Court Stops EFCC from Freezing AITEO’s Accounts

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federal government and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from freezing the accounts of AITEO Eastern E & P Company Ltd, or taking actions aimed at crippling the operations of the business.

Justice Gabriel Kolawole gave the order following an ex-parte motion brought and argued by Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN.

The motion ex-parte, dated November 23, 2017, was brought pursuant to Order 26 rule 8 of the Federal High Court Rules and was filed on behalf of the plaintiff (Aiteo) by Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, and other senior lawyers.

The ex parte application is seeking, “an order of interim injunction restraining the defendants jointly or severally, either by themselves, agents, operatives, privies, servants, aides or through any persons howsoever from interfering with or obstructing the business operations, activities and undertakings of the plaintiff, either by way of embargoing or freezing any of its accounts or obstructing its activities in any way or manner whatsoever.”

It also prayed for “An order of interim injunction restraining the defendants, jointly or severally, either by themselves, agents, operatives, privies, servants, aides or through any persons howsoever from relying on, activating, making use of, registering and or applying/enforcing the ex parte restraint order dated 19 October, 2017, made in suit Nos: 82/17, in the Matter of Benedict Peters (alleged offender) and Nnenna Peters and five others (third parties), etc, by the Crown Court, sitting at Southwark, United Kingdom, Coram, His Honour Judge Beddoe, to disrupt, distract, frustrate, meddle (with), hinder, impede the business operations, undertakings, negotiations and activities of the plaintiff.

Delivering ruling on the motion, Justice Kolawole ordered the federal government to maintain the “status quo ante bellum”, pending the determination of the motion on notice dated 23rd November, 2017, filed by the plaintiff against the defendants.

He also ordered the AGF and EFCC to come and show cause on December 18, why the reliefs sought by the plaintiff in the motion ex parte shall not be granted.

Kolawole directed the defendants to do this by way of affidavit depositions, within seven days of being served court processes filed by the Plaintiff.

The court also fixed December 18, for the hearing of the plaintiff’s motion on notice dated November 23, 2017.

The judge in his ruling agreed with the submissions of Ozekhome that the business operations of the plaintiff may be crippled if the ex parte restraint order made by the Crown Court, London on October 19, 2017 is allowed to be registered in Nigeria, before determination of the motion on notice:

“The facts of the instant case by my assessment present a peculiar circumstance which this court needs to address. One of the facts is that by the Nigerian law, that is Foreign Judgement Fiscal Act, interim expropriating orders such as it is alleged to have been made by the Crown Court in London are not registrable for the enforcement in Nigeria,” Kolawole held.

Arguing the ex parte motion earlier, Ozekhome, citing authorities, had urged the court to make a preservative order for maintenance of the “status quo ante bellum” in order to halt the defendants from taking any steps prejudicial to the business concerns and activities of Aiteo.

Ozekhome argued that if a preservative order was not made immediately against the defendants, to preserve the “res”, recent developments, show that the EFCC could spring up surprises by freezing accounts of the company, sealing it, etc, even before the motion on notice is heard.

AITEO is a Limited Liability Company, a major player in the upstream sector of the Nigerian oil industry, as well as the joint/operator of oil mining lease (OML) 29, an asset which is jointly owned by it and the Federal Government, through the NNPC, which subscribes to 55% of the said asset.

The Defendants in the suit are the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).