By Sufuyan Ojeifo
I have been sufficiently scandalized in the last few days by the varieties of reactions, seemingly procured or tainted, that have greeted the judgment by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which reinstated Senator Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume as a non-executive chairman of the Board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL).
The judgment upended the administrative fiasco that the capricious presidential action of unilaterally and arbitrarily removing Araraume from office on January 17, 2022, without reasons and in breach of due process, had heaped on the presidency.
What the court did was to untangle the mess by interpreting the extant laws governing the operations and administration of the NNPCL, to wit: the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021, which prescribes the mode of appointment and termination of the same into the Board of the commercially-driven national energy company; the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020 that provides legal circumscription and circumspection in the running of CAMA companies limited by shares; and the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the NNPCL (2nd Defendant), which lays out how tasks are to be accomplished within the company including the process for appointing directors and the handling of financial records. `
President Buhari was the first Defendant in the suit that the plaintiff (Araraume) commenced through an originating summons while in the subsequent amended originating summons, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) was ordered by the court to be joined as 3rd Defendant since some of the documents cited for interpretation were in the Commission’s custody and would be liable to be affected by any consequential order(s) made by the court. The relevant provisions of the extant laws and articles of association cited were Section 63(3) of the PIA 2021, Section 288 of the CAMA 2020 and Articles 21.3, 21.4 and 24 of the Articles of Association of the NNPCL. These were the laws (and provisions) on which the Court expounded. The provisions were writ large, and the Court’s interpretations were precise. Justice Ekwo did not manufacture them, nor did he expand them. The plaintiff latched his four questions for determination by the court on the provisions of the extant laws cited supra.
Whereas, the plaintiff presented a solid case backed up by a solid brief of arguments, the defendants, in their counters, could not discount the magnitude or the weight of the documentary and statutory evidence that the plaintiff adduced to strengthen his request for necessary and consequential reliefs, which the court could not but grant. The defendants exhausted their energies and stratagems on preliminary objections, and they raised seven in all, to truncate the expeditious hearing of the case, but Justice Ekwo was on top of the game. He understood it better than they did. It was out of frustration that the judge was too smart for them that made two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Professor Koyinsola Ajayi and Etigwe Uwa, counsel to NNPCL, to walk out on the proceedings of the court.
The legal teams of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Defendants worked in synergy, but as it turned out, they were somewhat clumsy in their defence such that they forgot to attack the plaintiff’s claim in the sum N100 billion for damages on account of his illegal and wrongful removal, and disruption of his term or tenure of office. The judge had used his discretion to reduce the unrebutted amount sought to N5 billion in favour of the plaintiff. It should be noted that the Court is not a father Christmas to grant a relief or a counter that was not requested by a party in a situation that suggested that the party had wittingly or unwittingly slept on its rights to do so in their processes. Now, how was that the fault of the plaintiff or the judge?
The job of the court is to interpret the law and give judgments in cases in accordance with the law and not in accordance with factors or considerations that are extraneous to the constitution and extant laws as a so-called Coalition of Arewa CSOs that faulted the judgment by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which reinstated Araraume as non-executive chairman of the Board of the NNPCL, had expected the court to do. The group was so ridiculous in its position such that it declared that the judgment amounted to court’s usurpation of executive duties of the Office of the President and an affront against the powers of President Buhari.
In a press statement issued barely a day after the April 19 judgment, signed by its Publicity Secretary, Mallam Sanni Mohammed, the group sounded pathetic going by its outlandish position that the President should not have been slammed for removing Araraume unilaterally, arbitrarily and could not, if I understand the group very well, be corrected even when he had acted wrongly as he did, according to the verdict of the court, in the Araraume removal. The coalition said it was ridiculous that the court saw the sack of Araraume as illegal, and had declared, obviously ignorantly, that the President acted within the confines of the law.
Read a part of the group’s statement: “The Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) is unambiguous as Section 14 is clear on the president’s power to suspend or remove members of the NNPCL board and the conditions that could result in such removal or suspension. President Buhari as the Minister of Petroleum heads the industry with a wide range of powers to formulate, monitor, and administer government policies. Indeed, those who call Buhari’s sacking of Araraume illegal should read in-between the lines.”
Consider the group’s further interposition: “The essence of any judicial intervention is to ensure orderliness and good conduct in government’s affairs…When a judicial pronouncement seeks to usurp the powers of another branch of government, it is a recipe for anarchy and breakdown of the rule of law. It is in this regard that we in the Coalition of Arewa Civil Society groups note with great displeasure and consider as an aberration the judgment by the Federal High Court in Abuja, restoring Senator Ifeanyi Araraume as non-Executive Chairman of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL).”
