Local Content: Again Judge’s Absence Stalls Judgement on ARCO, Agip Case

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Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The absence of Justice Abdullah Liman of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, yesterday, again stalled ruling on six motions in the suit by an indigenous oil servicing firm, ARCO Group Plc, against the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and others over the implementation of the Local Content Act.

Yesterday’s was the fourth time the court failed to deliver judgment on the matter.
Liman had at the July 22 sitting of the court deferred judgment on the matter and other cases listed for judgment because of “distractions and annoying petitions.”

He said he had hoped to deliver his ruling on six contentions issues on the Arco case as well as judgments on other matters but that he was not able to write his judgment because of distractions and petitions.

“Even though the court is on vacation, I had hoped to deliver judgment on the listed cases today. However, I am unable to write the judgments because of distractions and annoying petitions.

“Particularly, on the Arco Group’s case, this morning I have received additional authorities. I will look into the cases and deliver judgment on September 23. All the cases for judgment are hereby adjourned to September 23,” he said.

The issues in contention include jurisdiction, motion on notice and contempt charges over maintenance of status quo as ordered by the court.
On September 23, as the parties were in court for the rulings, Liman was again absent and was said to be attending judges conference in Abuja.

A staff of the court, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a new date for the ruling would be communicated to all the parties involved in the matter.

Friday, October 7 was subsequently fixed for judgment. However, after waiting for hours, counsel to both plaintiff and defendants were called into the judge’s chamber where they were told to come back on October 11.
But on resumption yesterday, the litigants and interested members of the public gathered in court and waited till about 12.30p.m. before court officers announced that the court would not sit and that judgment had been deferred to October 14.

Although no reason was given for the deferment, THISDAY gathered that it might not be unconnected with the raid on the homes of some Federal High Court judges by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS), especially in Port Harcourt where it was believed that Liman was one of the targets of the secret police.

Arco had, in suit number FH/PH/CS/02/2015, dragged Agip, 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, it is entitled, being a Nigerian company, to the exclusive right to be considered and granted such contract including any extension of its duration.

Arco also sought a declaration that the persistent and deliberate failure of NAOC to award the contract for the maintenance of the said plants, as well as grant an extension of the award by way of interim or stop gap contract, violated Section 3 (2, 3) of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010.