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EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION 5959 LAS CONILAS BOULEVARD IRVING TEXAS UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. HRH OBONG (DR.) EFFIONG B. ARCHIANGA (JP) & ORS

(2018) LPELR-44979(SC)

In The Supreme Court of Nigeria

On Friday, the 6th day of July, 2018

SC.631/2014


Before Their Lordships

MUSA DATTIJO MUHAMMAD Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria

KUDIRAT MOTONMORI OLATOKUNBO KEKERE-EKUN Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria

CHIMA CENTUS NWEZE Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria

EJEMBI EKO Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria

PAUL ADAMU GALINJE Justice of The Supreme Court of Nigeria


Between

EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION
5959 LAS CONILAS BOULEVARD IRVING TEXAS UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA) - Appellant(s)

AND

1. HRH OBONG (DR) EFFIONG
B. ARCHIANGA (JP)
2. OBONG DANIEL A.
UDOMFIOK
3. OBONG DANIEL PETER EKPO
4. OBONG BASSEY I. AKPANIKA (JP)
5. CHIEF OWON SUNDAY AKAPANOWONG
6. WILLIAMS HENRY MKPAH
7. OBONGAWAN BESSIE O. NYAKPA
8. CHIEF EDMOND N. OKON
9. CHIEF ISUAMDONO I. OKON
10. CHIEF OKUTINYANG H. INYANG
(for themselves and on behalf
of the people and members
of Ibeno clan in Ibeno Local
Government Area of Akwa
Ibom State)
11. NIGERIAN NATIONAL PETROLEUM CORPORATION
12. MOBIL PRODUCTION NIGERIA UNLIMITED - Respondent(s)


Other Citations

; ;


Summary

INTRODUCTION:
This appeal borders on Civil Procedure.
FACTS:
This is an appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja.
The 1st to 10th Respondents by a writ of summons filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja on the 3rd of February, 2012, claimed against the 11th and 12th Respondents as well as the Appellant jointly the following reliefs: -
a. A declaration that the corporate structure of the 2nd defendant is such that it did not and cannot accept or discharge its corporate responsibilities in torts and contractual obligations to the magnitude of the volume of business exposures it engages in, should the plaintiff claim succeed.
b. A declaration that in view of the 3rd defendant's declaration at the Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States of America afore pleaded, the 3rd defendant is estopped from denying its 100% ownership, and a fortiori, responsibility for all the torts and contractual obligations no matter howsoever described and arising from the 2nd defendant's dealings in Nigeria.
c. An order compelling the 3rd defendant to file a rectification in the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria clearly accepting full responsibility for the ownership and activities of the 2nd defendant in the plaintiffs' territories and Nigeria.
d. An order declaring a nullity all transactions, rights and obligations entered in Nigeria by the 2nd defendant beyond the corporate liability of its shareholders as a corporate body whose shareholders liability is declared unlimited, these include all oil concessions, production facilities and accruable revenue derived therefrom.
e. A consequential order declaring the 1st defendant as the sole owner of the oil concessions, oil blocks, assets and finances arising from the purported joint venture operations or production sharing contracts entered into by or through the 2nd defendant over above its share capital or the liability of its shareholders afore pleaded, and a fortiori, that the 1st defendant shall assume full responsibility to pay the damages claimed in this suit which is more than five hundred times in excess of the share capital of the 2nd defendant or ultimate liability of its two shareholders.
f. A declaration that the 3rd defendant is bound to accept 100% responsibilities for its joint venture related torts and contractual liabilities given the structure and under capitalization of its subsidiary, the 2nd defendant.
g. An order setting aside all previous denials on oath or pleadings of the 3rd defendant, regarding its vicarious liability for the activities of the 2nd defendant in Nigeria.
h. SPECIAL DAMAGES as annotated in items i, ii, and iii under the head summary of values in the Plaintiffs' Chartered Valuer's Report N29,112,157,500.00.
i. DAMAGES FOR INTANGIBLE LOSSES as itemized under items (iv), (v) and (vi) under the head SUMMARY OF VALUES in the Plaintiffs' Chartered Valuer's Report N42,813,000,000.00.
j. GENERAL DAMAGES - N28,074,842,500.00 TOTAL - N100,000,000.00 (USD$ equivalent $66,666,666.6 @ N150 to USD1.0).
k. INJUNCTION restraining the defendants, by themselves, their agents or contractors from continuing or repeating the Oil Spills or Gas Flaring giving rise to these nuisances.
l. An order of mandamus directing the 1st defendant to discharge its duties by ensuring that their joint venture operators do clean up, detoxify and rehabilitate the plaintiffs' lands ecosystem, underground waters and air quality.

The Appellant, who was the 3rd defendant at the Federal High Court filed its statement of defence on the 19th July, 2012 and subsequently filed a motion on notice on the 25th of September, 2012 in which it sought for the following orders: -
"1. Setting down for hearing and determination the threshold points of law raised by the Appellant in its statement of defence dated 18 July, 2012 and fully set out hereunder.
2. Striking out the name of the Applicant from this suit on the ground that the plaintiffs' originating processes in this suit disclose no reasonable cause of action whatsoever and howsoever against the Appellant.
3. Dismissing and/or striking out this suit as against the Applicant on the ground that this Honourable Court lacks the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the claims against the Applicant, domiciled outside the territorial jurisdiction of this Honouroble Court and not having any presence whatsoever in Nigeria.
4. Dismissing and/or striking out this suit as against the Applicant on the ground that the averments in the plaintiffs' statement of claim particularly as they relate to the Applicant, are entirely speculative, wholly conjectural, without foundation or basis whatsoever and totally academic in nature."

Under the grounds for the application, the Applicant set out some threshold points of law which he prayed the Federal High Court to hear and determine. This application was heard and in a reserved and considered ruling, Abdu-Kafarati J (as he then was) made reference to Order 29 Rules 4(a) and 5 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009 and concluded as follows: -
"It is more than five months between the service of the plaintiffs' claim on the 3rd defendant and the date the said 3rd defendant filed its statement of defence. In situation like this the rules of Court provide that the point of law should be taken at the conclusion of trial. This provisions (sic) of the law couple with my earlier observation/finding makes it imperative to take the 3rd defendant's points of law on jurisdiction at the conclusion of the trial in this matter. Accordingly hearing on prayers 2, 3 and 4 is suspended/deferred till the conclusion of trial in this matter. Prayer one on the motion paper having been conceded by the plaintiffs' counsel is granted as prayed. I now call on the plaintiffs' counsel to call his first witness."

The Appellant was unhappy with that ruling. Being aggrieved, it appealed to the Court of Appeal without success. Further aggrieved, the Appellant appealed to the Supreme Court.

ISSUES:
The Court determined the appeal on this sole issue it couched as follows:
"Whether the trial Court was right when it deferred determination of prayers 2, 3 and 4 of the Appellant's application till the conclusion of trial?"

DECISION/HELD:
On the whole, the Court found no merit in the appeal and accordingly dismissed same.


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