By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — The Supreme Court has ordered stay of execution on the judgment of a Port Harcourt Division of the Appeal Court, which on April 15, 2010, ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, to pay N1.6 billion to two families in Rivers State.

The benefiting families of Rumuchuchota-Mgbussiku and Rumukurukuru-Mgbuesilaru, both of Okporo Rumukoroshe town in the Obio/Apkor Local Government Area of Rivers State, had in 1958, executed a Deed of Lease over 153.5 acres of land for 99 years with Shell Petroleum.

However, the families subsequently went before a High Court sitting in Rivers State and sought the forfeiture of the lease on grounds that there was a breach of the terms of the lease regarding the payment of rent and obligation not to sublet without the consent of the lessor.

In its determination of the plaintiff’s case, the High Court accordingly granted the relief sought by the families, adding that Shell Petroleum should pay N40,000 million per acre of the land to the plaintiffs, describing it as a fair market value of the land should the company insist on retaining both relationships.

Dissatisfied with the verdict, Shell Petroleum took the matter to the Port Harcourt Division of the appeal court which not only upheld the trial court judgment, but went ahead and ordered the company to promptly pay the said cost of N1.6 billion to the affected families.

Still not satisfied with the outcome of its appeal, the company took the matter to the apex court, seeking an order to stay execution and enforcement of the judgment of the High Court of Rivers State delivered on May 5, 2007.

The appellant further sought an order or injunction for the preservation of the ‘Res’ of the matter as well as for the  preservation of the status quo ante, pending the determination of its appeal before the Supreme Court.

In deciding the application, a five-man panel of justices of the apex court on Friday, ordered a stay of execution of the lower court’s judgment pending the determination of the appeal.

In the lead ruling read by Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, he held: “In my view, if a stay of execution is not granted, the beneficiaries of the judgment would go into Shell Residential Area (The RES) driven by all kinds of desires, the end is best imagined. The RES may be destroyed before the appeal is determined.

“A return to the status quo ante bellum in the event the appellant wins would be impossible, and that would be bad for the streams of justice which must be kept pure at all times.

“After examining the affidavit evidence, the appellant/applicant has been able to show its huge investments on the RES known as the Shell Residential Area, if a stay of execution is not granted, its activities would be crippled.”

This to my mind amounts to special, exceptional and strong reasons why this application should be granted.

“The balance of convenience is clearly on the side of the appellant/applicant; accordingly a stay of execution is hereby granted pending the determination of this appeal.

“The Preliminary objection on this issue is also dismissed. Motion on Notice filed on 14/9/10 by learned counsel for the 1st and 2nd sets of claimants/respondents/applicants is hereby dismissed. Both applications succeed and they are hereby granted.

“For the avoidance of doubt Preliminary Objections are hereby dismissed. It is ordered as follows:
“Leave is granted the appellant/applicant to file three additional grounds of appeal.

“Time is extended by 60 days from today to enable learned counsel file the appellants brief and amended Notice of Appeal.

“A stay of execution is hereby granted pending the hearing and determination of the appeal”, the ordered.

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