Fixes June 14 for hearing on jurisdiction, summons, contempt
Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
Hearing resumed on Thursday at the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on the contract dispute between Arco Group Plc and Nigeria Agip Oil Company which borders on the Nigerian Content Act, with Justice Mohammed Liman as the new presiding judge.
Liman takes over from Justice Lambo Akanbi, who has been retired by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Arco, an indigenous oil firm, had, in suit number FH/PH/CS/02/2015, dragged Agip, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Conoco Philips Petroleum Nigeria Limited and the Nigeria Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) before the court to determine whether in view of the provision of section 3 subsections (2) and (3) of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010, having demonstrated ownership of equipment, Nigerian personnel and capacity to execute the task of performing the contract for the maintenance service of rotating equipment at the Nigerian Agip Oil Company gas plants at OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale, is entitled, being a Nigerian company, to the exclusive right to be considered and granted such contract including any extension of its duration.
At the resumed hearing yesterday, counsel to Nigerian Agip Oil Company (1st defendant), Thompson Okpoko (SAN), wanted the court to take arguments on the jurisdiction of the court over the matter.
He said: “This case came to court by way of originating summons. We took the position that this court does not have the jurisdiction over this matter. Parties should address the court on the issue of jurisdiction.”
But counsel to the Arco (the plaintiff), Albert Akpomuje (SAN), said based on the rules of the court, the issues of jurisdiction and originating summons should be taken together.
He however noted that Agip had been flouting orders of the court and said the court should treat the issue of contempt first.
“We have complained to the court that its orders are being flouted. There are no appeals against them by the defendant (Agip). Our submission is that the contempt proceedings be taken before any other thing,” he said.
Akpomuje insisted that: “Before the issue of jurisdiction, we want the issue of contempt taken because, if the defendant can disobey Order1 and Order 2, what guarantee do we have that the defendant will obey any other order of the court?”
After listening to the arguments of counsel to both parties, Justice Liman said he would not take arguments on the matter because he just heard the matter for the first time.
He said he would need time to study the files on the matter.
He therefore adjourned the matter to June 14 to hear arguments on the originating summons, contempt and preliminary proceedings.
The judge also ordered that hearing notice be served on the third defendant, Conoco Philips Petroleum Nigeria Limited, as they were not represented in court.
Speaking with journalists shortly after the court session, Counsel to Arco, Abert Akpomuje (SAN), while commenting on the change of the presiding judge, said: “It is okay. Any judge can go, any judge can come. We are not particular about any judge. They are all judicial officers and we believe in them. Anybody can handle the matter.”
On what transpired in court, Akpomuje said: “What has happened is that the judge has now agreed that the originating summons we filed together with any preliminary objection should be taken together. Before now, they had wanted to take only the preliminary objection without the originating summons. So, that has been settled; that all of them will be taken together. That means if the court rules that it has no jurisdiction, then it will not go to the originating summons. But if it rules that it has jurisdiction, then it will determine the case finally.”
He expressed satisfaction with the procedure adopted by the presiding judge.
“The procedure we have adopted is a very simple one. It is a one-day matter. When we come on June 14. If nothing goes wrong, the matter will end that day. We will just argue our own application and then the court will give its judgment. It is not like the one you will have to take evidence, cross-examine and then go on for days on this originating summons,” Akpomuje said.