NNPC Board Chairman: Buhari Replies Araraume, Declares Suit Statute-barred

*Court adjourns till January 11

Alex Enumah in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari has filed a Notice of Preliminary Objection (NPO) challenging the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, Abuja, to entertain the suit by Senator Ifeanyi Araraume on his alleged illegal removal as a non-executive chairman of the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL).

The NPO was filed on December 8, 2022, by the Acting Director, Civil Litigation and Public Law Department, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiru.
While Ararume is the sole plaintiff in the suit, Buhari, the NNPCL and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) were the first, second and third defendants respectively.

Besides the President, the NNPCL, also filed its notice of preliminary objection challenging the competence of the suit and praying the court to make an order dismissing it; or, in the alternative, make an order striking out Araraume’s originating summons dated September 12, 2022; or make such further order or orders as it (the court) may deem to make in the circumstances.
In its NPO filed on its behalf by its team of lawyers led by Konyin Ajayi, Etigwe Uwa, the second defendant amongst others predicated its request on the grounds that Araraume’s action was statute-barred having regard of Section 2 (A) of the Public Officers Protection Act Cap P41 LFN 2004.

The NNPCL further submitted 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.
Besides, they averred 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, 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 (2nd defendant/respondent) 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 on yesterday, Ararume’s lead counsel, Chief Chris Uche 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, Buhari represented by a lawyer from the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. A. H. 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.
The third defendant (CAC) represented by Mr. S. S. Umoru, while admitting service of the court processes in the matter also stated that the third defendant was yet to file its defense.

While the second defendant (NNPCL) represented by Mr. Oluseye Opasanya also informed the court of his client’s NPO to Ararume’s suit, he claimed he was yet to be served with the amended Originating Summons to enable him served the third defendant.
Ararume had initially sued Buhari and the NNPCL but had to include the CAC, following the court’s directive which held that the CAC is a necessary party and as such ought to be included in the suit.

Trial judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo had in a ruling on November 9, evoked Order 9 Rule 14 (2b) of the Rules of the Federal High Court that allows a judge to order a party whose presence in a matter is pertinent to join the matter.
Justice Ekwo ordered that the CAC be joined as a party since the case had to do with interpretation of the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).
Haven made an order joining the CAC, the judge ordered Ararume’s lawyer to amend the Originating Summons and serve same on all the parties and adjourned till December 15.

However, following claims of non-service of the amended Originating Summons on the NNPCL, the court after checking its own 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 would file its process in the morning of the next adjourned date shall be penalised.

He accordingly adjourned the matter till January 11, 2023, to enable all parties file and exchange necessary processes in the suit.
Araraume had instituted a N100 billion suit against the federal government at the Federal High Court, Abuja over his alleged unlawful removal as a non-Executive Chairman of the newly-incorporated Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited.
Araraume had asked for N100 billion as damages caused him in the alleged unlawful and unconstitutional way and manner he was removed as the NNPC chief after using his name to incorporate the entity.

In the suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/691/2022, the former Senator formulated four issues for determination by the court.

One of the issue was whether in view of the provisions of the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the NNPC, Companies and Allied Matters Act 2010 and the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, the office of the non-executive chairman is not governed and regulated by the stated provisions of the law.

Araraume had also asked the court to determine whether by the interpretation of Section 63 (3) of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, the president could lawfully remove him as non-executive chairman of the NNPC for any reason outside the provisions of the law.

He further asked the court to determine whether the president could sack him without compliance with expressly stated provisions of the Articles of Memorandum of Association of the Company, Section 63 (3) of the PI Act 2021 and Section 288 of the CAMA Act 2020.

Another issue for determination was whether his purported removal vide letter of January 17, 2021 without compliance with expressly stated provisions of the law was not wrongful, illegal, null and void and of no legal consequence whatsoever.

The plaintiff had asked the court to upon determination of the issues in his favour, make a declaration that his position as non-executive chairman of the NNPC was exclusively governed and regulated by CAMA 2020, PI Act 2021 and Memorandum of Association of the Company.

He also asked the court for an order reinstating him and restoring him to office with all the rights and privileges of the office of the NNPC non-executive chairman.

He further asked the court for an order nullifying and setting aside all decisions and resolutions of the NNPC board made in his absence from January 17, 2022 till date.

In a 75 paragraph affidavit in support of the suit, Ararume averred that upon the passage of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, the former NNPC and its subsidiaries were unbundled to become Nigeria National Petroleum Company registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission with number 1843987.

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