Court Lifts Order Restraining FG from Withdrawing Marginal Oil Field Licences

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By Davidson Iriekpen

A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday set aside its earlier order restraining the federal government from withdrawing licences from 10 marginal oil field operators.

The trial Judge, Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke, set aside the restraining order, while delivering a ruling on a motion brought before it by the Ministry of Petroleum and a director in the Department Petroleum Resources (DPR), Auwaul Sarki, on the grounds that they were not properly served with the court processes.

Justice Aneke had on June 3, restrained the federal government through the Ministry of Petroleum, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Sarki, and ordering that processes be served personally on the respondents.

The judge had made the order after listening to an ex-parte application filed and argued by their counsel Tayo Oyetibo SAN and Uche Nwokedi SAN.

However, the Marginal Oil Field operators had told the court that the order and other processes in the suit were served on the respondents via their official e-mail address.

In setting aside the restraining order yesterday, Justice Aneke, after citing plethora of Supreme Court’s authorities, held that the marginal oil field operators failed to comply with the court order, which directed them to serve all the processes on the respondents’ address, which he said was contrary to the rules of admissibility.

He also held that the Practice Direction which the applicants based the service of the processes on the respondents could not supersede the court’s rule, but ought to compliment it.

Consequently, the judge set aside the restraining order made on June 3, 2020, against the respondents and ordered that the whole processes be commenced afresh.

After the restraining order was set aside, Oyetibo pleaded with the court to urge the counsel to the respondents to accept the processes on behalf of their clients.

He also urged the court to make an order or urge the respondents not to tamper with the subject matter in the suit, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.

Responding, counsel to the respondents, Dr. Wale Olawoyin (SAN), while conceding to accept the processes in the suit on behalf of his clients, also promised that the government will not do anything with the subject matter until the determination of the suit.

Following the submissions of the parties, Justice Aneke, adjourned till July 20, for hearing of motion on interlocutory injunction.

In urging the court to grant the ex parte application, lawyers to the marginal field operators, Nwokedi, alleged that they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the production and development of the affected marginal oil fields, adding that the purported revocation of their awards of marginal oil fields by the government violated their constitutional rights to fair hearing, their rights under the Petroleum Act and under the guidelines governing marginal oil fields in Nigeria.

They also urged the court to halt the attempt by the federal government to include the affected marginal oil fields in the next bidding rounds for award of marginal fields as it recently announced pending the determination of the substantive suit

However, the Federal Ministry of Petroleum and Sarki, the director in the DPR, through their lawyers, Olawoyin urged the court to set aside the restraining order and declare that they were not properly served with the court processes in the suit.

The respondents’ application dated June 11, 2020, for setting aside the originating motion that gave birth to the restrained order, Mr. Adetunji Oyeyipo (SAN) leading Mr. Wale Olawoyin (SAN) and Adebayo Ologe, lawyers to the Ministry of Petroleum and Mr. Auwalu Sarki, said their application was premised on non-proper service.

Oyeyipo had informed the court that their clients, Federal Ministry of Petroleum and Sarki of DPR, got the court order through DPR’s official email, dpr@dpr.fov.ng, and that the plaintiffs got automated acknowledgement, while the originating motion was served through email address info@dpr.gov.ng, not being used by the department.

Oyeyipo also told the court that even if the applicants were to serve the respondents via email, it must be done with an order of the court, but the applicants failed to follow due process as stipulated by the court’s rules, adding that DPR’s visitors’ dated May 29 and 30, 2020, did not reflect the presence of one Joshua Iyanda, and a bailiff of the court, to suggest that the said originating motion was taken to the department.

Based on the above, the respondents’ lawyers urged the court to strike out the originating motion leading to the interlocutory injunction.

Responding, Oyetibo urged the court to dismiss the respondents’ application, adding that due process was follow in serving both the originating motion and the court’s order on the respondents.

Oyetibo argued that the processes and order were served on the respondents in line with practice rule.

He, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the respondents’ applications.