The Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company SPDC, Osagie Okunbor, and two other top officials of the oil firm, Nike Onyilola and Keibi Atemie, have been sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour by a Port Harcourt High court, for contempt. Nike Onyilola is the SPDC Secretary and Head of Legal Department while Keibi Atemie is the Deputy Country Head of Legal/Managing Counsel, Global Litigation, Sub-Sahara Africa.The three persons were convicted for refusing to obey a court order in 2008 instructing their organization to forfeit the land where Bonny Crude Oil terminal was operating from. The preisding judge, Justice George Omereji, said the court order asking the company to vacate the land was given 10 years ago by Justice Margaret Opara of the Rivers State High Court and the company has blatantly disobeyed the order.
The owners of the land who are from the Jumbo Major House of Bonny and the Brown House of Finima in the Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State, had approached the court after the oil and gas company violated the tenancy agreement they had with them and for also acquiring a certificate of Occupancy from the then Rivers state government even when they had not sold the land to them. Justice Opara had in 2008, instructed the company to give up the land and return it back to the owners.
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.
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.
Reacting to the verdict of Justice Omereji, the spokesperson of SPDC, 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.