Shell Petroleum Development Company has kicked against the decision of the Rivers State Government to seal Kidney Island.
Government in a statement signed by the Special Assistant to the Governor on Media, Kelvin Ebiri, said it had taken possession of 45 per cent equity stake in Oil Mining Lease (OML) 11 and Kidney Island in Port Harcourt, the state capital.
The statement said Kidney Island, which was once used as Shell Petroleum Development Company’s operational base in Port Harcourt, had become the property of the Rivers State Government.
Justifying its action, the government said it was in pursuant to a certificate of purchase registered in the Lands Registry and issued by the order of the High Court of Rivers State on July 23, 2019 and September 25, 2019 following the purchase of the facility.
Explaining further, the statement recalled that the Supreme Court on November 2020 reaffirmed Rivers State Government’s acquisition of SPDC interest in OML 11 and Kidney Island, when it dismissed the oil firm suit, which sought to set aside the judgment made against it in 2019 in favour of Ejama-Ebubu community.
Rivers State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Zaccheus Adangor, SAN, reportedly spoke when he led a team to seal up the Kidney Island in execution of the judgement of Rivers State High Court.
He said, “You will recall that sometime in 2017, the people of Ejama-Ebubu secured judgment against SPDC and its subsidiaries in the sum of N57.7bn for the damage done to their environment following the oil spill from the Trans-Niger pipeline.
“After that judgement, Shell refused to pay the judgement sum and thereafter proceeded to levy execution by attaching the immoveable properties of SPDC. But those were found to be grossly insufficient to settle the judgement sum.
“Subsequently, they (Ejama-Ebubu community) approached the court to seek the leave of the court to attach the immovable properties of SPDC and the court granted them that order. Following the grant of that order, there was a court order for sell of some of the properties of SPDC including Kidney Island and the acquisition of Shell interest in OML 11.”
Adangor said after the court order, a public auction was held by the officers of the Rivers State Judiciary and the State Government bid successfully for the purchase of Kidney Island and Shell interest in OML 11.
“So, we are here to execute the judgement of the High Court of Rivers State and secure the enforcement of the interest acquired by the Rivers State Government.”
He said that the Rivers Government successfully executed the enforcement without any resistance from Shell.
He said, “It was lawfully purchased through public auction ordered by the court pursuant to a court judgement, hence everything went in accordance with the due process of the law.
“The Rivers State Government successfully executed the enforcement and in fairness to Shell, there was no resistance during the exercise.I was on ground to ensure that everything was done smoothly and in accordance with the law.”
But SPDC in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Gbenga Odugbesan, dismissed the government’s action, saying matters concerning the property were still ongoing at the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt.
Odugbesan said, “Any purported exercise of rights allegedly acquired through that process, including any attempt to take over or seal up the Kidney Island asset or other assets of the SPDC JV to satisfy claims in pending suits is premature and prejudicial to the ongoing court proceedings, and therefore not recognised.”
Explaining further, he said, “Under the Nigerian Petroleum Act, any acquisition or assignment of interests in a licence or lease would require the consent of the Minister of Petroleum. No such consent has been given in the case of the purported acquisition by the Rivers State Government.
“In addition, the ruling of the Supreme Court on 27 November 2020 did not decide liability or the size of the award in the underlying suit of Chief Ogbara & Others Vs SPDC neither did the ruling affirm the purported sale of SPDC JV’s assets to the River State Government as being claimed by the state.
“Meanwhile, there is a pending litigation by SPDC in which the Federal High Court has issued an interim order restraining further enforcement of the underlying Agbara judgment pending the hearing of the motion on notice fixed for hearing on 14 January 2021”.
The oil giant called on the Rivers State Government and persons claiming interest in the SPDC Kidney Island asset to stay further action to allow the due process of the law as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.
“We remain of the view that until the pending appeals are heard and determined, any exercise of rights including any attempt to take over or seal up SPDC JV’s assets by the Rivers State Government is premature and unlawful”, the company said.