Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court has ordered CBN to pay the sum of N82 billion judgement debt to oil-producing communities of Ibeno local government area of Akwa-Ibom State.
The aforementioned amount stands to the credit of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and its joint venture partner, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited at the Central Bank of Nigeria.
In 2012, the Ibeno communities had instituted a lawsuit against NNPC, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and ExxonMobil Corporation seeking a N100 billion compensation for economic losses suffered from oil spillages caused by the defendants during exploration.
What happened in court
At the resumed hearing, Abayomi Omoruwa (SAN), CBN’s lawyer argued that the consent of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) needed to be sought before enforcing the garnishee order.
Justice Taiwo held that the consent of the AGF needed not to be sought as CBN is not a public officer. He, therefore, ordered it to release the funds belonging to the defendants to the communities.
In his ruling, the judge said, “The January 6, 2022 application for an order nisi is made absolute against the apex bank.”
NNPC and Mobil had raised objections to the order Nisi made by the court in December 2021. They challenged the order saying that the name on the suit was NNPC and not NNPC Ltd.
While dismissing the application challenging the service of garnishee order nisi, Justice Taiwo said the Petroleum Industry Act has altered the name of NNPC.
He noted that NNPC Ltd. had inherited assets and liabilities of NNPC as its employees and directors are still the same group of persons.
“It follows that the suit identity of the judgement debtor has been known, and the misnomer will be corrected since it’s a mistake of a name.
“The Judgment debtor is a juristic person, and the applicant has not suffered any injustice upon the mistake in the name of the applicant.
“The Court has power to grant amendment of the name if mistakenly written. When a misnomer occurs, it does not vitiate the subject matter of the case.”
The judge noted that the court is to make findings and dispense justice and not to punish a litigant for a misnomer.
“The application of the judgement debtor dated 24 December, 2021 is hereby refused,” justice Taiwo held.
Justice Taiwo, after dismissing the objections raised by CBN, NNPC and Mobil, held that “Since all challenges to the order nisi dated 15 December, 2021 have been dispensed with and found lacking in merit, the order nisi is hereby made absolute against the garnishees.”
In 2012, aggrieved people of Ibeno communities led by Obong Effiong Archianga and 9 others through their lawyers, Chief Lucius Nwosu,( SAN), had instituted the suit against NNPC, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and ExxonMobil Corporation.
The court dismissed the 3rd defendant (EXxonMobil) from the suit after it had established that there was no cause of action against it.
The defendants had argued that the suit was statute-barred in 2012 when it was instituted.
On June 21, 2021, the court awarded N81.9 billion to the communities over the oil spillage.
Of which N10 billion was for general damages, N42.8 billion as damages for intangible losses and N21.9 billion for special damages as annotated.
The court held that both Mobil and NNPC were negligent by their failure to visit places of the leakages of the crude oil that led to the contamination of rivers and creeks.
In its ruling, the court ordered NNPC and Mobil to pay the funds to the communities within 14 days of which failure to pay will attract an 8 percent interest on the principal sum.
However, failure of the NNPC and Mobil to pay the said money, the communities approached the court again seeking the enforcement of the judgement by initiating a garnishee proceedings.
The court had ordered CBN to come and show cause why an order should not be made upon it in fulfilment of the judgement debt.
On December 15, 2021, CBN argued that it had to get the consent of the Attorney General of the Federation before enforcing the garnishee judgment.
What you should know
Justice Taiwo rejected the claims of the Mobile joint venture partner, NNPC, that the suit was statute-barred in 2012 when it was filed by the aggrieved plaintiffs, adding that the suit had to do with fundamental rights that cannot be rendered impotent by the statute of limitations.
Section 11 (5) of the Oil Pipeline Act made it mandatory for oil companies to monitor and repair their pipelines to avoid spillages and environmental degradation.
Mobil had claimed that it did clean up exercises in the oil communities. However, the judge in June 2021, held that the oil giant failed to address the compensation that would have mitigated the economic losses of the people said to be mainly fishermen and farmers.