High Court throws out NLNG motion, ready to hear the substantive case
By Wisdom Dozie
The long-drawn struggle by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) to stop the hearing of the substantive matter in the case filed by Macobarb international Limited, a contractor, ended today, June 20, 2023, as the High Court threw out their motion to stop proceedings.
Macobarb had filed a civil suit claiming billions over one billion naira for losses incurred in a contract of 2014, in Suit No. PHC/2013/CS/2022.
The NLNG filed a motion that the case was filed out of time and that the CEO was not to be a party.
Justice Chinwendu Nwogu ruled that the case was competent and awarded N200,000 cost against the NLNG for wasting the courts time.
NLNG filed an appeal at the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt but brought a motion to stop any hearing at the High Court pending outcome of the appeal. Macobarb countered it and the judge fixed June 20, 2023 for ruling.
Chief Chukwuemeka Akwuroha led the team from the NLNG while Barr Joshua Ene (represented Barr Morrison Uzoma) for Macobarb for the ruling.
Justice Nwogu took time to show why technicalities and motions should not be allowed to stall substantive matters by seekers of justice.
The Judge in the ruling today discountenanced the NLNG motion on the ground that the interlocutory ruling which led to the interlocutory appeal should be appealed together with the substantive ruling when it will come. The ruling is that an interlocutory appeal should not stop hearing in the substantive matter, but that such appeals should wait till final judgment so all appeals can go at once.
The Judge gave this ruling based on Supreme Court positions on several cases especially the one on Amadi vs NNPC, saying what happened in that case is similar to this and that the suit lingered for 13 years in the Court of Appeal before coming back. He said allowing this kind of motion would definitely lead to the same outcome.
So, for the interest of justice and to serve the interest of both parties, the Judge had to discountenance the motion.
He urged both parties to proceed with the hearing and any party that eventually disagreed with the eventual judgment and/or on any interlocutory ruling along the way can join all objections and file one appeal.
By this, the hearing is to go on contrary to NLNG wish and this has been fixed for July 19, 2023.
The MD of Macobarb, Shedrack Ogboru, rejoiced over the fact that at last, he would have a chance to place the facts of the matter in a court of competent jurisdiction since 2014 when the contract was awarded. “ This is a landmark ruling for Macobarb for the interest of justice.”
He said hearing has been made difficult by party. He said the saga has a criminal matter, there is a fundamental right filed at the Federal High Court against them, plus this one. He said everything is being done to ensure these proceedings do not happen in open court.
“ I executed the job, borrowed money from banks, but each time it was time to pay me, four signatories would sign but one would decline signature, and I would not be paid. This went on for years. This is what some people don’t want the court to hear. As God would want it, the Judge ruled that this case be heard.
“As I hear, the Supreme Court has frowned at how counsels use interlocutory motions to stop substantive cases from being delayed indefinitely.”
Crux of the matter:
Macobarb International Limited, an indigenous contractor, dragged the NLNG to court claiming over N1Bn for alleged breaches to a contract (B130142PPI, Access Control) in the NLNG plant area with three years duration.
The suit said the contract provided that Macobarb be paid bit by bit progressively based on the value of verified work done. The contractor said the NLNG failed to pay and that the progressive payment failures caused problems and led to loss. Macobarb had written to the NLNG saying the value of their loss as at 2022 was N4.2Bn
Macobarb in its claims said the contract also forbade delay of any kind in the project and provided for penalty on whoever caused the delay. It also provided for alert system should anything want to cause a delay. Macobarb said it activated the alert clauses when payment delays began to happen but that nothing was done to rectify the delays until the contract was terminated.
In his reaction, Ogboru (the CEO of Macobarb) said each time he went from place to place to resolve the matter amicably as was provided for in the contract terms, that the NLNG had always urged him to go to court if he felt he had been unjustly treated.
He said he is surprised that they now keep running to appeal instead of coming to the same court to state how right they were. They only ask courts to strike out the case without being ready to address the case on merit and show the court how they paid Macobarb and what they paid for.”