FG Appeals Judgment Reinstating Ararume As NNPCL Chairman

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The Federal Government has urged the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division to reverse the April 18 judgment of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ordering among others, the reinstatement of Ifeanyi Ararume as the Chairman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd (NNPCL).

The Federal Government also faulted the N5 billion damages awarded in Ararume’s favour in the judgment given by the trial court, arguing that he (Ararume) did not establish his entitlement to such a huge compensation.

The federal government’s position is contained in a notice of appeal hinged on eight grounds filed in the name of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by a team of lawyers from the Federal Ministry of Justice, led by Tijani Gazali (SAN).

Ararume sued the federal government on September 12, 2022, to challenge then-President Muhammadu Buhari’s reversal of his appointment as the Non-Executive Chairman of the NNPCL via a letter dated January 17, 2022.

In his April 18, 2023 judgment in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1621/2022, the trial Judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo faulted Buhari’s action, ordered Ararume’s reinstatement and awarded N5 billion damages in his favour.

The Federal Government, in its notice of appeal, challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to have heard the case and also queried the competence of the suit, arguing that it was statute barred.

In its first ground of appeal, the FG faulted the trial judge for assuming jurisdiction over the case which borders on the withdrawal of Ararume’s appointment as the Non-Executive Chairman of the NNPCL.

It argued that, under the provision of the National Industrial Court (NIC) Act and Section 254(c) of the Constitution, the NIC has exclusive jurisdiction in civil matters bordering on labour and employment.

“The provision of Section of Section 254(c) of the Constitution is made notwithstanding anything to the contrary provided in Section 251 of the Constitution (which dictates the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court). The provision takes precedence over Section 251 of the Constitution on the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. The office of the Non-Executive Chairman was not contemplated under the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020.

“Hence, CAMA does not regulate the appointment and withdrawal from office, to vest the determination of such question on the Federal High Court. The Federal High Court lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine this matter.”

In ground two, the appellants faulted the trial judge for assuming jurisdiction over the suit “which was statute barred, having been filed more than three months after the accrual of the cause of action and in breach of Section of 2(a) of the Public Officers Protection Act.

It noted that, while Ararume’s cause of action arose as a result of the January 17, 2022 letter from the President, withdrawing his appointment, he filed his suit on September 12, 2022 “more than three months after the withdrawal of his appointment.”

In ground three, the appellant faulted the trial judge for interpreting the general provisions of Section 288 of CAMA “and placed it above the specific provisions of Section 63(3) of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 in relation to the withdrawal of the appointment of the 1st respondent (Ararume) by the appellant.”

It argued that the provision of Section 288 of CAMA “is silent on the withdrawal of appointment of a Non-Executive Chairman of the 2nd respondent company (NNPCL). The provisions of Section 288 of CAMA cannot be rightly applied in interpreting the powers of the President listed in Section 63(3) of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021.

“The office of a Non-Executive Chairman is only known to the
Petroleum Industry Act, 2021, which made provisions for the appointment and withdrawal of a person to that office.

“The Petroleum Industry Act, 2021, is the specific legislation on the subject of the governance of the Nigerian petroleum industry, hence it is more relevant than the provisions of tre Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020 on the subject.

“Section 63(3) of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 does not provide for giving an officer prior notification before removal from office.”

On the issue of damages, the appellant equally faulted the trial judge for awarding for awarding N5 billion in favour of Ararume as damages over his alleged wrongful removal from office.

It argued that damages are awarded premised on established actionable wrong or injury, contending that the award of N5 billion, “is unsupported by
the weight of evidence adduced before the trial court by the 1st respondent.

“The appellant withdrew the letter of appointment of the 1st respondent shortly after it was issued. The 1st respondent did not place any document before the court to show what he would have been entitled to, had his appointment not been withdrawn by the appellant.

“There was no basis for the quantum of damages awarded to the 1st respondent”. FG stated in its notice of appeal.

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