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Buhari Seeks Due Judicial Process on Ararume, NNPC Matter

He said the Justice ministry is yet to be served a copy of the ruling.

President Muhammadu Buhari Wednesday said he has taken due notice of a judgment by the Federal High Court, Abuja, that restored Senator Ifeanyi Ararume as the non-executive Chairman of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL).

According to a statement yesterday, by the Media Adviser to the President, Femi Adesina, while the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice was yet to receive a formal copy of the ruling, the president affirmed that due judicial process would be followed, adding that the NNPCL had already taken steps to go on appeal.

He said his administration respects the rule of law, adding that nothing would be done outside it to resolve the matter.

Buhari therefore called for calm from all sides involved.

Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, set aside the removal of Ararume as the Non-Executive Chairman of the Board of NNPC Ltd.

Justice Ekwo in a judgment had held that Ararume’s removal by Buhari contravened provisions of the NNPC Ltd laws as well as the Company’s and Allied Matters Act. The judge consequently made an order reinstating Ararume as the Non-Executive Chairman of the NNPC Ltd Board with immediate effect.

Ararume had last year dragged Buhari to court over his removal as the Chairman of the Board of the NNPC Ltd. Ararume had demanded a whopping sum of N100 billion as damages caused him due to the unlawful manner he was removed as Board Chairman after his name was used to incorporate the entity.

The president had in a letter dated January 17, and signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, withdrawn Ararume’s appointment without any reason whatsoever, hence legal action was commenced by the former Imo State senator.

The suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/691/2022 was instituted on his behalf by a group of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) comprising Chief Chris Uche, Ahmed Raji, Mahmud Magaji, Ogwu James Onoja, K.C Nwufor and Gordy Uche.

Delivering judgment in the suit after dismissing a total of seven applications against its hearing, Justice Ekwo held that the case of the plaintiff had merit and subsequently ruled in his favour.

According to the judge, the laws guiding the NNPC as well as the Petroleum Industry Act did not empower the president with powers to arbitrarily remove a director from the board of the NNPC, adding that with the new status of the NNPC under the Company’s and Allied Matters Act, NNPC is not a statutory agency under the federal government.

Furthermore, Ekwo held that Buhari was wrong when he went ahead to remove Ararume as Board Chairman without following the due process of the law.

According to the judge, before a member of the board of the NNPC including the non-Executive chairman can be removed from office; there must be a concrete allegation against him or her, the person must be confronted with the said allegation and provided with an opportunity to defend itself.

Ekwo dismissed the claim of the NNPC Ltd that Ararume was removed because he was not qualified, involved in contract fraud, amongst others, noting that no evidence of such was contained in the January 17 letter, for his withdrawal.

According to the judge the defense by NNPC was an exercise in futility at manufacturing reasons for Ararume’s removal.

The judge held that the removal of Ararume without fair hearing by the president was, “wrong and cannot be tolerated by a court of law”, adding that the, “plaintiff has proved his case, he was not legally and properly removed. I determine question 1 in the positive; 2 in the negative; 3 in the negative and 4 in the positive”.

Justice Ekwo also held that the plaintiff having proved his case was entitled to damages.

The court held that the president’s letter of January 17, without complying with the NNPC’s and CAMA laws, “is wrongful, illegal, null and void and of no consequence and is hereby set aside.

While the judge made an order reinstating the plaintiff back to office as non-Executive Chairman of the Board of the NNPC Ltd, another order was made nullifying all the actions and decisions made so far by the board without Ararume.

Justice Ekwo held that Ararume was entitled to damages over the unlawful manner he was removed and consequently awarded damages in the sum of N5 billion.

Deji Elumoye in Abuja

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