A Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, has rejected an argument by oil firm, Agip, questioning the court’s powers to hear a gas plant maintenance contracts suit, brought by a local company, Arco.
The court presided by Justice Lambo Akanbi, held that the objection brought by the counsel to Nigeria Agip Oil Company, O. J. Irerhime, was “incompetent”.
Arco Group Plc had dragged NAOC, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Conco Philips Petroleum Nigeria Limited and the National Petroleum Investment Management Services, challenging the attempt to remove it from the OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants in the Niger Delta.
Arco Group Plc is one of Nigeria’s indigenous oil and gas servicing firms that has operated for over 30 years.
In suit No: FHC/PH/CS/02/2015, the company had 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.
He firm also demanded 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.
It also urged the court to decide 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.
The Italian oil giant had raised a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter.
But in a ruling on Tuesday, Justice Akanbi said, “I am in complete agreement with the argument of learned senior counsel for the plaintiff (Arco) that the preliminary objection was filed in flagrant disobedience to the rules of the court.
“The end result is to strike out the preliminary objection for being incompetent. An order is accordingly made striking out the preliminary objection for being incompetent.”
On the issue of jurisdiction, Justice Akanbi held that once an issue of jurisdiction is raised, the court must decide whether or not it has jurisdiction to entertain a case.
However, he went on to rule that the court has jurisdictional competence to entertain the case of the plaintiff and ordered the relevant parties to address the court on the matter.
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