Justice George Omereji of the Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt has sentenced the Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Mr. Osagie Okunbor, and two others to three months in prison for disobedience of a court order.
Aside Osagie, who was sentenced with hard labour for court contempt, others are Shell’s Secretary and Head of Legal Matters, Nike Oyinlola and the Deputy Country Head of Legal/Managing Counsel Global Litigation (sub-Sahara Africa), Keibi Atemie.
In his judgement in the suit No: PHC/1929/2018, the judge convicted the Shell top officials for disobeying a court order by Justice Margaret Opara of the Rivers State High Court in 2008, asking SPDC to forfeit the land where the Bonny crude oil terminal is located to the Jumbo Major House of Bonny and the Brown House of Finima, both in Bonny, Rivers State.
The aforementioned families which are Shell’s landlords in Bonny had gone to court in suit No: PHC/1956/2007 over the tenancy and compensation for the land then Military Government of Rivers State had issued a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) to Shell.
Justice Opara had ordered that Shell should forfeit the Bonny terminal for breach of terms of its tenancy by going behind the landlords to obtain a C of O from the government of Rivers State for the land.
About 30 per cent of the country’s crude is exported from the disputed land.
Not satisfied with the order by the lower court to forfeit the Bonny terminal land, Shell proceeded to the Appeal Court and Supreme Court, where it also lost the case for lack of merit.
Earlier, Justice Omereji dismissed a motion of notice by counsel to Shell and its three officials seeking to set aside the order of the court made on July 25, 2018 that granted leave to the landlords to serve substituted means of notice of consequence of disobedience of court order in the suit upon the contemnor.
After hearing the submissions of Lucius Nwosu (SAN), Emmanuel Asido, counsel to the Bonny landlords and Thompson Okpoko (SAN), the lawyer to the Shell officials, the judge asserted that the committal of Okunbor, Oyinlola and Atemie was for refusal to obey the order of Justice Opara to forfeit the Bonny terminal to the landlords.
Omereji directed the Nigerian Police and other law enforcement to immediately arrest the Shell officials who were absent in court and send them to prison.
He added that the sentence would serve as a deterrent to people who do not respect the rule of law in the country.