The Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) yesterday failed to halt hearing in a N100 billion suit instituted against President Muhammadu Buhari over the alleged unlawful removal of Senator Ifeanyi Ararume as Board Chairman of the NNPCL, just as two senior lawyers representing the oil company in the suit stormed out of the proceedings.
Hearing in the matter filed by Ararume at the Federal High Court, Abuja had been stalled on two previous occasions by the NNPCL.
The plaintiff, Araraume had instituted a N100 billion suit against Buhari, over his alleged unlawful removal as Non-Executive Chairman of the newly-incorporated NNPCL.
Besides Buhari, the NNPCL and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) were second and third defendants respectively.
Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had on January 11, adjourned the matter to January 23, for definite hearing.
When the matter up yesterday, the judge directed parties to identify and adopt their processes as their brief of argument in the matter.
Reacting, lead lawyer to the NNPC, Prof. Koyinsola Ajayi, drew the court's attention to a motion for stay of proceedings challenging the January 11 of the Court, which had declined to take the NNPCL's motion of preliminary objection to the substantive suit.
Ajayi, was of the opinion that the application for stay be taken and the court takes a decision one way or the other before progressing with the case.
Responding, Justice Ekwo declined, insisting that the court would take all motions together, including the substantive suit.
After several attempts to make the judge take the application for stay first, failed, Ajayi, while observing that the position of the court has placed him at an uncomfortable position, asked the judge for permission to withdraw from the proceedings.
Responding, Ekwo reminded the lawyer that he was not the one who engaged Ajayi and as such the senior lawyer was at liberty to take whatever decision he seems good.
At this juncture, Ajayi withdrew from the proceedings and walked out of the court and was followed by Etigwe Uwa, SAN, who represented NNPC at the January 11 proceedings.
However, the court reminded Ajayi that a process already filed before a court was deemed adopted even if the lawyer refuses to do so.
The judge subsequently called on other parties to adopt their various processes.
Responding, Ararume's counsel, Chief Chris Uche, urged the court to invoke the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) to nullify the removal of his client as the Chairman of the NNPCL.
Uche argued that Buhari acted outside the law to remove Ararume as Board Chairman after incorporating the oil company in his name and was billed for inauguration in that capacity.
But Buhari's lawyer, Mr. Abubakar Shuaib, disagreed with Ararume and prayed the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it was statute barred at the time it was filed.
Specifically, Shuaib argued that Ararume's suit offended Section 2(a) of the Public Officers Act and as such was incompetent.
Similarly, lawyer to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Mr Akeeem Mustapha SAN, told the court it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
Mustapha in exonerating the CAC claimed that his client did not play any role in the removal of Ararume, other than incorporating NNPCL as a limited liability company based on the document submitted to it.
He, however, submitted that Ararume's appointment was political, adding that the president has the power to hire and fire.
He stressed that Ararume's appointment had nothing to do with the CAMA law.
Shortly, after parties adopted their brief of arguments, Justice Ekwo announced that ruling and or judgment in the suit is fixed for March 28.
Araraume had asked for N100 billion to compensate for damages caused him by the alleged unlawful and unconstitutional way and manner he was removed as the NNPCL chief after using his name to incorporate the entity.
In the suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/691/2022, the former Senator formulated four issues for determination by the court.
One of the issue was whether in view of the provisions of the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the NNPC, Companies and Allied Matters Act 2010 and the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, the office of the Non Executive Chairman is not governed and regulated by the stated provisions of the law.