NNPC board chair: Buhari replies Araraume

…As court adjourns till January 11

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has challenged the jurisdiction of a Federal High Court, Abuja, to hear the suit by Senator Ifeanyi Araraume over his alleged illegal removal as non-executive chairman of the Board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL.

Ararume is the sole plaintiff in the suit, while Buhari, NNPCL and the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, are first, second and third defendants, respectively.

NNPCL in its preliminary objection is also challenging the competence of the suit, praying the court to dismiss the suit, or, in the alternative, strike out Araraume’s suit.

The corporation in the preliminary objection by its team of lawyers led by Konyin Ajayi, SAN, Etigwe Uwa, SAN, is further contending that Araraume’s action was statute-barred, having regard to Section 2 (A) of the Public Officers Protection Act Cap P41 LFN 2004.

NNPCL further contended that Ararume’s suit constituted an abuse of court process being one that was not supported by law, having regard to the provisions of the Interpretation Act 2004; the Petroleum Industry Act 2021; the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020; and the Articles of Association of NNPCL.

Buhari in his objection by the acting Director, Civil Litigation and Public Law Department, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Maimuna Shiru, is contending that the suit was wrongly commenced by originating summons  as the 75-paragraph affidavit in support thereof, raises inherently contentious  facts, and the  originating summons required proof by oral evidence and that the plaintiff’s suit, as constituted, is incompetent, lacking in any cause of action, nor carrying any right of action, having regard to the Statutory powers of the 1st defendant/respondent implicated in this action.

Specifically, President Buhari predicated his objection on three grounds, to wit: that the removal of Araraume (the plaintiff/respondent in the suit) as the non-executive chairman of NNPCL was done in his capacity as a Public Officer by virtue of Section 251 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended); that the suit was a statute barred action, which offended  the provisions  of Section 2(a) of the Public Officers Protection Act, 2004 with respect to his administrative  acts or decisions made on January 17, 2022, being a period  of about seven months  prior to the filing  of this suit on September 12, 2022; and on the grounds that the suit  amounted to an abuse of court process, which ultimately deprived the court of the jurisdiction to entertain it.

However, when the case was called, yesterday,  Ararume’s lead counsel, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, informed the court that in line with the court’s directive at the last proceedings, all processes had been filed and served on the three defendants, adding that he was ready to identify his processes.

Responding, President Buhari represented by a lawyer from the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr A. Shuaibu, told the court that although he was in the process of filing his defense, he has, however, filed a notice of objection to the suit.

NNPCL, represented by Mr Oluseye Opasanya, SAN, also informed the court of his client’s objection to Ararume’s suit, he claimed he was yet to be served with the amended originating summons to enable him served the third defendant.

However, following claims of non service of the amended originating summons on NNPCL, the court after checking its record discovered that contrary to the position of the second defendant’s lawyer, the NNPCL has been served.

In a short ruling, Justice Ekwo, while directing the NNPCL to do proper housekeeping, ordered all parties in the suit to file and exchange all relevant processes, adding that any counsel who will file its process in the morning of the next adjourned date shall be penalized.

He accordingly adjourned the matter till January 11, 2023 to enable all parties file and exchange necessary processes in the suit.

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