Non Executive Chairman: Araraume urges A’Court to dismiss NNPCL appeal

Senator Ifeanyi Ararume has described as an abuse of court process, the appeal by Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, seeking to upturn the judgment of a Federal High Court which ordered his reinstatement as the Non Executive Chairman of the Board of the newly NNPCL.

Ararume argued that the appeal by NNPCL is not only incompetent and lacking in merit but a waste of the previous time of the court which must be dismissed with huge cost.

His position in the brief of argument dated and filed July 31, 2023, by his team of lawyers led by Chief Chris Uche, SAN.

Recall that Justice Inyang Ekwo, of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had in a judgment on April 18, ordered the immediate reinstatement of Ararume as NNPC’s Chairman.

The court had in its judgment held that his removal after his appointment by former President Muhammadu Buhari was illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void and subsequently nullified the president’s action.

Besides, the court had also ordered the defendants which included Buhari, NNPC Ltd and the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, to pay Ararume the sum of N5billion being damages he suffered following his unlawful removal as NNPC Board Chairman.

In addition, the court declared as a nullity all decisions and actions taking so far by the board in the absence of Ararume.

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Dissatisfied by the judgment, NNPCL had approached the Court of Appeal, Abuja, to challenge the decisions and orders of Justice Ekwo of the Federal High Court delivered on April 18, 2023.

The NNPCL in its appellant’s brief of Argument dated June 30, but filed July 3, presented 18 grounds upon which it is challenging the entire decision of the trial court.

Trial court lacked  requisite jurisdiction to entertain suit

Specifically, the appellant through its lead counsel, Mr Yusuf Ali, SAN, urged the appellate court to set aside the judgment in favour of Ararume because the trial court lacked the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the suit; the suit was statute barred; the trial court misled and mis-applied the relevant statutory provisions which led it to the wrong decisions; Ararume failed to adduce convincing, believable, cogent and compelling evidence in support of his suit; and that the trial court ought not to have entertained the suit on Originating Summons.

It is the argument of the appellant that the trial judge erred in law in holding that the president was wrong in removing Ararume as Board Chairman, adding that the constitution, PIA, 2021 as well as the NNPCL’s Memorandum and Article of Association, “gives the power to appoint and remove the the Non-Executive Chairman of of the appellant to the 2nd respondent, under the long established and judicially settled principle of he who have the power to hire can fire.”

In addition, the appellant submitted that where a person’s appointment is removed by the person who confirmed the said appointment, such person is not bound to give reason in the letter of termination/ removal as done in this case.

“The appellant noted where the person who confirmed the appointment chose not to give reason for his action, “it is not for the court to embark on a voyage of discovery and import reasons or motive for the termination of the appointment.”

NNPCL

Similarly, NNPCL argued that the trial court erred in its interpretation of the constitution, Petroleum Industry Act, 2021, Section 288 of the Company and Allied Matter Act, to the extent that because the NNPCL was not incorporated as a statutory incorporation, the president can control the NNPCL, adding that the issue of control was never before the court.

Appellant accordingly raised six issues for determination

The appellant accordingly raised six issues for determination through which it wants the appellate court to resolve the appeal.

On the first issue, NNPCL submitted that the trial acted requisite vires to have entertained Ararume’s suit in view 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.

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According to the appellant, the trial court erred in law when it went ahead to hold that the case of the claimant was not statute barred, despite evidence that the suit was filed eight months outside the three months provided by the law.

On the second issue, NNPCL argued that the trial judge was wrong to have entertained the Ararume’s suit on Originating Summons, explaining that where facts in dispute are riotous, hostile and in conflict, Originating Summons is inappropriate.

Justice Ekwo wrong when  he refused to hear, determine application for  stay of execution

Besides, the appellant accused Justice Ekwo of not giving them fair hearing when it refused to hear and determine their application for a stay of execution they had filed on January 20, 2023.

NNPCL claimed that at the proceedings of January 23, 2023, the attention of the trial court was drawn to application for stay of execution but, “the trial court refused to hear same despite the fact that its attention was drawn to the issue

It was also the submission of the NNPCL that the trial judge erred in law when it granted the declarative reliefs in favour of Ararume even when he did not offer cogent, reliable, believable or convincing evidence to support his claims or prove his entitlement to the claim or even disclosed any cause of action against the appellant.

They, therefore, urged the court to determine the appeal in their favour and set aside the judgment of Justice Ekwo delivered on April 18, 2023.

Responding, Ararume faulted the appeal for being incompetent on the grounds that the said brief of argument was filed by a non-party in the suit.

According to Ararume, there is no proper appellant before the Court of Appeal because the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd that he sued is different from the Nigerian National Petroleum Company that filed the brief of argument and as such lack the locus standi and the legal personality any brief of argument in this appeal or to prosecute same.

“We submit that this is not a case of misnomer, but consistent with the position and attitude of the “Appellant” as if the 2nd respondent defendant sued by the 1st respondent at the court below was still a parastatal of government”.

Meanwhile, Ararume has urged the court to dismiss the appeal with substantial cost for being a gross abuse of court process.

According to him the trial court acted within its constitutional and statutory jurisdiction when it entertained, heard and determined his suit against the NNPC, then President Muhammadu Buhari and the CAC.

NNPC  wrong in challenging the court’s jurisdiction

Ararume claimed that NNPC was wrong in challenging the court’s jurisdiction on the premise that his case was a labour or employment related matter which should be heard by the National Industrial Court.

“In view of the clear position of the 1st respondent as Director/Non-Executive Chairman of the appellant, it was wrong and incorrect to regard the 1st respondent as an employee of the appellant or employee of the 2nd respondent”.

Ararume further argued that his case arose from the operation of the appellant as a corporate entity incorporated under the CAMA, 2020.

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On the issue of protection Ararume in the reply filed by his lead counsel, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, pointed that the provisions of Section 2 of the Public Officers Protection Act and Section 307 of the PIA, 2021 were not applicable to the suit as statutes of limitation.

According to him, an elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not a Public Officer, adding that the Public Officers Act is intended to protect the officer from detraction and unnecessary litigation but never intended to deprive a party of legal capacity to ventilate his grievance on the face of stark injustice.

Besides, Ararume submitted that the mode of commencement of the suit was appropriate being one of the interpretation of the provisions of the constitution, CAMA, 2020 and PIA, 2021, since there was no hostile or hotly contested facts.

In addition, he submitted that the necessary parties were before the court and as such there was no breach of the right to fair hearing of any non-party.

“The court below was right to have granted the reliefs sought in the circumstances, same having been proved in accordance with the law, and there being no defence thereto.”

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