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BBC Monitoring Service:

BBC Monitoring Service – United Kingdom; May 20, 2006

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Text of report by Kelvin Ebiri entitled “Shell gets Monday deadline to pay Ijaw 1.5bn dollars” published by Nigerian newspaper The Guardian website on 20 May

A federal high court sitting in Port Harcourt Rivers State [Niger Delta] has ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to pay the sum of 1.5bn dollars to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), latest by 12 midday [local time] on Monday [22 May] as compensation to the Ijaw Aborigines of Bayelsa State.

Delivering judgment on the application for stay of execution filed by Shell challenging the court's earlier ruling on the compensation for the devastation of the Ijaw's environment, Justice Okechukwu Okeke, yesterday directed the Anglo-Dutch oil giant to pay the said amount into the coffers of the CBN in the name of the chief registrar of the federal high court.

The court had on 24 February 2006 ordered Shell to pay the money to the Ijaw, who had gone to the National Assembly to seek redress for the despoliation of their environment, which they attributed to the exploitation and exploration activities of Shell. Shell's counsel had filed an application for the stay of execution of the judgment which was eventually struck out yesterday.

Justice Okeke, who saw no reason to overturn his earlier ruling, explained that Shell's counsel had unequivocally stated that the company is financially capable to pay the money but could not do so pending the outcome of its appeal. He also dismissed the firm's argument that if it paid the money to the Ijaw, the federal government would be adversely affected. The judge described this argument as preposterous since the government was not a party to the suit.

Following Shell's argument that if it paid the money and the Court of Appeal rules in its favour that it would be difficult to retrieve it from the beneficiaries, Justice Okere, then ordered that the money be paid between yesterday and 12 noon on Monday into the coffers of the CBN in the name of the chief registrar of the federal high court.

Reacting to yesterday's ruling, Pere Ajua, who took the case to the National Assembly, said rather than resort to violence, the Ijaw under the aegis of Ijaw Aborigines had decided to legitimately demand for justice denied them over the years by both the government and Shell. He warned that if Shell failed to obey the court's ruling, Ijaw Aborigines would use all legal means possible to ensure that all its accounts and assets were frozen. He explained that the Ijaw believe in the rule of law, and since the judgment could be enforced anywhere in the world, they would not relent in their quest for justice until the company paid them.

“We have over 1,850 documented deaths linked to the exploration and exploitation activities of the oil company. Instead of going the path of violence, we had gone to the National Assembly, which unanimously agreed that Shell should compensate our people. A panel of eminent jurists headed by retired Justice Mohammed Bello was set up and it recommended that Shell pay us. Shell should respect these institutions for the sake of peace,” he said.

In a statement yesterday, Shell acknowledged the ruling.

Shell is an operator of a joint venture involving the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation NNPC (55 per cent), Shell (30 per cent), EPNL (10 per cent) and Agip (five per cent). The statement explained that SPDC had appealed against an earlier high court judgment on the matter and as a condition for granting the stay of execution, the plaintiffs asked the court for an order directing SPDC to deposit the judgment sum of 1.5bn dollars with the (CBN). SPDC wants an unconditional stay of execution to be granted.

SPDC is disappointed at the ruling requiring payment by the joint venture of 1.5bn dollars into the CBN, and has appealed against it. SPDC is also seeking an unconditional stay of execution to be granted pending its appeal of the main action to the Court of Appeal.

“Should the plaintiffs succeed, the Nigerian government by virtue of its 55 per cent stake in the joint venture through NNPC will be liable to pay 55 per cent of the judgment debt, while the other JV partners (including SPDC) will be liable to contribute their respective percentage shares of judgment sum.

“SPDC believes that justice is served only when there is due process and adherence to the principles of rule of law,” it said.

Source: The Guardian website, Lagos, in English 20 May 06

BBC Monitoring

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