By Olalekan Awojodu, Abuja
A Federal High Court in Abuja, has granted a garnishee order absolute, mandating the Central Bank of Nigeria to release the sum of N81.9billion standing to the credit of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and it’s joint venture partner, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (NNPC), in it’s custody to oil producing communities in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom state.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo of gave the verdict on Monday while delivering a judgment.
The Ibeno communities led by Obong Effiong Archianga and nine others had through their lawyers, Chief Lucius Nwosu, SAN brought an action against NNPC, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited and ExxonMobil Corporation seeking about N100 billion compensation for economic losses suffered from oil spillages caused by the defendants during exploration.
The oil communities had gone to court to seek redress over oil spillage in the area, which they claimed had caused environmental degradation in their communities.
Consequently, in a judgement on June 21, 2021, Justice Taiwo made an order, awarding the cost of N81.9billion to the plaintiffs, who are now judgement creditors. The court had ordered that the money must be paid within 14 days after which 8 percent interest will be accruable on the principal sum annually.
On December 15, 2021, in a garnishee nisi proceeding, the apex bank had insisted that it had to get the consent of the Attorney General of the Federation before enforcing the garnishee judgement.
But at the Monday proceedings, Justice Taiwo dismissed the claim of CBN and ordered it to release funds belonging to NNPC and Mobil to the tune of N82bn to the judgement creditor. The court said it was wrong for the apex bank to say it has to get consent from AGF before attaching the judgment debt, insisting the apex bank is not a public officer.
“The January 6, 2022 application for an order nisi is made absolute against the apex bank, Justice Taiwo ordered.
Earlier, the court had dismissed an application challenging the service of garnishee order nisi on the judgement debtor.
Justice Taiwo noted that the coming into force of the Petroleum Industry Act had altered the name of the judgement debtor. However, the court said the CEO, Directors, employees of NNPC are still those of NNPC Ltd, adding that the
NNPC Ltd inherited assets and liabilities of NNPC.
“It follows that the suit identity of the judgement debtor has been known, and the misnomer will be corrected, since it’s a mistake of a name. Judgement debtor is a juristic person, and the applicant has not suffered any injustice upon the mistake in the name of the applicant.
The Court has power, suo moto to grant amendment of the name if mistakenly written.
“When a misnomer occurs, it does not vitiate the subject matter if the case. The object of the court is to make findings and dispense justice and not to punish a litigant for a misnomer.
The court added that the judgement creditor can enter claims “jointly and severally” against the judgement debtor. “I find merit in the address of the judgment creditor, particularly paragraphs 4.14 to 4.18 of his address.
“The application of the judgement debtor dated 24 December, 2021 is hereby refused” the court held.