Court threatens to enter contempt proceedings against Agip, Others

A Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, has threatened to commence contempt proceedings against Nigeria Agip Oil Company, NAOC, for disregarding its orders.

The court also threatened to commit the Managing Director of Plantgeria Nigeria Limited, P. L. Corrodano, to prison over the same charge.

The decision was taken following an affidavit filed by Arco Group Plc, calling attention to the disobedience of an earlier restraining order issued by the court.

In spite of a legitimate court injunction, Arco had deposed to a 12-page affidavit to show that the Italian oil major had gone ahead to award a stop-gap maintenance contract to Plantgeria Nigeria Ltd.

The affidavit was sworn to and filed at the court by Pius Onodjohwo, a team leader of Arco Group Plc.

In the document, Mr. Onodjohwo insisted that NAOC not only awarded the disputed contract to Plantgeria Nigeria Ltd but also facilitated its entry into the gas plants for the purposes of taking inventory with the aim of removing Arco Group Plc from the sites.

But in a swift reaction, the presiding Judge, Justice Lambo Akanbi, who issued an earlier injunction on the matter, invoked the provisions of Order 9, Rule 13 of the Judgment (Enforcement) Rules.

“Take notice that unless you obey the directions contained in the order of the injunction made on February 3, 2015 by Hon. Justice Lambo Akanbi in this, you will be guilty of contempt and will be liable to be committed to prison,” the court stated in a notice of consequence of disobedience of its order.

Justice Akanbi had on February 3 granted an interim injunction restraining NAOC from awarding the contract for the maintenance of OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants to any other entity except Arco Group Plc.

The plaintiff, Arco Group Plc, formerly, Arco Petrochemical Engineering Company Plc, is a wholly owned Nigerian oil and gas servicing firm which was incorporated in 1980.

Other defendants in the case are the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Conoco Philips Petroleum Nigeria Limited and the National Petroleum Investment Management Services, NAPIMS.

Mr. Akanbi had given the order following an ex-parte motion filed before the court by Arco Group Plc on January 27.

In suit No: FHC/PH/CS/02/2015, the company, through its lead counsel, B. Nwafor, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, sought seven reliefs from the court including the granting of exclusive right for the maintenance of OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants operated through Joint Venture by NAOC.

Arco also sought a declaration that the persistent and deliberate failure of NAOC to award the contract for the maintenance of OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants as well as grant an extension of the award by way of interim or stop gap contract violated the Section 3 (2, 3) of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010.

It further sought a declaration that NAOC has no right to disobey the lawful directives of the Joint Venture partners, including the NNPC, Conoco Philips Petroleum Nigeria Limited and NAPIMS.

It also sought an order directing the defendants to award to the plaintiff, a 4+ 1 year replacement contract for the maintenance of the OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants having scored the highest mark of 8.6 at the technical evaluation of bids for the project.

Based on the provisions of 3 (2, 3) of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010, Arco Group Plc sought the determination of five questions.

These include:

– A determination on whether its ownership of equipment, indigenous personnel and capacity to execute the contract in dispute, as well as being a Nigerian firm offered it exclusive right to be given the said maintenance contract and an extension thereto;

– A determination on whether the persistent and deliberate refusal by NAOC to grant an extension of an already existing contract No: Y5152P100 between years 2006 – 2011 by way of an interim or stop-gap contract violates Section 3 (2, 3) of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010;

– A determination on whether NAOC has the right to disobey the legitimate directives of the NNPC, Conoco Philips Petroleum Nigeria Limited and NAPIMS that a stop-gap contract be negotiated with and awarded to Arco Group Plc;

– A determination whether Arco Group Plc is entitled to be declared winner of the bid process for the award of the 4+1year replacement contract for the maintenance of OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants.

But NAOC, through its solicitor, O. J. Irerhime, filed a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit.

It also sought a consequential order of the court to strike out the suit.

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