It continued: “The Coalition views as usurpation of the duties of the Office of the President and an affront on the powers of President Muhammadu Buhari. For a start, the 1999 Constitution provides that “5(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the executive powers of the Federation — (a) shall be vested in the President and may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any law made by the National Assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the Vice-President and Ministers of the Government of the Federation or officers in the Public Service of the Federation….Also, the cabinet and the larger administrative team, except where specifically established by the constitution, hold their appointments at the pleasure of Mr. President.”
It added that section 147 provides that “(1) There shall be such offices of Ministers of the Government of the Federation as may be established by the President. Sub-section (2) restates the exclusivity of the president’s power to hire minister (and other appointees) by stating that “any appointment to the office of Minister of the Government of the Federation shall, if the nomination of any person to such office is confirmed by the Senate, be made by the President.” The group then inferred: “Naturally, whoever can hire, can also fire.”
The group has egrigiously muddled the issues, taken them oit of context and
appropriated to itself the powers of the Court of Appeal to review Justice Ekwo’s judgment. This amounts to judicial heresy and contempt ex facie curiae. Without wanting to fall into the same error, it is very clear that unlike statutory corporations where who hires can fire, the PIA and the fact that NNPCL is a CAMA company, have effectively revised that assumption. Once the President appointed Araraume, he had become functus officio as it was subsequently in the place of the Board, by a resolution, to fire him or any of its members in line with due processes spelt out in the extant laws..
I honestly detest the suggestion by the group that tended to support impunity by officialdom in the running of government in Nigeria. Arguing that no arm of government can usurp the functions of the other arms was being patently mischievous and it is sardonic of the status of a civil society organization that should naturally support the principle of checks and balances, which provides each government with individual powers (under the principle of power separation) and further coterminous powers to check snd balance the other branches and prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful, to make such avowal. The group’s position is that the President should vitiate and violate the law and be allowed to transmogrify into a dictator in a democratic government.
A couple or so other reactions also clearly showed the extent of misconception of the PIA in the unbundling of the NNPC and the emergence of a commercially-driven national energy company-NNPCL. Can’t these guys appreciate the fact that NNPCL is no longer a government corporation run by a chief executive, who is appointed by and can be sacked at the pleasure of the President? This clear misunderstanding of the gravitas of the PIA in the coupling of the NNPCL and in the mediation of its governance and administrative ecosystem is the basis of a series of reactions that are as ridiculous as they are profane.
Apparently aware that the tenor of their initial reaction was weak and would not succeed in discounting the court judgment, the forces that are ill-at-ease with Araraume have resorted to argumentum ad hominem-attacking the person of the plaintiff through some unconscionable and rebuttable suggestion that President Buhari might have removed him (Araraume) on account of a DSS report, which the civil society organisations operating under the aegis of Coalition of Civil Society Groups for Good Governance (CCSGGG) referred to in its reaction.
In the reaction that was syndicated in a number of publications online, the coalition reportedly claimed that a security report on Araraume by the secret police — the Department of State Service (DSS) after he was nominated nailed him, and had demanded a release of the security report by the secret police without further delay. The coalition, which claimed to comprise about 25 civil society groups, also threatened to stage a protest against the judgment in Abuja this week.
Two quick ripostes here: I sincerely wonder at the rate at which the CSO enterprise has degenerated in lending its voice to the odious, the perverted and the ridiculous for pecuniary interest. I had also believed at some intersections in the past that CSOs were run by brilliant, sharp minds who could analyse issues on their feet and deconstruct the possible ramifications of the same. But the interventions by CSOs these days are a clear departure from the pristine tradition that conferred on that community the status of a watchdog of the nation in reining in officialdom. To attempt to tar Araraume with a brush of malfeasance outside the court in a post hoc reaction and rationalisation of the judgment that granted all his reliefs sought in court is symptomatic of the desperate quest for filthy lucre. It is sad that some CSOs have lost the moral high ground and now defend the seeming indefensible. So, so sad.
If the federal government had a security report that “nailed” Araraume in its custody, it should have presented the same in court to strengthen its defence. I doubt if there was any negative security report to flaunt in his face. Rather, there are security reports by both by Police and the DSS that cleared Araraume to consummate his appointment by Buhari as a federal commissioner at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) from 2016 to 2018 where he represented the Southeast zone. I doubt if there has been any counter report subsequently. The CSOs stand the risk of being sued for malicious and defamatory publication in their statement. They had also threatened protest. All well and good! What useful purpose would the protests serve? Protesting against the judgment of a the court? I shudder. The threatened protest is devoid of rational justification. They should not embarrass themselves by marching through the street in laughable protest.
Mr Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via email@example.com