The appeal filed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) attempting to overturn the judgement of a Federal High Court that ordered his restoration as non-executive chairman of the Board of the newly formed NNPCL has been condemned as an abuse of judicial process by Sen. Ifeanyi Ararume.
Araraume contended that NNPCL’s appeal was not only inept and without substance but also a waste of the court’s valuable time and that it should be rejected at a high cost.
His stance was outlined in his brief of argument, which was filed on July 31 by his legal team, led by Chief Chris Uche, SAN.
On April 18, 2023, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja issued an order ordering Araraume’s immediate reinstatement as NNPCL’s board chairman.
In its decision, the court ruled that his expulsion following his appointment by former President Muhammadu Buhari was illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void, and so voided the president’s conduct.
Furthermore, the court ordered the defendants, which comprised Buhari, NNPCL, and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), to pay Araraume N5 billion in damages for his wrongful removal as NNPCL’s board chairman.
Furthermore, the court ruled that all decisions and acts done by the board in the absence of Araraume were null and void.
NNPCL had moved the Court of Appeal in Abuja, dissatisfied with the judgement, to dispute the judgements and orders of Justice Ekwo of the Federal High Court given on April 18.
The NNPCL provided 18 grounds in its appellant’s brief of argument, dated June 30, but filed July 3, on which it challenged the trial court’s whole conclusion.
Specifically, the appellant, represented by Mr. Yusuf Ali, SAN, sought the appeal court to vacate the judgement in favour of Araraume because the trial court lacked the necessary authority to hear the case since it was statute barred.
He claimed that the trial court was misled and misapplied the relevant statutory provisions, resulting in incorrect decisions; that Araraume failed to present convincing, credible, cogent, and compelling evidence in support of his suit; and that the trial court should not have entertained the suit, which was filed via originating summons.
The appellant argued that the trial judge erred in law in holding that the president was wrong in removing Araraume as Board Chairman, adding that the constitution, PIA, 2021, and the NNPCL’s Memorandum and Articles of Association “give the power to appoint and remove the appellant’s Non-Executive Chairman to the 2nd respondent, under the long established and judicially settled principle that he who has the power to hire can fire.”
Furthermore, the appellant contended that when a person’s appointment is terminated or withdrawn by the person who confirmed the appointment, that person is not required to provide a reason in the letter of termination or removal, as was done in this case.
The appellant pointed out that when the person who confirmed the appointment opted not to provide a justification for his actions, “it is not for the court to embark on a voyage of discovery and import reasons or motives for the termination of the appointment.”
Similarly, NNPCL argued that the trial court erred in its interpretation of the constitution, the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021, and Section 288 of the Company and Allied Matter Act, to the extent that the president can control the NNPCL because it was not incorporated as a statutory incorporation, adding that the issue of control was never before the court.
As a result, the appellant presented six points for decision in order for the appellate court to determine the appeal.
On the first point, NNPCL argued that the trial court acted in violation of Section 254(c)(1) of the Constitution, Section 2 of the Public Officers Protection Act, and Section 307 of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), 2021, by hearing Araraume’s claim.
According to the appeal, the trial court erred in law when it held that the claimant’s action was not statute barred, despite evidence that the complaint was submitted eight months after the three-month period required by law.
On the second point, NNPCL maintained that the trial court erred in hearing Araraume’s complaint on Originating Summons, arguing that Originating Summons was unsuitable because the facts in question were riotous, hostile, and in disagreement.
Furthermore, the appellant accused Justice Ekwo of failing to give them a fair hearing when she failed to hear and rule on their motion for a stay of execution, which they submitted on January 20, 2023.
NNPCL said that during the Jan. 23 hearings, the trial court’s attention was drawn to an application for a stay of execution, but “the trial court refused to hear the same despite the fact that its attention was drawn to it.”
The appeal also criticised the Federal High Court’s decision, claiming that the trial court erred in ordering Araraume’s reinstatement while also awarding damage on the grounds that this amounted to double compensation.
The NNPCL also claimed that the trial judge erred in law by granting Araraume declarative reliefs despite the fact that he failed to provide cogent, reliable, believable, or convincing evidence to support his claims, prove his entitlement to the claim, or even disclose any cause of action against the appellant.
As a result, they petitioned the court to rule in their favour and overturn Justice Ekwo’s decision from April 18, 2023.
Responding, Araraume criticised the appeal as inadequate because the brief of argument was filed by a non-party to the dispute.
According to Araraume, there is no proper appellant before the Court of Appeal because the NNPCL that he sued is not the same as the Nigerian National Petroleum Company that filed the brief of argument, and as such, it lacked the locus standi and legal personality of any brief of argument in this appeal or to prosecute it.
“We submit that this is not a case of misnomer but rather consistent with the position and attitude of the “appellant,” as if the 2nd respondent defendant sued by the 1st respondent in the court below was still a parastatal of government.”
Meanwhile, Araraume has asked the court to dismiss the appeal with costs since it is a blatant misuse of the justice process.
According to him, when it entertained, heard, and decided his complaint against the NNPCL, then-President Buhari, and the CAC, the trial court operated within its constitutional and statutory competence.
Araraume contended that the NNPCL was incorrect in opposing the court’s jurisdiction since his case was a labour- or employment-related matter that should be considered by the National Industrial Court.
“Given the 1st respondent’s clear position as the appellant’s Director/Non-Executive Chairman, it was wrong and incorrect to regard the 1st respondent as an employee of the appellant or an employee of the 2nd respondent.”
Araraume further claimed that his lawsuit stemmed from the appellant’s activity as a business organisation constituted under the CAMA, 2020.
Concerning protection, Araraume’s lead lawyer, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, pointed out in his reply that the provisions of Section 2 of the Public Officers Protection Act and Section 307 of the PIA, 2021, were not relevant to the claim as statutes of limitation.
According to him, “an elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not a Public Officer,” and the Public Officers Act was never intended to deprive a party of legal capacity to ventilate his grievance in the face of grave injustice.
Furthermore, Araraume said that the suit’s form of start was legitimate, being one of interpretation of the provisions of the constitution, CAMA, 2020, and PIA, 2021, because there were no hostile or fiercely contested facts.
Furthermore, he argued that all relevant parties were present in court, and so no non-party’s right to a fair hearing was violated.
“The court below was correct in granting the reliefs sought in the circumstances, the same having been proved in accordance with the law and there being no defence to them.”