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ZENITH BANK LOSES BID TO STALL N1.8B PAYMENT TO COMMUNITY

By NBF News
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THE Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt has dismissed a suit by Zenith Bank suit seeking a stay of execution of a court judgment, which ordered it to pay Umuorie community of Abia State the sum N1.8 billion being judgment debt it guaranteed Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

The presiding judge, Justice Ejembi Eko, explained that using subterfuges to frustrate the judgment creditor from reaping the fruits of victory is one of such sins of a judgment debtor, who is delinquent.

A Port Harcourt High Court Justice, S.C. Amadi had in August ordered Zenith Bank to pay to pay the sum of N1.8 billion to Umuorie community been liquidated money based on a written executed and sealed guarantee by the bank to the community if Shell, which they had suited for environmental degradation loses its case at the Court of Appeal.

It would be recalled that the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri had asked Shell to pay N1.49 billion as special and general damages in favour of the community for oil spillage and other acts bordering on the degradation of the environment.

Having fulfilled all the stipulated conditions by the bank, which was not honoured, the community through their counsel, Mr. Lucius Nwosu (SAN) had filed a suit in a Port Harcourt High Court to compel the bank to release the judgement debt.

It would be recalled that bank had through its counsel, Barinua Wifa (SAN) argued that the guarantee, which the community seeks to enforce in the suit was not yet due for payment in view of the fact that an appeal has been lodged against the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Supreme Court.

As a result of the demands and pressure mounted on it, Shell had through his counsel, Richard Akinjide, sought an order of injuction restraining the bank and the community from executing the judgment of the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal pending determination of the company's motion on notice for the stay of execution fixed for hearing on October 4, 2010 by the Court of Appeal.

The Umuorie community had filed a suit at a federal High Court Umuahia against Shell to press for compensation for crude oil, toxic effluent and production water discharge into their communal land, swamps.

Shell was accused of establishing a large toxic production water containment area with crude oil presence surrounded by a bund wall, which collapses periodically, to spill the content into fields and waterways of the community.

Justice Eko in his judgment observed that though the court does not the ulterior purpose of the bank's appeal, it is however clear that the bank seeks to retain the money for its profit and much to the detriment of the community.

'No court of justice will take a party seriously who approbates and reprobates at the same time on the same issue. That is the moral burden this applicant has to bear in this application. Such stance by a litigant would appeal to be an attempt to mislead the court,' he said.

He explained that the Port Harcourt High Court order was absolute in the sense that there was no more money judgment that its execution may be stayed. According to him, Shell is not directly complaining but the bank, albeit as a remote defender of Shell and the Central Bank of Nigeria without any apparent instruction.

'In a nutshell I see no merit in this application and it is hereby dismissed with costs assessed at N50,000.00  to the respondents against the appellant/applicant, Zenith Bank Plc,' he said.