gone to the Appeal Court, lost the case, and went to the Supreme Court, where it also lost.
Before sentencing the Shell officials, Justice Omereji struck out a motion of notice by counsel for Shell and the three top employees of the firm, praying the court to set aside the court order that directed the landlords to serve substituted means of notice of consequences of disobedience of a court order.
Counsel for Bonny landlords, Lucius Nwosu (SAN) and Emmanuel Asido, and their counterpart for Shell officials, Thompson Okpoko (SAN), had earlier argued on the matter.
But Justice Omereji declared that the committal of Okunbor, Olafimihan and Atemie, was based on Shell’s failure to obey the order of Justice Opara to surrender the land to the owners.
However, reacting to the ruling, SPDC spokesperson, Bamidele Odugbesan, stated that the oil company did not accept that it disobeyed any court order and had appealed the judgement.
“We do not accept that SPDC disobeyed any lawful order of court and have accordingly appealed this judgement. The SPDC has utmost respect for the courts and the laws of Nigeria.
“As stated above, the landlord families settled with SPDC in 2014 and collected all rents due on the land up to 2019 as publicly declared by the landlord families in The Guardian edition of Sunday, August 24, 2014 on page 14.
“SPDC takes seriously the personal liberty of its officers and also the threat to continuing operations at the Bonny Oil Terminal, a critical national asset in which the Federal Government holds 55 per cent interest.
“For this reason, SPDC has taken all lawful steps to protect its officials and ensure uninterrupted operations at the terminal in the interest of the nation,” Odugbesan said.