11 August 2014, Lagos – As the legal battle between Brittania-U Nigeria Limited and Seplat Petroleum Development Company Limited for the acquisition of Chevron’s Oil Mining Leases (OMLs) 52, 53 and 55 shifted to the Supreme Court, lawyer to Brittania-U, Mr. Rickey Tarfa (SAN), has cautioned the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) not to be manipulated into pursuing extra-judicial advantage in contempt of court.
This caution, it was learnt, came few days after lawyer to Seplat, Mr. DD Dodo (SAN), wrote to the minister and the NNPC, requesting them to grant consent to the bid process and divestment of the disputed oil blocks in favour of his client.
But Tarfa in a letter dated August 7, 2014, urged the minister to jettison the idea of Seplat’s lawyer, stressing that if the minister gave consent to the bid process and divestment of Chevron’s interest in the three leases, it would serve as an affront to the authority of the courts seized with the suit.
He reminded the minister that there was a pending application at the Supreme Court brought by Brittania-U, while the substantive suit is still pending at the trial court and had been stalled at the instance of Chevron and Seplat that had appealed against the decision of the trial court, which states that it had jurisdiction to determine the merit of the case.
Dodo had argued in a letter to the Minister dated July 30, 2014 and titled: “Suit No: FHC/L/CS/1711/2013 RE: Brittania-U Nigeria Limited V. Chevron Nigeria Limited and 4 ORS,” which was obtained by THISDAY, that since the Court of Appeal in suit No: CA/L/100/2014 had set aside the interim order of injunction made by the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos it would be needless for parties to maintain status quo pending the final determination of the appeal and the suit, which is presently before the Federal High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, respectively.
Dodo contended that the Federal High Court is not seized of the suit and that the decision of the Federal High Court on jurisdiction is currently being challenged by Seplat at the Court of Appeal, adding that it takes seven or eight years on the average for appeals to be heard and determined at the Supreme Court, while the proceeding at the trial court has been adjourned sine die pending the hearing and determination of his client’s motion on notice for stay of proceedings pending at the appellate court.
Dodo said his client was willing to offer full indemnity to the minister and the NNPC for any damages should the court find in favour of Brittania-U upon the final determination of the suit.
But apparently miffed by what he described as the abuse of court process coming from a highly placed legal luminary, Tarfa, in the letter dated August 7, 2014, advised the minister and NNPC not to allow Seplat and its lawyer drag them in the mud, by disregarding the suits pending at the Federal High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
“Any attempt to shift the forum of litigation from the courtroom to the respected office of the Minister (a party impleaded in the suit) unless perhaps to explore amicable out-of-court settlement, is not only misguided, it sounds regrettably in deficit of professionalism by otherwise eminent lawyers of the highest distinction in our noble profession,” Tarfa said.
“We shall not fall into the same egregious error by joining issues with them on matters which only the courts seized of the suit are competent to adjudicate upon. We can only hope, Madam Minister, that you join us in this stand,” he added.
Citing the case of Obi V. INEC (2007) 11 NWLR (PT. 1046) where the Supreme Court warned against acting to anticipate cases in court or foist a fait accompli on the court and their adversary, Tarfa stated that “It is trite law that the duty of all parties to litigation, or whomsoever is called upon to act for the benefit or to the prejudice of the parties in litigation, over a matter that is subjudice, is enjoined to demur once it comes to his or her knowledge that the court is seized of the matter.”
On the issue of indemnity by Seplat’s lawyer in his letter to give an undertaking to the minister pending the outcome of the suit, Tarfa noted that “parties should conserve their fanciful and disingenuous legal arguments or offer of undertaking to the wisdom of the court.”
Brittania-U, Tarfa insisted, “cannot fathom any ingenious argument, which will avail the minister if she accedes to the underhand and arguably fraudulent request to consent to an adverse divestment of the same assets on the volunteer terms by Seplat solicitors in their letter to give an undertaking to the minister pending the outcome of the suit as a quid pro quo for the assent- thereby embroiling and compromising the Minister with undue interest in the dispute.”
– This Day