3 June 2012

Nigeria: Appeal Court to Deliver Judgement On Statoil-Abebe

ANorwegian oil firm, Statoil Nigeria Limi-ted, will on Tuesday know whether or not it would have to pay a businessman, Dr John Abebe, the sum of USD3billion following a disagreement arising from a breach of contract when the Court of Appeal in Lagos delivers judgment in its appeal.

Investigation by THISDAY revealed that the appellate court had already notified parties in the appeal that it would deliver judgement on the case for them to be present in court.

Abebe and his company, Inducon Nigeria Limited, through their lawyer, Uche Nwokedi (SAN), had filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos, complaining of breach of contractual agreement against Statoil.

They stressed that the oil firm reneged on its promise to pay them 1.5 percent of its income on the three oil blocks, OPL 213,217 and 218.

The medical doctor-turned businessman won the case on the ground that there was mirror image agreement between BP and Statoil.

In his judgement delivered in December 2010, Justice Charles Archibong had ordered Statoil to pay Abebe and his company, 1.5per cent net profit interest accruable to it from the three oil blocks allocated to them for bringing the firm to Nigeria to explore oil resources.

The judge held that there was indeed an agreement between him, BP and Statoil contrary to the claim of the oil firm, stressing that the agreement must be honoured.

He added that it was clear that there were short- term, intermediate- term and long- term remunerations in connection with the contractual agreement, resulting to the ceding of the 1.5 percent of the oil blocks to the plaintiffs.

In resolving the question of whether there was enforceable agreement in law between the plaintiffs and the defendant, the court held that though it appears that there was no written agreement, BP and by extension, Statoil engaged the plaintiff as partner and thereby took up the commitment of BP to the defendant.

This commitment with the oil firm, the judge held was not terminated or abandoned with the plaintiff, even though that Statoil later resisted it after its entrance into the Nigerian economy.

Besides, the court appointed the firm of J.K Randle to audit the accounts of Statoil to determine its income and make a report back to it on February 7, 2011 which the firm has not allowed due to its appeal.

However, the appeal had suffered a major setback recently at the Court of Appeal when it refused the oil company to adduce fresh evidence after arguments had been concluded.

The presiding judge of the court, Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, in her lead ruling, held that not only was the application unmeritorious, the reasons given to adduce fresh evidence were not sustainable.

She added that the application cannot support any of the principle under which the type of application can be granted.

Ogunwumiju submitted that an application for leave to adduce further evidence on appeal is not one of the regular application in judicial process, adding that the appellate process is to review what had been done by the trial court and to make orders the trial court should have made.

She said if the trial court had made perverse findings of facts or made an error of law by deciding issues of fact or law not placed before it from the beginning without giving the parties the opportunity to adduce evidence, the only recourse a litigant has is to appeal against the finding or decision of the trial court.

The judge held that the intention of the law is that parties should adduce all the evidence they need or require before the trial court, which has the jurisdiction to hear oral evidence of the parties and consider all documentary evidence.

While holding that the application such as the one filed by Statoil cannot be used to repair the case, the judge said appellate courts will always resist granting it except in compelling circumstances.

She noted that the only time the appellate court granted applications to adduce further was when it was used to reverse a conviction for murder when it was discovered that the perpetrator of the crime confessed to the crime after the appellant had been convicted especially when such evidence would not be controversial or in civil matter where the documents not available are discovered that would have had impact on the decision of the trial court.

The judge concluded by saying that Statoil did not adduce any special ground as contemplated by Order 4 Rule 2 and that all the circumstances enunciated by the Supreme Court were present in the application to make it special.

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