President Muhammadu Buhari has objected to the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in Abuja to entertain a suit by Ifeanyi Ararume challenging his removal as non-executive chairman of the Board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL).
In a notice of preliminary objection filed on Mr Buhari’s behalf by the office of the Attorney of the Federation the president said Mr Araraume’s removal from the NNPCL board as chairman was done in his capacity as a public officer by virtue of Section 251 (1) of the 1999 constitution.
It was signed by Maimuna Shiru, acting Director, Civil Litigation and Public Law Department of the Federal Ministry of Justice.
Citing relevant provisions of the Public Officers Protection Act, 2004, the president further argued that Mr Araraume’s suit was a statute-barred, having sacked the latter on 17 January, 2022, being a period of about seven months prior to the filing of this suit on September 12, 2022.
He contended that the case being an abuse of court process, robs the court jurisdiction to hear and determine it.
The notice of objection was filed on December 8, 2022.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that Mr Ararume, who was appointed to the position in September 2021, was removed shortly before the inauguration of the board of the company in January 2022.
The former governorship candidate in Imo State filed the suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja, on 12 September to challenge his removal about eight months earlier.
He argued that his sacking was “wrongful,” and amounted to “disruption and interruption” of the term of his office.
He said it violated various provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters (CAMA), 2020, the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), 2021, and the company’s Memorandum and Articles of Association.
He prayed for N100 billion damages and an order reinstating him to the office.
He also urged the court to set aside all the decisions the NNPC Limited’s board had taken since his wrongful removal from office.
Thursday’s hearing stalled
Hearing scheduled to take place before the judge, Inyang Ekwo, was stalled due to improper service of court documents on Thursday.
It was discovered that the amended originating summons meant for the newly Incorporated Nigeria National Petroleum Company, (NNPC) was served on Federal Ministry of Justice.
At Thursday’s proceedings, NNPCL’s lawyer, Oluseye Opasanya, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), informed the court that his filings were based on the initial originating summons.
Mr Opasanya told the judge that the initial originating summons ordered to be amended to accommodate the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as a defendant in the suit was not served on him.
Responding, Mr Ararume’s lawyer, Chris Uche (SAN), disagreed with Mr Opasanya’s claims, adding that the amended originating summons had been served on all parties as required by law.
But a search by the judge for proof of service in the case file showed that the service of the originating summons was on the Federal Ministry of Justice and not on the NNPCL.
READ ALSO: Buhari replaces Ifeanyi Ararume as NNPC board chairman
This prompted the NNPCL lawyer to vounteer to link up with the Justice Ministry to pick up the amended originating summons and re-file his processes to accommodate CAC as one of the defendants.
Subsequently, Mr Ekwo adjourned the case until 11 January, 2023 to enable parties amend their filings to accommodate the CAC.
The judge warmed that all lawyers involved in the suit must file and exchange all their papers before the adjourned date.
He added that any lawyer who failed to adhere to the warning would be personally penalized by the court.
Mr Ararume filed the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/691/2022 through a group of senior lawyers comprising Chris Uche, Ahmed Raji, Mahmud Magaji, Ogwu James Onoja, Kingsley Nwufor and Gordy Uche, all SANs.
In the suit filed in September, Mr Ararume formulated four issues for determination by the court.
One of the issue is whethet by the interpretation of Section 63 (3) of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, the President can lawfully remove him as non-eecutive chairman of the NNPC Limited for any reason outside the provisions of the law.
He prayed for N100 billion suit as compensation for his alleged unlawful removal as a non-Executive Chairman of the NNPCL.
He demanded the sum as damages caused him in the alleged unlawful manner he was relieved of his job as the NNPCL chief after using his name to incorporate the entity.
Mr Ararume also wants the court to determine whether Mr Buhari can sack him without compliance with expressly stated provisions of the Articles of Memorandum of Association of the Company, section 63 (3) of the PIA Act 2021 and section 288 of the CAMA Act 2020.
He also urged the court to declare that by the provisions of section 63 (3) of the PIA Act, CAMA Act and Memorandum of Association of the NNPC, the President cannot by will remove him from office as non Executive Chairman without following due process of the law.
The plaintiff prayed for an order of the court setting aside his removal by Mr Buhari vide letter of January 17, 2022 with reference number SGF.3V111/86.
He also sought order of the court reinstating him forthwith and restoring him to office with all the appurtenant rights and privileges of the office of the NNPC non Executive Chairman.
The plaintiff further urged the court to for nullify and set aside of all decisions and resolutions of the NNPC Board made in his absence from 17 January 2022 till date, and another order restraining the defendants from removing his name as director of the company.
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