Court orders status quo in Arco, NAOC dispute

JUSTICE Lambo Akanbi of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, has ordered parties in the suit filed by an indigenous oil servicing firm, Arco Group Plc against Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited, NAOC to maintain status quo pending the determination of the applications before the court.

The judge gave the directive, following the oral application by the lead counsel to Arco, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN to that effect. He said: Our humble prayers is that you should advise parties to maintain the status quo for now until the matter is dispensed with.”

But counsel to NAOC, Charles Ajuyah SAN objected to the application. He argued that the jurisdiction of the court is still in contest, that it ought not make such orders. He further stated that the plaintiff had not accused his client of doing anything likely to undermine the outcome of the suit to warrant the order.

He said: “My learned friend has not tell the court that my client has done anything. It is not an order that is gotten just by asking.”

He said that the court can only request that counsel advise their clients to desist from doing anything regarding the subject matter of the suit and not an order.

But Justice Akanbi disagreed with him and ordered that parties should maintain status quo and adjourned further proceedings to October 26, 2015.

Before the decision, the court had ruled that NOAC is not properly before the court, as it has not filed memorandum of appearance. This followed the argument of Olanipekun that the first defendant’s application challenging jurisdiction cannot be heard. But Ajuyah insisted that when the court last adjourned, it adjourned to take arguments on jurisdiction.

He said the motion filed by the plaintiff to strike out his application is not ripe for hearing, adding that he has filed a motion for extension of time within which to file memorandum of appearance but is yet to serve the plaintiff’s counsel.

Quoting order 29, rule 1 and 2, Olanipekun argued that condition precedent must be fulfilled before the issue of jurisdiction is addressed and maintained that Ajuyah is “still not before the court and needs to knock, seek or find, so as to receive”.
Consequently, Ajuyah obliged to give Olanipekun a copy of his own motion for extension of time, within which to file for appearance. After glancing at it, Olanipekun stated that he would want to go through it thoroughly, having identified three prayers contained in it. As a result, parties resolved to take a new date.

The court had earlier struck out the preliminary objection filed by NOAC, praying the court to decline jurisdiction.
In his ruling, Justice Akanbi, held that the preliminary objection by the company’s counsel, Thompson Okpoko (SAN), was incompetent and accordingly struck same out.

However, the judge refused to agree with the Beluolisa Nwofor (SAN), counsel to the plaintiff that the preliminary objection by the defendants was not properly as stipulated by law.

Besides NAOC, other defendants in the suit are Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Conoco Phillips Petroleum Nig. Ltd, and National Petroleum Investment Management Services.

The court had restrained the defendants from awarding any contract to any company for the maintenance of gas turbines and rotating equipment at first defendants OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit. Award of contracts in the turbine forms the subject matter of the suit.

However, the plaintiff alleged a breach by NAOC for awarding contract to Plantgeria Company Ltd.

In the originating summons, Arco is challenging the refusal of the NOAC to comply with the provisions of Section 3 Sub Section 2 and 3 of the Nigeria Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010.

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