Arco’s counsel decry alleged disobedience of court order by AGIP
THREE counsel representing Arco Group Plc in a suit it filed against Nigeria Agip Oil Company Limited (NAOC) at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt have decried alleged ‘total disrespect of court order’ by NAOC.
The lawyers, Chief Wole Olanipekun, Chief Albert Akpomudje and Beluolisa Nwofor, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria, had, in a newspaper advertorial, lamented the alleged manner in which Agip, in total disrespect of the order of the court and the pendency of an action against it, has been using GE International Operation Nigeria Limited as a cover to order Arco to vacate the OBOB, Kwale and Ebocha gas plants in Delta and Rivers states.
They reminded Agip, GE International, Plantgeria Company Limited or any other company or companies, person or persons that Nigeria operates and thrives under the doctrine of the rule of law, adding that none of them is above the law of the land.
The lawyers said it is in the interest of all mentioned, and indeed in the interest of all Nigerians, to respect, obey, honour and abide by the orders of the court until same are set aside either by the court itself or by an appellate court. In their opening statement, they referred to an originating summons dated February 4, 2015 in which Arco Group Plc sought the interpretation by the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, of some salient provisions of the Nigeria Oil and Gas Content Development Act, 2010.
The provisions are the ones that relate to Arco’s relationship with NAOC in the ownership of equipment, Nigerian personnel and capacity to execute contract for maintenance of the gas plants. They stated that there is an order of interim injunction restraining the defendants by themselves or by their agents, workers, servants, or howsoever from awarding or taking any step or steps to award to any person, company or firm except the plaintiff company, any contract whether designated as interim, stop-gap, 4 + 1 years or howsoever described for the maintenance of the gas plants pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for order of interlocutory injunction.
According to them, NAOC filed a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court, which was struck out on June 2, 2015 for being defective. The court, they said, further directed that it would hear counsel for parties on the issue of jurisdiction and adjourned the matter to June 30, 2015. “We were prepared to address the court on the matter of jurisdiction on June 30, 2015. However, that could not be done because of the failure of Agip to file any Memorandum of Appearance as mandatorily required by the Rules of Court.
“The court rightly held, applying the Supreme Court decision in Inakoju v. Adeleke & others in 2007, that it could not grant audience to a party that has not filed memorandum of appearance and that the natural thing to do in such circumstance would have been to give judgment for Arco”, the lawyers stated. They said the court exercised some restraint, despite their own submission that Arco was entitled to judgment.
The statement traced how, against stiff resistance of Agip’s counsel, Arco’s lawyers posited that it would not harm any of the parties if the court ordered maintenance of the status quo. “After listening to arguments of the counsel for both parties, the court, in its wisdom, again ordered that the status quo be maintained,” Olanipekun and others stated. The case was subsequently adjourned till October 26, 2015 for further hearing.
They contended that pending the resumption of the case on that date, Agip has been using GE to order Arco to vacate the plants in total disregard of the court order.
“Notice of consequences of disobedience of court order (Form 48) has already been served on Agip, as well as its managing director, but it appears Agip is not ready or prepared to respect or obey either the court order or the proceedings against it,” they said. The lawyers referred to the case of the Military Governor of Lagos State and others versus Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in 1986 and quoted the Supreme Court decision that “in the area where rule of law operates, the rule of self-help by force is abandoned.
Nigeria, being one of the countries in the world, even in the third world, which professes loudly to follow the rule of law, gives no room for the rule of self-help by force to operate. Once a dispute has arisen between a person and government or authority and the dispute has been brought before the court, thereby invoking the judicial power of the state, it is the duty of the government to allow the law to take its course or allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course.” They stated their resolve to pursue and argue their client’s case in October 26, 2015 provided Agip would also be prepared to do so.