For allegedly flouting its Orders, a Federal High Court in Lagos Monday ordered the arrest of Chairman of Seplat Petroleum Development Company Plc, Dr Ambrose Orjiako,
Justice Hadiza Shagari issued a bench warrant for Orjiako’s arrest based on an application by a firm, AOS Orwell Ltd, through its lawyer Kunle Ogunba (SAN).
According to the petitioner/applicant, the court made orders restraining the respondent (Shebah Exploration and Production Company Ltd) or its agents from dealing with or tampering with the company’s assets, funds, shares and equipment within and outside Nigeria.
The petitioner claimed that 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.”
AOS Orwell said Orjiako “is the Managing Director, Chairman/alter ego and the Chief Executive Officer of Shebah Exploration and Production.”
The firm, which initiated contempt proceedings against Orjiakor, is praying the court 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 on more than one occasion directed Orjiako to appear before it, but the Seplat Chairman failed to turn up.
On Monday, Ogunba urged the court to protect its integrity by “sending a strong message” that it cannot be ridiculed by anyone.
“The contemnor is not in court despite a subsisting order that he should appear. Your Lordship has an obligation at this stage to issue a bench warrant for his arrest; otherwise this solemn assembly will become a circus show, because it appears he is making a mockery of the court.
“I urge my lord to issues a Bench warrant at this time so that we can all protect the sanctity of the judiciary. No application can be moved without the contemnor being in court.
“It will be a sad day if the contemnor is treated with kid gloves. This is a golden opportunity to send a strong message,” Ogunba said.
Orjiako’s lawyer, Prof Koyinsola Ajayi (SAN) urged the court to adjourn the case to enable him respond to the petitioner’s counter-affidavit.
Ajayi drew the court’s attention to a motion on notice seeking to set aside an order made on November 15, directing Orjiako to appear in court.
In the application, Orjiako said the order was “made in error” on the basis that he was not a party to the suit and that he did not violate the court’s order.
Ruling on Ogunba’s application, Justice Shagari held that while it is the general rule to determine the issue of jurisdiction first, any challenge of the court’s authority takes priority.
“The court has to determine the issue of contempt before the main issue. I hereby grant the oral application for a bench warrant to be issued against the alleged contemnor,” the judge ruled.
AOS Orwell had obtained the interlocutory orders seeking to stop the respondent’s directors from dissipating its assets pending the hearing and determination of the application for the appointment of a provisional liquidator for Shebah Exploration and Production over an alleged multi-million naira debt.
The petitioner said despite the orders, Orjiako allegedly sold Shebah Exploration and Production’s shares to Petrolin Trading Ltd on January 6 and refused to purge himself of the contempt by reversing the sale.
Justice Shagari adjourned till December 11.