Court Restrains FG, EFCC From Crippling Operations Of Aiteo And Benedict Peters
…Orders Parties To Maintain Status Quo
….Makes “Aiteo Eastern Order”
Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court Abuja, on Friday restrained the Federal Government from taking steps aimed at crippling the business operations and freezing the accounts of AITEO Eastern E & P Company Ltd.
Kolawole made the order after hearing an ex parte motion argued by Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN.
The Defendants are the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The motion exparte was filed pursuant to Order 26 rule 8 of the Federal High Court Rules. It was dated November 23, 2017, and filed on behalf of the plaintiff (Aiteo) by Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, and other senior lawyers.
AITEO is a Limited Liability Company, a major player in the upstream sector of the Nigerian oil industry, as well as the joint/operator of oil mining lease (OML) 29, an asset which is jointly owned by it and the Federal Government, through the NNPC, which subscribes to 55% of the said asset.
The ex parte application is seeking, “an order of interim injunction restraining the defendants jointly or severally, either by themselves, agents, operatives, privies, servants, aides or through any persons howsoever from interfering with or obstructing the business operations, ,activities and undertakings of the plaintiff, either by way of embargoing or freezing any of its accounts or obstructing it’s activities in any way or manner whatsoever.
It also prayed for “An order of interim injunction restraining the defendants jointly or severally, either by themselves, agents, operatives, privies, servants, aides or through any persons howsoever from relying on, activating, making use of, registering and or applying/enforcing the ex parte restraint order dated 19 October, 2017, made in suit Nos: 82/17, in the Matter of Benedict Peters (alleged offender) and Nnenna Peters and 5 others (third parties) etc, by the Crown Court, sitting at Southwark, United Kingdom, coram, His Honour Judge Beddoe, to disrupt, distract, frustrate, meddle (with), hinder, impede the business operations, undertakings, negotiations and activities of the plaintiff.
In a lengthy bench ruling, Justice Kolawole ordered the Federal Government to maintain the “status quo ante bellum”, pending the determination of the motion on notice dated 23rd November, 2017, filed by the plaintiff against the defendants.
The court further ordered the AGF and EFCC to come and show cause on December 18, why the reliefs sought by the plaintiff in the motion ex parte shall not be granted.
Kolawole directed the defendants to do this by way of affidavit depositions, within seven days of being served court processes filed by the Plaintiff.
The court also fixed December 18, for the hearing of the plaintiff’s motion on notice dated November 23, 2017.
Justice Kolawole in making the order termed “hybrid preservative order” agreed with the submissions of Ozekhome that the business operations of the plaintiff may be crippled if the ex parte restraint order made by the Crown Court, London on October 19, 2017 is allowed to be registered in Nigeria, before determination of the motion on notice:
”The facts of the instant case by my assessment presents a perculiar circumstance which this court needs to address. One of the facts is that by the Nigerian law, that is Foreign Judgement Fiscal Act, interim expropriating orders such as it is alleged to have been made by the Crown Court in London are not registrable for the enforcement in Nigeria”, Kolawole held.
Arguing the ex parte motion earlier, Ozekhome, citing authorities, had urged the court to make a preservative order for maintenance of the “status quo ante bellum” in order to halt the defendants from taking any steps prejudicial to the business concerns and activities of Aiteo.
Ozekhome argued that if a preservative order was not made immediately against the defendants, to preserve the “res”, recent developments, show that the EFCC could spring up surprises by freezing accounts of the company, sealing it, etc, even before the motion on notice is heard.
The ex parte motion was accompanied by a 20-paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Andrew Onyearu, a Director in AITEO.
He stated that the registration and enforcement in Nigeria of the ex parte restraint order dated October 19, 2017, will deny the plaintiff of its proprietary rights in properties and assets legitimately acquired by it in Nigeria without infringing on any Nigerian law and frustrate its commitment to third parties with respect to onshore and offshore obligations.
The deponent averred that judgments and orders of foreign courts have to be first registered in Nigeria before they can be enforced, and that defendants are making preparations, through Clause 28 of the said order, to register it in Nigeria, when it has not met the legal requirements.