The Supreme Court sitting in Abuja on Thursday fixed January 29, 2016 for judgment in the lingering dispute between an indigenous oil firm, Brittania-U Nigeria Limited and Chevron Nigeria Limited over the sale of juicy oil blocks.
The five-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta fixed the judgment date after entertaining arguments from parties to the feud.
Lawyers representing Brittania-U, Ricky Tarfa (SAN) and Abiodun Owoniko (SAN), at Thursday’s proceedings, had told the court that the pending appeal before it was in respect of the judgment of the Court of Appeal vacating the status quo order.
Tarfa also urged the court to grant the motion for mandatory restorative order to revert parties to status quo before the appeal was lodged.
A Federal High Court in Lagos, had on December 13, 2013 granted an interim injunction halting the assignment of Chevron Oil Mining Leases (OML) 52, 53 and 55 to any of the unsuccessful companies including Seplat Petroleum Development Company Limited in the bid won by Brittania-U in September, 2013.
Tarfa, while arguing the matter before the apex court, had also informed the court that the appeal was against the decision of the Court of Appeal dated June 20, 2014 and the appellant’s brief dated October 31, 2014 filed on the same date.
He further told the court that the appellant filed a reply brief of argument on March 23, 2015 together with an amended brief of argument which was deemed filed on that date after the 1st respondent amended its brief Uche Nwokoedi, the lawyer representing Chevron and 4th respondent appellants, on his part, informed the court that his clients have also filed their reply to the brief of argument.
He further submitted that he filed a notice of preliminary objection to hearing of the appeal which was filed on same day with the reply to the brief of argument.
A. V. Etuwewe, lawyer representing the 3rd and 5th respondents told the court that his clients filed their reply brief of argument on March 3, 2015 but deemed properly filed on March 23, 2015.
Appellant counsel therefore urged the court to grant their relief as captured in paragraph 8.02 in the appellant’s brief and also informed the court that they filed list of additional authorities dated October 22, 2015 which addressed the court on its power to make consequential orders.
Damien Dodo (SAN), who is the counsel to Seplat which is the 1st respondent appellant, told the court that his client’s brief of argument dated March 23, 2015 was filed on March 24, 2015.
He urged the court to dismiss the appeal stating that it was an interlocutory appeal and the core issue was whether or not the lower court was right to set aside the ex parte order by the trial court that extended the order indefinitely, noting that the substantive matter was still pending.
Responding, Tarfa argued that it was their game plan to forestall the matter so that they can use technicality to knock off the case. He told the Justices of the apex court that the respondents failed to realize that in this particular case, the 14 days did not apply because the statutes “says if you sue foreigners outside jurisdiction, they must be given 30 days before they can be compelled to appear before the court.”
He added: “When the case resumed at the trial court, after grant of ex-parte injunction, the respondents brought an objection that the court has no jurisdiction. “So we argued that in view of the objection that the court has no jurisdiction, what is the position as at then because the res must be preserved while issue of jurisdiction is yet to be determined. This was the reason the court made preservative order over the res while fixing the preliminary objection for hearing on the first opportunity,” Tarfa claried and urged the court not to allow respondents take undue advantage of the delay they engineered.
Joined as defendants also are Chevron USA Inc, BNP Parbas Securities Corp, Hermant Petel and Seplat Petroleum Development Company limited.
Britannia-U Nigeria Limited had approached the court seeking for a declaration that its final binding offer of $1,015,000,000.00 for acquisition of 40 percent participating interest of Chevron Nigeria in oil mining leases 52, 53 and 56 has been accepted by the first defendant.
In its statement of claim, the plaintiff stated that the second defendant, (Chevron USA) requested Britannia-U to provide firm Board commitment letter issued by the plaintiff’s bankers for payment of the balance of $765million which was complied with.
The plaintiff added that its bankers directly paid the money to the second defendant (Chevron Corp) at their Houston office on November 15, 2013 arguing that, with that it followed that the parties had entered into binding contract for the acquisition of the OMLs 52, 53 and 55 by the plaintiff.
The plaintiff prayed the court to hold that it’s revised bid of One Billion and Fifteen Million US dollars (US$1, 015, 000, 000.00), for acquisition of the 40% participating interest of Chevron Nigeria Limited in Oil Mining Leases 52, 53 and 56 is binding and subsisting.
The plaintiff urged the court to hold that the Irrevocable Standby Letter of Credit for the sum of $250 million representing 15% of the company’s initial bid price of $1.667billion, opened in favour of the first/second defendants on September 30, 2013 remain in force.
The plaintiff maintained that by the said irrevocable Letter of Credit which formed part of the conditions laid down by first/second defendants and for a binding bid, the SBLC is still being held by the first/second defendants Chevron Nigeria/(Chevron Corporation) till this moment.
Specifically, the plaintiff sought for an order declaring that the 1st-4th defendants have no right to proceed to invite bids, offer or accept, negotiate, purport or so represent or engage in any transaction or contract to transfer, sell, farm out or otherwise deal in, dispose of charge encumber, or divest the 40% participating interest of Chevron Nigeria Limited in Oil Mining Leases 52, 53 and 55 in Nigeria in favour of any other person entity or whomsoever or in derogation from or in disregard of the agreement entered into between the plaintiff and the first defendant.