Obajana: Kogi govt asks court to throw out Dangote’s suit for incompetence
The Kogi State government on Tuesday said the suits filed by Dangote Group before the Abuja Federal High Court are incompetent and amount to forum shopping.
The state government said this before Justice Binta Nyako in two separate preliminary objections filed by its counsel, Abdulwahab Muhammed, SAN, challenging the companies’ originating summons.
In the applications marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1876/2022 and FHC/ABJ/CS/1877/2022 dated November 8 and filed November 18, the state government sought the order of the court, striking out the suits “for want of jurisdiction.”
Ms Nyako had, on Oct 26, made an interim order restraining the Kogi government from shutting down Dangote Cement PLC at Obajana in the state pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suits.
The judge had given the interim order following two ex-parte motions moved by counsel for the companies, Regina Okotie-Eboh, but filed by Rickey Tarfa, SAN.
The Kogi government and Dangote group recently locked horns over the ownership of the Obajana cement factory.
The state government had, on October 13, given the cement factory at Obajana 48 hours to shut down in honour of the Kogi House of Assembly, which ordered the company to be sealed until the conglomerate furnishes it with the requisite documents demanded by the state legislature.
But the companies, in the first motion ex-parte, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1876/22, had sued the Kogi House of Assembly, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development and Mining Cadastre Office as first to fourth defendants, respectively.
In the second motion marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1877/22, all the defendants in the first application, except Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), were listed as defendants.
The plaintiffs in these suits are Dangote Coal Mines Ltd., Dangote Cement PLC and Dangote Industries Ltd.
But in the preliminary objections, the Kogi government challenged the court’s jurisdiction to hear the suits, which it described as “incompetent.”
In a 14 ground-argument brought before the court by counsel to the state government, Mr Muhammed, the state said the plaintiffs had instituted a similar suit at a Lokoja division of the FHC.
Mr Muhammed said the plaintiffs, in suit number FHC/LKJ/CS/49/2022, had sued the Kogi House of Assembly seeking the determination of the exact question in the current suit.
The senior lawyer told the judge that they quickly withdrew the suit when the Lokoja court refused to grant their ex-parte application for an interim injunction.
“The plaintiffs have now filed the suit before this honourable court with the intention of obtaining a favourable outcome in the suit.
“The filling of the instant suit before this honourable court is forum shopping that ought to be discouraged and condemned,” Mr Muhammed argued.
He said, premised on the above, the plaintiffs’ suits are incompetent and cannot be entertained by the court.
The lawyer said the plaintiffs, by the amended originating summons, challenged the power of the state assembly to investigate the loss of revenue internally generated in the state.
He said they also challenged its authority to issue a resolution to suspend, disrupt or in any manner stop or shut down the mining operations of the plaintiffs or any of their subsidiary companies.
He said the shares which the state legislature is investigating belonged to the people of Kogi.
Mr Muhammed, who said that the state assembly and the office of the attorney general were not federal government agencies, stated that the power of the state’s lawmakers “is not within the province of Section 251(p) (gq) and (r) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
When the matter came up on Monday, counsel to the companies, Olusegun Jolaawo, SAN, said the matter was adjourned for mention.
He said he was in receipt of counter affidavits and preliminary objections of the first and second defendants and planned to respond to the applications before the next adjourned date.
Therefore, Mr Jalaawo sought to amend the name of the third defendant (Minister, Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development). The judge granted the prayer after the defence lawyers did not oppose the request.
The court also granted the state government lawyer, Michael Adoyi, to deem all their processes to have been properly filed.
But Mr Jolaawo, in apprehension, said that the state might shut down the companies before the next adjourned date and urged the court to compel Mr Adoyi to undertake that the status quo would be maintained until the court determines the case.
Responding, Mr Adoyi said contrary to Mr Jolaawo’s submission, the companies, including the Obajana cement, had been operating seamlessly.
Ms Nyako, who said though the case was not a pre-election matter, assured that it would be given accelerated hearing.
She directed parties to regularise their processes before the next date, including the third defendant’s lawyer, Abdulhamid Ibrahim, who pleaded for more time to file his application.
The judge, who adjourned the matter until January 23 for a hearing, said all applications, including the state’s preliminary objection, would be taken.
She said if the objection succeeded, the matter would be dismissed.
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