Court declines requests over interim order against Shell, Agip by Malabu Oil
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday rejected applications filed by Malabu Oil and Gas Company seeking to be joined in the suit filed by Shell Production Company Limited and Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited.
Shell and Agip are asking Justice John Tsoho to set aside his order of interim forfeiture of Oil Prospecting License (OPL 245) to the Federal Government, pending investigation and prosecution of suspects in the $1.1 billion Malabu Oil fraud.
At the resumed hearing, Malabu Oil, through its lawyer, Mr. Abdullahi Haruna, urged the court to vary its earlier forfeiture order against Shell and Agip oil companies.
Abdullahi also asked the court to allow his client to be joined as an interested party in Shell and Agip discharge application. Responding to Malabu’s joinder and variation applications, counsel to Shell and Agip, opposed the move on the ground that the court’s earlier forfeiture order was not made against Malabu.
Counsel to Shell, Prof. Olaniwun Ajayi (SAN), told the court that yesterday had been fixed for the hearing of his clients’ pending applications, and seeking the discharge of the order of forfeiture to the Federal Government, which the court made pending the conclusion of the matter.
The oil firm is also urging the court to dismiss or strike out the suit as well as the order staying injunction or suspending the effects of the interim order made by the court, directing that OPL 245 be managed by the Department of Petroleum Resources on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria pending the conclusion of investigation and prosecution.
Counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Johnson Ojogbane, prayed the court to reject Malabu’s applications as it was not a proper party before the court.
After listening to counsel in the proceedings, Justice Tsoho held that Malabu had no business in the suit as the court’s earlier decision was not made against it.
He stated that Malabu’s joinder and variation applications could not be entertained as the court had slated yesterday for the hearing of pending applications in the matter.
He, therefore, urged Malabu to keep its requests in abeyance pending the outcome of the discharge order being sought by Shell and Agip against the EFCC.
Subsequently, Shell’s lawyer, Ajayi (SAN), in arguing his request for the court to vacate its earlier order against his client, told Justice Tsoho that EFCC’s Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, wrongly obtained the forfeiture order.
On his part, counsel to Agip, Mr. Babatunde Fapohunda (SAN), aligned himself with the submissions of Ajayi in urging the court to set aside its January 26 forfeiture order.
Citing Sections 26, 28 and 29 of the EFCC Act, Fapohunda submitted that “the notion that somebody’s assets can be taken away without hearing from the person is fundamentally wrong..
“Is it possible for EFCC to attach and subsequently forfeit assets of a subject in proceedings that are conducted from the start to finish on an ex-parte basis?”, Agip lawyer asked.
In a counter-affidavit, EFCC stated that the earlier forfeiture order was to prevent any step or action on the oil block. Adopting the counter-affidavit, Ojogbane noted that OPL 245 was a subject of criminal investigation and prosecution.
“We are stopping criminality from progressing. To ask the court to vacate the order is a disservice to Nigerians and criminal justice in the country”, Ojogbane stated.
He urged the court to dismiss the applicants’ (Shell and Agip) requests in their entirety for lacking in merit. Justice Tsoho has adjourned the matter till March 13 for ruling on the applications.