Orjiakor’s appeal on arrest order stalls N488m ‘debt’ case

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By Joseph Jibueze

 

THE Court of Appeal in Lagos is yet to determine an appeal by Shebah Exploration and Production Company Limited Managing Director Dr Ambrose Orjiako to challenge a bench warrant issued for him.

Justice Hadiza Shagari of the Federal High Court in Lagos, on December 4, 2017, ordered Orjiako’s arrest for allegedly violating court orders.

It followed an application by a firm, AOS Orwell Ltd, which seeks to recover $1.3million (about N480.9 million) and N7.1million from Shebah Exploration and Production.

The court restrained Shebah Exploration and Production or its agents from dealing with or tampering with its assets, funds, shares and equipment within and outside Nigeria.

AOS Orwell said despite the service of the court orders on the company, Orjiako “proceeded to deal with, dissipate and/or alienate the shares/assets of the respondent contrary to the orders.”

The firm said Orjiako “is the Managing Director, Chairman/alter ego and the Chief Executive Officer of Shebah Exploration and Production.”

AOS Orwell, which initiated contempt proceedings against Orjiakor, prayed Justice Shagari for an order committing him to prison for his “willful, deliberate and orchestrated disobedience to the interim orders which metamorphosed into interlocutory orders of this honourable court”.

The court had directed Orjiako to appear before it following a contempt application by AOS Orwell, but the Seplat chairman failed to turn up, following which Justice Hadiza ordered his arrest.

But, Orjiakor filed a notice of appeal, as well as a motion on notice seeking a stay of execution of the arrest order.

When the case came up on Monday before Justice Saliu Saidu, who took over the case from Justice Shagari, Shebah Exploration and Production’s lawyer Temidayo Alabi said the Court of Appeal was yet to determine Orjiako’s appeal.

AOS Orwell’s lawyer, George Duru, confirmed that the appeal was pending.

On February 14, 2019, the petitioner’s lead counsel, Mr Kunle Ogunba (SAN) of Insolvency Forte, told Justice Saidu that Orjiako’s presence was required in the contempt proceedings despite his pending appeal.

Ogunba referred to a February 8, 2019 Court of Appeal judgment delivered by Justice Mohammed Garba.

Citing the judgment, the SAN argued that the law was that the presence of an alleged contemnor was mandatory despite a pending appeal.

AOS Orwell had obtained the interlocutory orders to stop Shebah Exploration and Production’s directors from dissipating its assets.

The orders were to subsist pending the hearing and determination of the application for the appointment of a provisional liquidator for Shebah Exploration and Production over the alleged debt.

The petitioner said despite the orders, Orjiako allegedly sold Shebah Exploration and Production’s shares to Petrolin Trading Ltd and refused to purge himself of the contempt by reversing the sale.

Orjiako had argued that the orders were “made in error” on the basis that he was not a party to the suit and therefore not in contempt.

Justice Saidu adjourned until May 27 to await the outcome of Orjiako’s appeal against his arrest.