The Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Mr Osagie Okunbor, and two other top officials of the oil company have been sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour for contempt of court order.
To do time in prison alongside Mr. Ounbor are Nike Onyilola, the company’s Secretary and Head of Legal Department and Keibi Atemie, who is the Deputy Country Head of Legal/Managing Counsel, Global Litigation, Sub-Sahara Africa.
Justice George Omereji gave the order in a judgement on Tuesday, saying the three persons were convicted for refusing to obey a court order in 2008, instructing them to forfeit land where Bonny Crude Oil terminal was located.
The convicted Shell officials were not in court but Justice Omereji instructed the police and other law enforcement agencies to arrest and send them to prison.
The court order they violated was given 10 years ago by Justice Margaret Opara of the Rivers State High Court, the judge said.
The land in issue belonged to the Jumbo Major House of Bonny and the Brown House of Finima in the Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State.
The Jumbo Major House and Brown House, who are all landlords to Shell in the Bonny LGA had approached the court in Suit Number PHC/1956/2007, alleging breach of tenancy agreement and sought compensation for their land.
Justice Opara had in 2008 ordered Shell too give up the Bonny terminal for violating the terms of tenancy and secretly and in bad faith getting a Certificate of Occupancy from the then government of Rivers State for the same land.
Shell had after the ruling in 2008 gone to appeal, but it lost in both the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court.
Shell spokesperson, Bamidele Odugbesan, reacting to the judgment, said that the oil company did notdisobey any court order and had appealed the judgement.
He said “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.”
However, the fact that the Bonny Oil Terminal is an important national asset is not a licence to disregard court orders and the talk about Shell taking the personal liberty of its officers seriously is very nonsensical. No one is above the law.