The Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) yesterday lost the bid to stop the N100 billion suit filed by Senator Ifeanyi Ararume against it over alleged unlawful sack by President Muhammadu Buhari before a Federal High Court in Abuja. Therewas, however, amild drama at the hearing as two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Prof Kayinsola Ajayi and Etigwa Uwa, representing the NNPC staged a walk-out on the court.
The defence counsel had sought to move three different applications comprising one asking the court to stay proceedings pending the appeal against the ruling of the Federal High Court delivered on January 11, 2023.
Ajayi, after identifying the processes filed by NNPC against the suit, argued that themotionseekingstayof proceedings must be heard separately and ruling delivered by the judge before any other motionshouldbeentertained. The judge, however, informed the SAN to move all the applications together, and that he would deliver separate rulings in each of the applicationssoastosavejudicialtime of the court.
Although Ararume, represented by Chris Uche (SAN), claimed that the motion for stay of proceeding had not been served on him, Prof Ajayi stood his ground to move the application separately, insisting that the judge must give separate rulings on it one way or the other before any other issue.
However, following the decision of the judge to take all the applications together in line with the provision of the Practice Direction of the FederalHighCourt, Ajayiand his fellow senior advocate announced their withdrawal from the suit and immediately staged a walkout on the court.
The two senior lawyers were joined by their juniors in leaving the court immediately the judge orderedthem to move their three applications together. Later during the proceedings, Ararume’scounsel, Uche, while adopting his final brief of argument, urged the court to invoke the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) to nullify the removal of his client as the chairman of the NNPCL. Uche informed the court that President Muhammadu Buhari acted outside the law to remove Ararume after incorporating the oil company in his name and was billed for inauguration in the capacity.
However, President Buhari’s counsel, Abubakar Shuaib, prayed the court to dismiss the suit against his client on the grounds that it was statute barred at the time it was instituted.
Specifically, Shuaib argued that Ararume’s suit offended section 2(a) of the Public Officers Act and as such was incompetent. On his part, Akeeem Mustapha, SAN, counsel to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), which is the third defendant in the suit, asked the court to decline jurisdiction in entertaining the suit.
The Senior lawyer argued that his client did not play any role in Ararume’s disputed removal apart from incorporating NNPCL as a limited liability company, based on the document submitted to it. Mustapha noted that Ararume’s appointment was political and that Buhari has the power to hire and fire, adding that the appointment has nothing to do with CAMA law.
After taking arguments from Ararume, President Buhari, and Corporate Affairs Commission, Justice Ekwo fixed March 28 for ruling and possible judgment in the suit. Ararume had dragged Buhari before the court, praying it to declare his removal as NNPC chief illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional, and that it is a total breach of CAMA law under which NNPCL was incorporated.
Besides asking the court to issue order to return him to office, Ararume also demanded for N100 billion as compensation for damages he suffered nationally and internationally in the unlawful ways and manners his removal was carried out by President Buhari