​Contract dispute: Court urges Agip, Arco to settle rift

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A Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers state has advised Arco Group Plc and Nigeria Agip Oil Company, to explore peaceful settlement of the gas plant maintenance contract dispute brought before it.

The presiding judge, Lambo Akanbi, gave the advice at the resumed hearing of the case on Monday.

Mr. Akanbi said he was surprised the parties still came to court despite his earlier counsel that they settle the matter out of court.

“At the last adjourned date, I had advised the parties to go for settlement and then come back and withdraw the matter from the court,” Mr. Akanbi said.

“But I am surprised that the two parties are in court today on the same matter. I still advise that both the plaintiff and the defendants should go back and settle the matter.”

Earlier, the lead counsel to Arco, Wole Olanipekun, had drawn the court’s attention to the fact that months after they were served, Agip and the other defendants were yet to file a memorandum of appearance as required by law.

By failing to file a memorandum of appearance, he said Agip could not bring any motion whatsoever before the court.

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Mr. Olanikpekun, therefore, urged the court not to entertain any motion from the lead Counsel to Agip, Thompson Okpoko, also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, on the ground that the Italian firm is unknown to the court.

Instead, he prayed for hearing on the motion he filed on June 22, seeking the court to enter ruling on the gas plant maintenance contract dispute brought by the plaintiff.

But Mr. Okpoko opposed the motion on grounds that Agip’s defence team had filed an application on June 30, seeking an extension of time with which to file the memorandum of appearance.

The lead counsel to the Italian oil firm also told the court that the motion for the extension of time for filing the memorandum of appearance was served on counsel to Arco in the open court.

Instead of entering judgment against his client, Mr. Okpko prayed the court to address the issue of jurisdiction which came up during the last hearing, adding that parties where urged to present written addresses on it.

The courtroom, however, became charged when Mr. Olanipekun challenged Mr. Okpoko for violating the rules of the court by insisting that the issue of jurisdiction be entertained without filing a memorandum of appearance.

Mr. Olanipekun argued strongly that the motion on jurisdiction does not invalidate the rule requiring that a memorandum of appearance be filed before the court.

“My lord, no party can be heard in court without filing a memorandum of appearance,” he canvassed.

After protracted argument by the two senior lawyers, Justice Akanbi adjourned the case till December 3, for ruling on the motion for extension of time for filing memorandum of appearance by Agip.

Arco Group, an indigenous oil and gas firm had dragged Agip, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Conoco Philips Petroleum Nigeria Limited, and the National Petroleum Investment Management Services to court early in the year, stating that under the Nigeria Content Act, Agip was under obligation to award maintenance contract of OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants to it.

Having successfully maintained the OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas facilities for many years, Arco had argued that it had the prescribed equipment, machines and skilled manpower to execute the contract and further prayed the court to grant it several other declarative and injunctive reliefs.

Based on motions filed before the court, Justice Akambi had directed parties to the case to maintain status quo.

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