Port Harcourt — THE Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, has ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, to pay $1.5 billion about N210 billion into the coffers of Central Bank of Nigeria, in favour of the Ijaw Aborigenes of Bayelsa State, between last Friday and noon tomorrow.
The order, Friday, by Justice Okechukwu Okeke followed an appeal of stay of execution on a judgment delivered in February, in which the SPDC was ordered to pay the Ijaws the amount as compensation for the damage done to their land for nearly 50 years.
But counsel to the defendant, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), after that judgment in February filed an application for stay of execution, pending the determination of the substantive appeal. However, following the application, the court, in its decision, ruled that SPDC should pay the $1.5billion to the coffers of CBN in the name of the chief registrar of the Federal High Court.
Justice Okeke said the ruling was based on the consideration that CBN was a neutral party in the suit between SPDC and the Ijaws.
The judge explained that should the substantive appeal against the February judgment favour SPDC, then the money could be paid back to the defendants. On the other hand should the appeal fail, the Ijaws could then own the money.
Further to this, she held that SPDC "is financially and substantially" capable of paying the money it was being ordered to deposit in the apex bank.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard after the ruling, representative of the Ijaw Aborigenes in the suit, Chief Pere Ajuwa could trace the origin of the Ijaw demands to December 2000
Ajuwa said the troubled Ijaw people had complained to the National Assembly which set up a committee to verify the claim of emplacement of the Bayelsa land.
After the tour by the lower House and subsequent recommendation of its committee, a panel of jurists was set up.
The jurists, made up of retired Supreme Court judges, recommended $1.5billion, as demanded by the Ijaws, after which the House's committee adopted the resolution. Shell was alleged to have refused to respond to the letter from the House.
Again, Ajuwa explained that the Ijaw went to the Senate with its complaint and that on August 24, 2003, the Senate passed a unanimous resolution in support of the lower House's decision in favour of the Ijaw problems.
He alleged that Shell responded by saying that the National Assembly was not a court and lacked the jurisdiction to order it to pay the amount in question. The circumstances, he said, compelled the Ijaw to go to court which gave rise to the judgment.