Champion Newspapers Limited
For a better society

Brittania -U Nig Limited , Floors Chevron  And Seplat At The Supreme Court On OML 52,53 And 55.    

235
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

The Supreme Court has delivered a groundbreaking judgment in the long-drawn three related appeals filed by Brittania-U Nig Limited against the judgement of the  court appeal which dismissed its claim as disclosing  no reasonable  cause  of action against Chevron Nigeria Limited , Seplat Petroleum Co, Ltd and Chevron  USA for breaching its successful bid and payment for Chevron’s  OML 52, 53 and 55 in 2012.   the appeals were :SC/1103/2018 (SC/1104/2018; SC/1105/20218) Brittania -U Nigeria Limited vs. Chevron Nigeria Limited & 4 Ors.

 

The Federal High Court had ruled in favour of Britannia -U on all  the preliminary objections raised  to the competence of the suit  by the three Respondents . But the  decision of the Federal High Court, was overturned by the court  of appeal in 2018 in  three separate appeals by respective defendant/ respondents.

Brittania-U  was aggrieved by the decision of the court of the court of Appeal.  It therefore appealed to the Supreme court .  The three appeals were heard by the Supreme Court  about three months ago and judgment reserved till today.   In the lead judgment of the  court delivered by Justice Habeeb Adewale Abiru  JSC today : the apex court allowed the appeal by  Brittania -U  on all issues argued by its lead counsel A.J.Owonikoko SAN, except  the one related to jurisdiction of the Federal High Court . It that that case disclosed reasonable cause of  action, but that it be  transferred  to Lagos State High Court  for double accelerated  hearing on the merit. The apex court  gave each of the  3 sets of defendants/Respondents  thirty (30) days to file their defence to the claims once the case is  remitted to Lagos State  High Court.   Their lordships held :

 

The lead judgement delivered by my Lord Hon. Justice Habeeb Adewale Abiru made the following pronouncements: In conclusion, this Court finds some merit in this appeal, and it succeeds in parts. The judgment of the Court of Appeal Lagos division delivered on the 19/1/2018 in Appeal No. CA/L/557/14 is hereby set aside, save for the finding that the Federal High Court, which lacks the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the suit of the Appellant. Furthermore, an order is hereby made transferring the case of the Appellant in suit No. FHC/L/CS/1171/2013 from Federal High Court Lagos division to Lagos State High Court for hearing and determination on merit. It is further ordered that the Respondents shall within 30 days of the transfer of the case being effected file their respective response to the case of the Appellant at the High Court of Lagos State and the High Court of Lagos State shall accord the matter a double accelerated hearing.

 

The Supreme Court, in addition, held that the decision in this appeal binds the sister appeals by Seplat and Chevron Inc USA  with appeal Nos: SC/1104/2018 and SC/1105/20218

 

The Court also pronounced that parties shall bear their respective cost of the appeal.

 

THE BACKGROUND TO THE APPEALS are as follows:        Brittania -U challenged  the Judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered on the 19th of January, 2018 wherein their Lordships allowed in part the 1st and 2nd Respondents’ appeal on the key issue of the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court  to entertain the Appellant’s suit and whether the Appellant’s suit at the Trial Court disclosed a reasonable cause of action against the Respondents.  Some parties to the suit also contended that they were wrongly joined and the suit ought to have been referred to arbitration.

Dissatisfied with the whole decision of the lower court except the portion which sustained Brittania-U’s  argument (as 1st Respondent in the lower court) in upholding joinder of 2nd Respondent and other Respondents and in respect of the arbitration clause in the confidentiality agreement,  Brittania-U  filed her Notice of Appeal containing 6 Grounds of Appeal dated 17th of April 2018 and filed on 18th of April, 2018.

