Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, on Friday, set-aside its order given on June 3, restraining the Federal Government from withdrawing licenses from 10 Marginal Oil Field Operators.
The court set aside the restraining order while delivering ruling on a motion filed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Engineer Auwaul Sarki, a director in the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), on the ground that they were not properly served with the court processes.
The court basing its decision on a plethora of Supreme Court authorities held that the Marginal Oil Operators failed to comply with the court order, which directed then to serve all the processes on the respondents’ address, which he said was contrary to the Rules of Admissibility.
Justice Aneke further held that the Practice Direction which the applicants based the service of the processes on the respondents on, cannot supersede Court Rule, but ought to compliment it.
The court had earlier in the month restrained the Federal Government through the Ministry of Petroleum, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Engineer Auwalu Sarki, a director in Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and had directed that the order and processes in the motion on notice be served personally on the respondents.
The restraining order followed arguments on an ex parte application filed by some lawyers led by Mr Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) and Mr Uche Nwokedi (SAN).
The Marginal Oil Field Operators had told the court that the order and other processes in the suit were served on the respondents via their official e-mail address.
Justice Aneke after setting aside the restraining order made on June 3, 2020, against the respondents further ordered that the whole process should commence De Novo (afresh).
After this, counsel to the 10 Marginal Oil Operators, Oyetibo (SAN), had pleaded with the court to urge the counsel to the respondents to accept the devices of the processes on behalf of their clients.
He also urged the court to make an order to restrain the respondents from tampering with the subject matter in the suit, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
Responding, counsel to the respondents, Dr Olawoyin (SAN), while conceding to accept the processes in the suit on behalf of his clients, also promised that the government will not do anything with the subject matter until the determination of the suit.
Following the submissions of the parties, Justice Aneke, adjourned till July 20, for the hearing of the motion on the interlocutory injunction.
The Marginal Field Operators had informed the court that they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the production and development of the affected marginal fields, adding that the purported revocation of their awards of marginal fields by the government violated their constitutional rights to a fair hearing, their rights under the Petroleum Act and under the guidelines governing marginal fields in Nigeria.
They also urged the court to halt the attempt by the Federal Government to include the affected marginal fields in the next bidding rounds for the award of marginal fields as it recently announced pending the determination of the substantive suit.
Oyeyipo (SAN) had informed the court that their clients, Federal Ministry of Petroleum and Mr Sarki of DPR, got the court order through DPR’s official email, firstname.lastname@example.org and that the plaintiffs got an automated acknowledgement, while the originating motion was served through email address email@example.com, not being used by the Department.
Oyeyipo (SAN) also told the court that, even if the applicants are to serve the respondents via email, it must be done with an order of the court, but the applicants failed to follow due process as stipulated by the Court’s Rules. Adding that DPR’s visitors’ dated May 29 and 30, 2020, did not reflect the presence of one Joshua Iyanda, and a bailiff of the court, to suggest that the said originating motion was taken to the Department.
Based on the above, the respondents’ lawyers urged the court to strike out the originating motion leading to the interlocutory injunction.