BFIGroup, the preferred bidder approved by the Supreme Court for the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) has rejected the stay-of-execution of the committal order against the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Alex Okoh, for contempt and disobedience of the court.
Also, BFIG has petitioned the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to object to the hearing on the motion filed by Mr Okoh and BPE in appeal No. CA/A/117/M/2019 before Justices S.J. R. M. Abdulahi and M. B. Idris.
The motion is scheduled for hearing on Monday, January 20.
The Executive Vice President, BFIG, Jimmie Williams, said the Board of Directors of the corporation does not believe “Justice Adah can provide a fair and impartial ruling in this matter.”
The petition titled: RE: Case No. CA/A/117/M/2019 and dated January 17, 2020 was addressed to the appeal court president.
A copy of the petition, sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday, reads in part:
“Dear Hon. Justice Bulkachuwa: On behalf of the board of directors of BFIGroup Corporation, a corporation, organised and existing under the laws of the State of California, in the United States of America, the preferred bidder for the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (“ALSCON”), and the respondent in the above-referenced matter, we write to object to having this matter heard before the Honorable Justice S.J. Adah.
“Our objection is based on the fact that Justice Adah was the original jurist who ruled on 23 November 2005 (in case no. FHC/ABJ/CS/583/2004) that our original claim for the purchase of ALSCON was invalid, and was subsequently dismissed by him.
“This same claim was later found to be “meritorious in the extreme” by the Nigerian Supreme Court on 6th July 2012 (in case no. SC12/2008).
“Further, on 30 September 2014, the respondent obtained a judgment to enforce and give meaning to the Supreme Court Judgment (case no. FHC/ABJ/CS/901/2013).
“The appeal of the enforcement judgment was initially scheduled to be heard by a panel led by Justice Abubakar Datti Yahaya.
“A panel who noted how one case participant made the calculated attempt to waste the time of the court [through an unprosecuted injunction] and to continue to frustrate a specific and clear Order of the Supreme Court to execute its judgment.”
“However, on the last day for the parties to adopt their briefs, Justice Adah appeared in the matter. Thereafter, on 11 January 2019, while upholding the aforesaid Supreme Court judgment, Justice Adah removed all of the enforcement orders issued by the court.
“Finally, we note how Justice Adah granted the applicant’s request for a stay of execution of the ruling/committal order of Justice A.I. Chikere without having reviewed the actual Order of the court, nor giving the respondent any opportunity to respond thereto.
“Accordingly, BFIGroup Corporation respectfully submits that we do not believe that Justice Adah can provide a fair and impartial ruling in this matter and we would request his removal from any panel hearing this case.”
Mr Williams, who is also BFIG’s General Counsel, said the corporation will challenge the stay-of-execution ‘procured’ by BPE, describing it as “invalid and corrupt.”
“The FHC (Federal High Court) officially released the judgment on Thursday this week. Can a stay of execution be issued on a judgment order not yet released by the court?” Mr Williams asked.
The committal order for Mr Okoh’s imprisonment for a minimum of 30 days was issued by Justice Anwuri Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja for the serial disobedience of the Supreme Court order by BPE on the ownership controversy of the ALSCON.
The order followed contempt proceedings initiated in April 2019 by BFIG against Mr Okoh and BPE for failing to respect multiple courts rulings ordering the transfer of ownership of ALSCON to the Nigerian-American consortium.
ALSCON, located at Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom State, has been the subject of a lingering ownership struggle since it was privatised by the government in 2004.
While BFIG won the initial bid in 2004, based on its declaration by the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), the BPE cancelled the bid process in controversial circumstances.
BFIG launched a legal battle to reclaim ALSCON in 2007, resulting in the Supreme Court ruling in its favour on July 6, 2012. Despite the order, BPE refused to hand over the plant.
Justice Chikere had declared that the continued refusal to obey the Supreme Court order was a fundamental violation of the rule of law, “which portrays the government as lawless.”
While BFIG awaited the enforcement of the order, the BPE on Monday December 23, 2019 filed an appeal before the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, for a stay-of-execution.
Appeal No. CA/A/117/M/2019 subsequently, “restrained BFIG, the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court, Abuja, law enforcement agents, and persons acting for or on their behalf from enforcing, attempting to enforce, arrest or imprison Mr Okoh, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on January 20, 2020.”