RELEVANT FACTS:

The Appellant , Britania-U.  commenced a suit at the Federal High Court by a writ of summons, Statement of Claim and other accompanying processes on 12th December, 2013 claiming summarily that she participated in a bid undertaken by the 3rd Respondent for the sale of its 40%interests in three Oil Mining Leases (OMLs) 52, 53 and 55, the bid processes was initiated after approval was obtained by the 3rd Respondent from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and NNPC as required under the provisions of section 8 (1) of the Petroleum Act Cap. P10 LFN 2004.     Following meetings between her, the 3rd and 4th Respondents on 14th November, 2013 the requirements were reviewed and further presentations were made by her bankers, and her final bid offer was accepted thus establishing a valid contract between parties subject to prescribed statutory approval. Notwithstanding the valid contract between parties, the 3rd and 4th Respondents refused to declare the winner of the bid and granted the 5th Respondent unauthorised access to Brittania-U’s  bid document, financial model and analysis thus breaching the provisions of the confidentiality agreement entered into by parties dated 14th June, 2013.  Brittania-U’s  prayer was for the court to declare a binding contract between her and the 3rd and 4th Respondents for the transfer of Oil Mining leases 52, 53 and 55, specific performance and praying for exemplary damages amongst others bearing in mind that OMLs are rights given by the Government to enable the lessee search for, extract, process and dispose of oil from a mine to a designated area, matters related to mines and minerals are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, Mines and Minerals are the properties of the Federal Government and as such contracts relating to the acquisition and divestment of interests in mines and minerals require the consent of the Minister of Petroleum who is an executive Member of the Federal Government, the Federal High Court also exercises exclusive jurisdiction in matters pertaining to executive or administrative decisions of the Federal Government and finally due to the essential involvement of the Minister to initiate and complete any transfer of interests in OMLs, only a court of competent jurisdiction can adjudicate effectively thus arbitration is inappropriate for related disputes.

The 3rd, 4th and 5th Respondents filed their respective Preliminary Objections challenging the jurisdiction of the trial court which was heard and dismissed at the trial court. Being dissatisfied with the decision of the trial court, each of the Respondents separately appealed to the lower court to wit Appeal No CA/L/495/16 instituted by the 5th Respondent, Appeal No CA/L/557/14 instituted by the 3rd Respondent and Appeal No CA/L/1105/16 instituted by the 1st and 2nd Respondents, the appeals were heard on the same day.

On 19th of January, 2018 the Lower Court delivered Judgment in the appeals; allowed the appeal in part by holding that the trial Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the Appellant’s suit and that her suit as constituted disclosed no reasonable cause of action against the Respondents. Their Lordships of the Court of Appeal however upheld Appellant’s contention on the applicability of the Arbitration Clause in the Confidentiality Agreement as well as the propriety of 2nd Respondent’s Joinder to the suit.

Having held that the trial Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit, their Lordships instead of sending it back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for onward transfer to the State High Court in consonance with the provisions of section 22(2) of the Federal High Court Act, the lower court plunged into and delved into the merits of the case by evaluating documents that are yet to be tendered and tested in evidence, the appeal being of an interlocutory nature, and made far reaching findings on them.                                                                       At the end of this exercise which their Lordships, held, “in the final analysis, I hold that there is merit in the appeal. I hold (sic) that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain suit No: FHC/L/CS/1171/2013. If it had, 1st respondent lacked reasonable cause of action, and that is sufficient reason why an order for transfer of the suit to the State High Court cannot be made”.

Brittania-U’s dissatisfaction with this  decision was the fulcrum of her appeals to the Supreme Court against the decision of their Lordships of the lower court , where she formulated three ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION:

 

  1. Whether the Lower Court was right in holding that the Trial Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the Appellant’s suit on the state of pleadings and the processes on record before the learned trial Judge? (Distilled from grounds 1, 2, 3 and 4).

 

  1. Assuming the Learned Justices of the Lower Court were right in their findings that the trial Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the Appellant’s suit, whether the proper order for it to make was one of striking out of the suit or to transfer same to the Lagos State High Court? (Distilled from ground 6).

 

  1. Whether the Court of Appeal rightly held that the suit of the Appellant did not disclose a reasonable cause of action against the 2nd Respondent, for purportedly being an agent of a disclosed principal? (Distilled from ground 5). Issues two and three were resolved by the Supreme Court in favour of Brittania -U in the judgement delivered today and follwed by the consequential orders for transfer of the suit for trial on the merit.

Comments are closed.