Lawyers Urge Court To Sanction Agip For Contempt In Gas Plant Dispute

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Some top lawyers have called on a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to commit the Managing Director of the Nigerian Agip Oil Company, Insula Massimo, to prison for disobeying its order.
Itse Sagay and Sebastian Hon, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, expressed disgust over the blatant way the multinational oil firm has disobeyed a legitimate order of the country’s court.

Justice Lambo Akanbi had last week reiterated an earlier order restraining the Italian oil major from taking any action in the gas plant maintenance dispute it has with an indigenous company, Arco Group.

Arco Group, formerly Arco Petrochemical Engineering Limited, employs of over 400 Nigerian engineers and technicians.

The company had dragged Agip, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Conoco Philips Petroleum Nigeria Limited, and the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) to court early in the year, stating that under the Nigeria Content Act, Agip was under obligation to it, the award maintenance contract of OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas plants.

Having successfully maintained the OB/OB, Ebocha and Kwale gas facilities for many years, Arco had averred that it had the prescribed equipment, machines and skilled manpower to execute the contract and further prayed the court to grant it several other declarative and injunctive reliefs.

But Justice Akanbi had expressly directed parties to the case to maintain the status quo in the maintenance contract dispute for which he had previously ordered Agip to stay action until motion on notice was determined.
He also adjourned the case to October 26, for determination of jurisdiction.

But on Tuesday, the Chairman of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASAN, Arco Chapter, Clinton Amadike, said his colleagues were ordered out of the gas plant in Omoku, Rivers State.

Mr. Amadike said Agip, through a Joint Venture Partner, General Electric, gave the order after staff of the indigenous oil company reported for work.

“Agip has violated the court order. They have asked our staff to surrender operations to Plantgeria,” the union leader said.

“GE is the company that is supervising the contract. Once GE gives orders, Arco obeys. But we are asked to stay out of the process. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We don’t know whether they will allow us into the plant.

“Our staff are currently in confinement. We have locked ourselves inside the workshop to prevent any form of harassment either by NAOIC and security operatives at the plant.”

But reacting to the development, Mr. Sagay strongly argued that nobody has the right to disobey the order the court.

“Nobody or entity or organisation has the right to disobey the order of a court in Nigeria. A court order is binding until it is vacated by that court that granted it or a superior court,” said the lawyer.

“Unless that happens, the court order is binding and must be respected. Anyone who refuses to carry out that order is guilty of contempt of court.

“And from the facts of the matter, if there is no contrary court order from a higher court then obviously Agip is guilty of contempt of court and what it is doing is illegal.”

On the recurrent case of disobedience to court orders by some multinationals operating in the country, Mr. Sagay advised interested parties to commit the leaders of the offending companies to jail.

He insisted that the managing director of the Italian oil firm should be committed to prison to serve as a deterrent to others.

On his part, Mr. Hon said, urged the court to commit the leadership of Agip to prison for disobeying a legitimate order of the court.

“If any action has been after the court had issued an injunction, it means Agip is in contempt of court and its leadership should be held responsible. The judicial powers of the Federation are vested in the courts and the rule of law has also been established in the prosecution,” Mr. Hon said.

“Nobody is above the law and no organisation should operate in such a way as to be seen to be above the law.

“If indeed Agip has flouted the court order, the affected party should urgently take steps to reverse it through restorative injunction. The court has the powers to restore what Agip has caused to be done wrongly.”

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