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Court fixes March 9 for ruling in suit against Royal Dutch, SPDC, others

A Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 fixed March 9 for ruling in a suit by Aiteo Eastern E&P Company Ltd against Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) and four others.

Federal High Court
The Federal High Court in Lagos

Aiteo is claiming about $4 billion against SPDC over alleged problems with the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) pipeline it bought from the Anglo-Dutch group in 2015 and over claims that Shell undercounted its oil exports.

Joined as respondents in the suit marked FHC/L/CS/52/2021 are: Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Shell Western Supply and Trading Ltd, Shell International Trading and Shipping Company Ltd, and Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd.

Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo had granted an interim mareva injunction directing 20 commercial banks to block SPDC’s accounts.

A mareva injunction is a court order freezing a party’s assets, until the determination of a case they are invloved in, to stop them from taking it abroad.

The order was in a bid to recover the cash equivalent of more than 16 million barrels of crude oil allegedly diverted by the oil giant from AITEO Eastern E & P Company Ltd.

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The court had issued the injunction barring Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiaries from withdrawing money at 20 local banks until it “ringfences” potential damages in a lawsuit brought against the comoany by Aiteo.

When the case was called on Tuesday, Mr Kemi Pinhero (SAN) announced appearance alongside Mr Emeka Ozoani (SAN) for the plaintiff.

On the other hand, Mr Adewale Atake (SAN) appeared for the first and fifth respondents, Mr Chukwuka Ikwuazom (SAN) appeared for the second, third and fourth defendants, while Mr Wale Akoni (SAN) appeared for the banks cited.

Justice Oguntoyinbo then delivered a ruling on whether to first take a preliminary objection challenging jurisdiction of the court or to take a contempt proceedings filed by the plaintiff’s counsel.

In its decision, the court held that the issue of service is germane in any contempt proceedings.

The court consequently held that it would hear all applications in the suit, respectively.

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Afterwards, plaintiff’s counsel (Pinhero) noted that the presence of the alleged contemnors was crucial and urged the court to grant an adjournment to allow physical presence in court of the alleged contemnors.

He listed the alleged contemnors as Citibank and United Bank for Africa (UBA).

Citing judicial authorities of Adedutan vs Agbara and others, as well as the case of Abbas vs Solomon, Pinhero urged the court to grant an adjournment as prayed.

In response, Akoni objected to the application by plaintiff counsel and, citing the case of INEC vs Oguebego, he said the presence of the alleged contemnors was unnecessary.

Akoni said that just as they had challenged the validity of an initial Form 48, they also intend to challenge the validity of the instant Form 48.

Although, he said, he was not opposed to the application for adjournment, he prayed the court to vacate the injunction earlier granted on the grounds that it had been “spent” by operation of the law.

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Other defence counsel (Atake and Ikwuazom) aligned themselves with Akoni’s submission.

Specifically, counsel to the first and fifth respondents (Atake) urged the court to vacate the order as same had lasped.

Besides, he argued that the fifth defendant which had no business or contractual relationship with the plaintiff suffers most.

In his reply on points of law, plaintiff counsel argued that the court”s order was made pending determination of the suit.

He argued that it was premature and unfair to ask the court to make an order vacating it, when same is even being challenged by the respondents.

After listening to respective arguments and counter arguments from parties, the court adjourned the case until March 9 for ruling.

The court urged counsel to avoid delays and ensure progress in the suit.

By Sandra Umeh

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