Abuse of ethics, judicial power: Seplat drags Justice Ekwo before NJC
Two weeks after Seplat Energy Plc accused Justice Inyang Ekwo of Federal High Court in Abuja of bias and asked the Chief Judge of the court, Justice John Tsoho, to transfer all cases involving the company either as a plaintiff or defendant to another judge, the firm has also petitioned the National Judicial Council, asking the highest judicial body to sanction the judge for, “unethical, gross misconduct and abuse of judicial power.”
The company accused the judge of granting ex-parte orders in several cases involving it and some of its shareholders.
In a six-page petition dated May 15, 2023, signed by its Acting CEO/Chief Operating Officer, Samson Ezugworie, Seplat asked the NJC to dispassionately investigate its complaint and ensure appropriate disciplinary action against Justice Ekwo.
In the petition addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, Abuja, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the oil firm stated that the orders granted by Justice Ekwo in suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/626/2023 between Juliet Ebere Nwadi Gbaka & 2 Ors.V Seplat Energy Plc & 13 Ors were designed to cripple its operations.
It explained further that the orders granted by the judge in the above suit on May 11 2023, was in, “very questionable circumstances are designed to hinder the affected Directors and Secretary of Seplat in the performance of their contractual and statutory duties to Seplat.”
The company stated that the suit No: FHCIABJ/PET/8/2023 between Boniface Okiezie & 3 Ors V. Seplat Energy Plc & 9 Ors filed on April 13 2023 by some shareholders of Seplat whose shareholding is less than 0.0005 per cent of Seplat’s entire share capital have cited alleged unfairly prejudicial conduct in the management of the affairs of Seplat.
Justice Ekwo was also accused of making far-reaching orders and side-lined all these processes and ordered that directors of Seplat and its secretary should desist from further acting in their official capacities, and also ordered the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to appoint some other persons to replace them on May 11 even though similar orders sought in the April petition have not been granted by the judge, and the various applications in Suit No: FHCIABJ/PET/8/2023 between Boniface Okiezie & 3 Ors V. Seplat Energy Plc & 9 Ors, have been adjourned to 31st May 2023.
“It is evident that the approach of His Lordship will compromise the fair hearing of the applications in the April petition. It is also amazing that the above suit which was filed on the 8th of May 2023, and which was not listed on the cause list on the 9th and 11th of May 2023 respectively, was heard by His Lordship.
“We believe that this can only be possible because of prior direct communication between His Lordship and Counsel to the Plaintiffs in the above suit. This, we believe, is highly unethical,” it stated.
Seplat also believes that it was an act of gross misconduct on the part of the judge to gloss over various applications filed by Seplat and some of its directors and Secretary, on10th of May 2023, challenging the competence of the suit and the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit.
“As it were, the orders made by His Lordship on 11th May 2023 will compromise the fair hearing of these pending applications filed by Seplat and other respondents.”
It said it “has every reason to believe that all the steps taken by His Lordship in the above suits are designed to favour the plaintiffs and disfavour Seplat, its directors and secretary. Seplat, its directors and Secretary’s position is corroborated by other cases and events.”
Seplat also disclosed that the final judgment in Suit No: FHCIABJ/PETI7/2023 between Akinduro Eric Akinnifesi & Anor V Seplat Energy Plc was wrongly ignored by Justice Ekwo.
“Some shareholders of Seplat were genuinely worried about the likely stalling of the company’s 2023 AGM scheduled for May 10, 2023 and instituted the above suit, praying for mandatory orders for the meeting to be held.
“They also sought an order that the directors and company secretary should not be removed from office or hindered in the performance of their duties by any person or authority. Final judgment was delivered by Justice A. R. Mohammed of the same Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court.
“It is noteworthy that the above judgment was brought to the attention of His Lordship, Justice. Ekwo by some of the counsel representing the respondents in Suit No: FHCIABJ/CS/626/2023 between Juliet Ebere Nwadi Gbaka & 2 Ors. V Seplat Energy Plc & 13 Ors, via various processes filed by them on 10th May 2023. The exhibited judgment of Justice A. R. Mohammed alongside letters and processes notifying His Lordship of the subsisting judgment.
“Notwithstanding his lordship’s attention being directed to the subsisting judgment of a more senior judge (Justice A. R. Mohammed) of the same Federal High Court, His Lordship made orders on 11th May 2023, which contradict and indeed have the capacity of overruling the judgment of Hon. Justice A. R. Mohammed
“Seplat believes that it is improper for His Lordship, whose attention had been drawn to the existing final judgment of a brother judge, to sit as an appellate court over such judgment through the rendition of an interlocutory ruling which conflicts with the said final judgment.
“On the strength of the above, Seplat invites the NJC to dispassionately investigate its complaint and ensure appropriate disciplinary action against Justice Ekwo.”