Owena Oil Sues Ondo Govt for Conversion of Assets

A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday fixed October 9 to hear a motion for the consolidation of the suit filed by Owena Oil and Gas Limited against the Ondo State Government over alleged conversion of its assets.

Listed as first and second defendants in the suit are: The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the Ondo State Government.

The company had filed the suit through its lawyer, Mr. Kemi Pinhero (SAN), seeking an order restraining the state government from continuously laying claim to 100 per cent shareholding of the company.

At the resumed hearing of the suit yesterday, counsel to the plaintiff, Pinhero, informed the court of a motion for consolidation of the instant suit, with a sister suit filed by the state government on the same subject matter.

Pinhero stressed that there was a need for a consolidation of the suits, adding that a composite would afford the court the opportunity of reaching a single decision.
He then sought the leave of court to move his application.
Meanwhile, the defence counsel, Dr Oladapo Olanipeku, drew the court's attention to a notice of preliminary objection, challenging the court's jurisdiction to entertain the motion.

He argued that the application for consolidation could not be taken at this point in the suit, since there existed jurisdictional issues and interim orders in both suits, that also required consolidation.

After much arguments from counsels, Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke, adjourned the case to October 9 for hearing of all pending applications, including the motion for consolidation of the suits.

In a 26-paragraph affidavit deposed to by the Executive Vice-Chairman of the company, Mr. Samuel Kolajo, he explained that Owena Oil and Gas Limited. was originally, fully owned by the state government.

He said that however, following a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of March 22, 2001, the government, under the then leadership of Governor Adebayo Adefarati, divested 70 per cent of the company's share in favour of one Integrated Mineral Development Company Ltd (IMDC).

Kolajo said following the said divestment, IMDC embarked on  a company's board restructuring which led to his appointment and others as the directors of Owena Oil and Gas Ltd.

He said on August 23, 2012, sequel to an alleged fraudulent conversion of the assets of Owena Oil, by persons allegedly acting under the cover of the state government, under the present leadership of Governor Olusegun Mimiko, he, Kolajo, petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

He said he petitioned the commission, to investigate and verify the authority by which the sum of N700 million held in two separate deposit accounts of Owena Oil with UBA Plc, was withdrawn by one Mr. Goke Adeniyi and one Owena Energy Ltd.
He averred that the withdrawal was made without authorisation of the company's board members. at the unilateral instance of the state government, which allegedly took over assets of Owena Oil and Gas Ltd, without recourse to the directors.

He noted that in response to their petition to the EFCC, the Attorney-General of Ondo State allegedly filed a petition to the IG and the CAC, accusing the IMDC of fraudulent interference with the state's management of the company.

He said that consequently, on October 18, 2012, a suit numbered FHC/AK/CS/38/12 was filed before a Federal High Court in Akure, disputing the said 70 per cent divestment and the appointment of Kolajo and others as directors of the company.

Kolajo further averred that without prior knowledge of the defendant's suit, he and other directors, had moved to file a suit numbered FHC/L/CS/1275/12 before a Federal High Court in Lagos asserting the facts of the said 70 percent divestment.

The suit before the Federal High Court in Akure has now been transferred to Lagos before Justice Aneke, and it is the same suit that the plaintiff seeks to consolidate.

The court had also issued an order of interim injunction, restraining the defendants from taking further steps in the subject matter, until the suit is determined.

Meanwhile, Kolajo also noted in an affidavit in support of fundamental rights suit pending before another judge, Justice James Tsoho, that on January 7, 2014, one Olamide Atolagbe, a legal officer to the company, told him over the phone that the company secretary, one Olukayode Enitan, was arrested by officers of the Nigerian Police on January 3, 2014 in his office pursuant to a warrant of arrest issued by the Chief Magistrate Court 2, Akure, Ondo State, for failing to appear before the Akure magistrates court on December 11, 2013.

He averred that Enitan had not been informed of the court proceeding or any charge against him before the Akure magistrate court prior to the day of his arrest.

Kolajo in the affidavit, averred that  Enitan was told by the police that his arrest and detention were ordered by the IG and the Ondo State CP, pursuant to a complaint by the Attorney-General of Ondo State in respect of the dispute over the ownership of Owena Oil and Gas Ltd.

Paragraph F of the affidavit reads: "Despite the fact that the issue of shares of Owena Oil and Gas Ltd. is the subject matter of suit No. FHC/L/CS/1275/12 instituted by Owena Oil and Gas Ltd. against Ondo State Government and suit No. FHC/AK/CS/38/12 instituted by the State Government against the company, the fifth applicant was arrested and detained overnight in very dehumanising conditions with common criminals at the Special Anti-Robbery Squad Division of the Lagos Police Command Headquarters in Ikeja, Lagos on January 3, 2014."

In the affidavit, he also averred that Enitan was subsequently moved from Lagos on January 4, 2014 to the Ondo State Police Command where he was detained till the morning of January 6 when he was taken to the Chief Magistrate Court 1, Akure, Ondo State.

The affidavit noted that the warrant of arrest issued by the Akure magistrate court was not duly endorsed by any Lagos magistrate before the arrest of Enitan was executed.

It also noted that during the hearing of January 6, counsel to Enitan, Mr. Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), had contested the jurisdiction of the Akure Magistrate Court 1, to hear the charge number MAK/0/1c/2014 on a number of grounds.
It noted that the prosecution allegedly amended the charge in a "quick" and "surreptitious" manner  without serving same on the defense.

The affidavit said that Enitan was eventually admitted to bail by Chief Magistrate Johnson Adelegan on January 8, 2014, in the sum of N20 million with two sureties, one of which shall be a property-owning legal practitioner who shall deposit the original copy of the Certificate of Occupancy of his property with the court and the other surety being a Permanent Secretary of Ondo State Civil Service.

However, the second leg of the conditions of bail was changed to "another legal practitioner resident within Ondo State who shall deposit with the court the original copy of his Call to the Bar Certificate", following a plea from Pinheiro in view of the fact that the complainant in the suit was the Ondo State Government and it might be impossible to get an officer of the state to stand as surety for the defendant.

The applicants are also praying the Lagos Federal High Court to declare the arrest and detention of Enitan and the continued threat to arrest and detain the first, second, third and the fourth applicants, as an infringement on their fundamental rights as enshrined in Section 34 and 35 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

They are also seeking the order of the court through their counsel, Pinheiro, to declare the act of the Attorney-General of Ondo State in instigating charge number MAK/0/1c/2014 as a violation of the five applicants fundamental rights.

Justice James Tsoho adjourned the fundamental rights proceeding on the suit till September 29, 2014.

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