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Bonga oil block: NNPC battles firm over N8.14b judgment cash

•Apex court hears case on Tuesday •Why FG, NNPC seek review

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is asking the Supreme Court to review a $22,630,000 (N8, 146, 800,000) damages verdict against it.

The apex court, which has listed the landmark case for hearing on Tuesday, ordered NNPC to pay the sum in question to BCE Consulting Engineers over a failed Consultancy Service Contract.

The contract, dated May 20, 1999, was in respect of SNEPCO Bonga Field Development Project in OPL 212.

The Federal Government and NNPC are seeking the review of the July 5, 2019 judgment by a panel, headed by Justice Mary Odili, over alleged error of facts.

The government and NNPC claim there was no bid process for the contract and the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) was compelled to award it.

They also allege that the contract was hurriedly awarded to BCE nine days before ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo assumed office.

NNPC is of the opinion that the Supreme Court did not take into account the fact that the BCE contract was among the hurriedly-awarded contracts which Christopher Kolade Panel on July 17, 1999 recommended for revocation.

On its part, BCE is urging the court to uphold the award of the $22.6million judgment sum because NNPC breached an agreement with it.

It insists that the contract was legitimately awarded and it asked the Supreme Court to enforce its judgment of July 5, 2019 by ordering the release of the $22.6million to it.

A document obtained by The Nation  says in part: “NNPC and BCE Consulting  Engineers (BCE’) executed a Consultancy Service Contract dated May 20, 1999 covering the SNEPCO Bonga Field Development Project in OPL 212.

“In July 1999, BCE filed an action at the Federal High Court, Lagos in Suit No. FHC/L/C/I316/2000 against NNPC following the Corporation’s termination of the contract at the directive of the Federal Government. BCE claimed certain reliefs including the sum of US$807.894.60 being the alleged value of outstanding invoices submitted to NNPC on various dates between June and October 1999.

“Alternatively,  BCE claimed US$28.139,965.50 or its Naira equivalent as special  damages for illegal cancellation of the Consultancy Services Agreement.

“On March 7, 2002, the Court directed NNPC to pay BCE the sum of US$22.630.000.00 as damages for the illegal cancellation of the Agreement..

“On appeal, the Court of Appeal directed NNPC to deposit the Judgment Sum of US$22.6million into court as condition for appeal. NNPC has since complied.

“On June 9. 2011, the Court upheld NNPC’s appeal on grounds that the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction over disputes arising from simple contracts.

“On June 13, 2011, BCE applied to the Supreme Court to set aside the previous judgment in favour of the Corporation.

“At a settlement meeting convened by the HAGF in 2016, NNPC offered BCE the sum of US$1million in full and final settlement of their claims which BCE rejected.

“On April 10, 2019. BCE and NNPC (through their respective Counsel) appeared before the Supreme Court to argue their case.

But on Friday July 5, 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the Judgment Sum of US$22.830.000.00 against NNPC. The Contingent Liability associated with this case is sum of US$22.630.000.00   which NNPC had deposited in the custody of the Court as condition for the appeal.”

In another memo, NNPC explains why it opted for a review of the judgment by the apex court.

It says a legal advice by its counsel alleged that there was substantial miscarriage of justice.

Its words: “This memo seeks to update the Secretary to the Corporation/ Legal Adviser on developments in the above matter especially regarding  BCE’s challenge of NNPC’s application for Judicial Review, their application for an order directing  UBA Plc to release the judgment sum as well as NNPC counsel’s  continuing effort to secure an early date for hearing all the applications including the corporation’s  application for Judicial Review before the Supreme Court.

“That upon the delivery of the judgment of the Supreme Court dated July 5, 2019, NNPC alongside its counsel, Messrs. Babalakin and Co reviewed same and had good reason to believe that substantial miscarriage of justice had been done by the terms of the said judgment.

“Accordingly, NNPC (through its counsel) applied for Judicial Review, which is a procedure provided under the Supreme Court Civil Procedure Rules for review of extant judgments.

“Also, the corporation submitted an independent request, addressed to the Chief Justice of the Federation, seeking intervention to facilitate timely action.

“We confirm that sequel to the above application for Judicial Review of the Supreme Court judgment, BCE had filed a counter-affidavit dated October 10, 2019 in which it requested the court to disregard NNPC’s application.

“Additionally, BCE sought the order of the court in directing UBA Plc, the fund holder, to  release the entire judgment sum of $22, 630,000 which NNPC deposited in an interest yielding account in favour  of the Deputy Chief Registrar of the  Court of Appeal in 2008, as condition for appeal, to them.”

Shedding light on why the Federal Government is backing NNPC to seek judicial review of the Supreme Court judgment, a top government official said: “The case involves two Nigerians, Akin Ogunlewe (a former permanent Secretary during the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo) and Babajide Soyede an erstwhile employee of the NNPC who incorporated BCE Consulting Engineers in August 1998 shortly after a former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha died.

“On May 20. 1999, nine days before the handover from the military to the civilian administration of ex-President Obasanjo, a consulting contract was awarded without due process.

“They (BCE) did not participate in any process but NAPIMS was compelled to award the job. On July 17, 1999 the Christopher Kolade panel recommended that all contracts awarded hurriedly be revoked. That affected BCE’s job.

“In November 1999, the two rushed to the UK and registered BCE Consulting Engineers the name the contract was awarded to. They went on to claim that BCE Consulting Engineers registered in Nigeria is the same as the one in the UK which was not even registered at the time of award of the job in May 1999.

“We have every reason to suspect this consultancy contract. This is why the government is supporting NNP’s application for a Judicial Review of July 5, 2019 judgment. Why will Nigeria pay N8.1billion for no services rendered?  It is time to stop this indulgence.”

Responding to a question, the top source said: “If there is any need for restitution, it should not be more than $1million as offered at a negotiating table with BCE.”

SOURCE: TheNation