There was a bit of commotion at the Federal High Court in Abuja earlier on Monday when two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Professor Koyinsola Ajayi and Etigwa Uwa, staged a walkout on the court during hearing on a N100 billion suit filed by Senator Ifeanyi Ararume against President Muhammadu Buhari and others.
The lawyers had appeared before Justice Inyang Ekwo to represent the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) in the suit by Ararume, challenging his removal as chairman of the oil company’s board.
Ajayi, who led a retinue of lawyers on behalf of the NNPCL, had sought to move three different applications comprising one asking the court to stay proceedings pending the appeal against the ruling of the Federal High Court delivered on January 11, 2023.
Ajayi, after identifying the processes filed by NNPC against the suit, argued that the motion seeking stay of proceedings must be heard separately and ruling delivered by the Judge before any other motion should be entertained.
However, the judge told the lawyer to put all the applications together and that he would deliver separate rulings in each of the applications so as to save judicial time of the court.
Ararume, who was represented by Chris Uche (SAN), claimed that the motion for stay of proceeding had not been served on him. Prof Ajayi stood his ground to move the application separately and that the Judge must give separate rulings on it one way or the other before any other issue.
However, following the decision of the Judge to take all the applications together in line with the provision of the Practice Direction of the Federal High Court, Ajayi and his fellow SAN announced their withdrawal from the suit and immediately staged a walkout on the court.
During the proceedings, Ararume’s counsel, Uche, while adopting his final brief of argument, urged the court to invoke the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) to nullify the removal of his client as the Chairman of the NNPCL.
The two senior lawyers were joined by their juniors in leaving the court immediately the Judge ordered them to move their three applications together.
Uche informed the court that President Muhammadu Buhari acted outside the law to remove Ararume after incorporating the oil company in his name and was billed for inauguration in the capacity.
However, President Buhari’s counsel, Abubakar Shuaib, prayed the court to dismiss the suit against his client on the grounds that it was statute-barred at the time it was instituted.
Specifically, Shuaib argued that Ararume’s suit offended Section 2(a) of the Public Officers Act and as such was incompetent.
On his part, Akeeem Mustapha (SAN), counsel to the Corporate Affairs Commission [CAC) which is the third defendant in the suit, asked the court to decline jurisdiction in entertaining the suit.
The senior lawyer argued that his client did not play any role in Ararume’s disputed removal apart from incorporating NNPCL as a limited liability company based on the document submitted to it.
Mustapha however said that Ararume’s appointment was political and that Buhari has the power to hire and fire, adding that the appointment had nothing to do with CAMA law.
After taking arguments from Ararume, President Buhari, and the Corporate Affairs Commission, Justice Ekwo fixed 28 March for ruling and possible judgment in the suit.
Ararume had dragged Buhari before the Court praying it to declare his removal as NNPC Chief illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional and that it is a total breach of CAMA law under which NNPCL was incorporated.