The newly-incorporated Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited, on Monday, failed to halt hearing in a N100 billion suit instituted against President Muhammadu Buhari over alleged unlawful removal of Senator Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume as Board Chairman.
The failure by the NNPC Ltd, represented by two Senior Advocates of Nigeria- Professor Konyinsola Ajayi and Utigwe Uwa- saw both of them withdraw from the proceedings and storm out of court after Justice Inyang Ekwo stood his ground that he was going to rule on all processes and applications separately at the same sitting.
Professor Ajayi, the lead of the NNPC Ltd legal team, had, while identifying his processes for adoption, drawn the court’s attention to a motion for stay of proceedings challenging the January 11 decision 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 another before progressing with the case.
He had also wanted to put in, afresh, his team’s interrogatories for the plaintiff, which the judge refused to admit.
Ajayi had pleaded profusely with the judge and referred to the position of the Supreme Court that interrogatories are at the heart of fair hearing.
The judge did not budge, insisting that he would rule on each process and application separately on the same day and each ruling would determine the next step to take.
Apparently frustrated that his strategy to dilate the proceedings in favour of his client did not work, Ajayi told Justice Ekwo that he might need his permission to withdraw from the proceedings.
Justice Ekwo, in quick riposte, said he did not know how he got into the matter in the first instance and it was needless to seek his permission to withdraw and that the senior lawyer was at liberty to take whatever decision he deemed good.
It was at that point that Ajayi took a bow, picked his files and walked out, closely followed by Etigwe Uwa.
While the shocking drama by the learned silks was going on, Justice Ekwo had called on the counsel to first defendant (President Muhammadu Buhari), Mr A.H. Usman, to identify his processes and adopt them in accordance, which Usman did.
The counsel to the third defendant (Corprate Affairs Commisdson), A. U. Mustapha (SAN) also identified his processes and adopted the same.
Recall that hearing in the matter filed by Senator Araraume, at the Federal High Court, Abuja had been stalled on two previous occasions by the NNPC Ltd.
The plaintiff (Araraume) had instituted a N100 billion suit against President Buhari, over his alleged unlawful removal as non-Executive Chairman of the newly-incorporated Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited.
President Buhari, the NNPCL and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) are first, second and third defendants respectively in the suit that was commenced by originating summons, which was amended at the instance of the court to accommodate the Corporate Affairs Commission as a co-respondent since the Commission might be affected by the proceedings and rulings of the court.
Specifically, Justice Ekwo had, on January 11, adjourned the matter to January 23, for definite hearing.
When the matter up, on Monday, the judge had directed parties to identify and adopt their processes as their briefs of argument in the matter.
He had also informed parties that the court would take all motions together, including the substantive suit.
After all parties had identified their processes and adopted them, Justice Ekwo said that the parties having been heard, the matter was adjourned to March 28, 2023 for ruling (on the applications) and judgment in the substantive suit.