Court restrains AGF, RMAFC from deducting Rivers’ statutory allocation
A Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday ordered the Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to stop further deductions from funds due to Rivers State Government in relation to the operations of the Oil Mining Lease (OML)112 Offshore.
In a judgment, Justice Taiwo Taiwo ordered the RMAFC, the Accountant-General of the Federation and the AGF to comply with a Supreme Court judgement in respect of OML112 Offshore and to stop the deduction of N502, 298,943.03 or any sum whatsoever from the statutory allocation to the for a period of 112 months or any period whatsoever.
The judgment was on a suit filed on behalf of Rivers State by its Attorney-General to challenge the defendants’ continued deduction of N502, 298,943.03 from its statutory allocation.
Justice Taiwo restrained the defendants and their agents from disregarding the finality of the Supreme Court judgment delivered on March 18, 2011 in Suit No: SC/27/2010, between Attorney-General of Rivers State and Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State & Anor as it relates to the proprietary rights of the Plaintiff in respect of OML 112 offshore.
The judge ordered the defendants to make a full refund of the 13 per cent derivation illegally denied the plaintiff from the crude oil and gas production within OML 112 offshore from September, 2018.
Justice Taiwo, who resolved all the issues raised in the case in favour of the plaintiff, noted that the non-participation in the case by RMAFC (the first defendant), by failing to file a counter-affidavit to challenge the facts contained in the affidavit in support of the originating summons, was fatal to its case.
The judge was of the view that the consequence of an unchallenged affidavit is that the facts are uncontroverted and well established.
The judge rejected a move by RMAFC lawyer Prof Taiwo Osipitan (SAN) to prevent the reading of the judgment by filing an application for stay of proceedings.
In an earlier ruling, Justice Taiwo dismissed the application for lacking in merit and held that it did not meet the condition precedent for it to be granted. He said the rules of the court did not donate to him, the power to arrest his own judgment.
He said: “I have looked at the affidavit in support of his application and I did not see how this court can stay proceedings. The applicant has failed to furnish the court with all relevant documents for due consideration of his application and he does so at his own peril as this application will be refused.”
The judge said the RMAFC did not meet the basic principles in the granting of stay of proceedings which he listed to include; whether there is a pending appeal properly entered at the Court of Appeal or where such an appeal raised issue of jurisdiction of the trial court.
RMAFC, he noted, was fully aware of the existence of the case in court, but chose to sleep on his right by not entering appearances or filling any process.
The judge said: “The first defendant was dully served with the originating summons and hearing notices on July 5, 2019 but he did not enter appearance or file any processes in court, only the second defendant who is a nominal party did.
“He was equally on July 10 served with the interim order of this court made on July 9 by this court along with hearing notice and the originating summons.
“The first defendant who chose to voluntary stay away from the proceedings is not covered by section 36 of the 1999 Constitution.
“The role of the court is to maintain a level playing field for parties to ventilate their grievances. Where counsel failed to utilise the opportunity, he cannot now turn around to blame the court. Once that opportunity is offered, the duty of the court ends. I hereby find no merit in this application and same is hereby refused.”
In the supporting affidavit, the plaintiff said: “Sometime in 2006, the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo intervened in the dispute between the plaintiff and Akwa Ibom State government who were represented by their respective governors. They met and agreed to a political solution which led to the weighting of 50 per cent of the disputed areas comprising 172 oil wells with each of the two littoral states receiving 86 oil wells and the revenue accruing there from with effect from November, 2006.”
“This agreement, which was reduced into writing and dated October 31, 2006, was exhaustively analysed and appraised by the Supreme Court in its judgment delivered on 18th March, 2011 in Suit No: SC/27/2010, between: Attorney General of Rivers State and Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State & Anor.
“The parties accepted the political solution method agreement in the interest of peace and stability of the Niger Delta region. It is further stated that the Agreement which was freely and willingly agreed to by the two states regulated the attribution of the 172 oil wells and 13 per cent derivation funds payable there from until the tail end of 2007 when the Akwa Ibom State Government unilaterally sought to rescind the agreement and commenced its agitation for the application of the Historical Titles Method contrary to the Supreme Court decision and Article 15 of UNCLOS, 1982 aforesaid.
“Owing to the brewing dispute between the plaintiff and the Akwa Ibom State Government at the time, the grievances of the parties were submitted to the Supreme Court of Nigeria for a final determination of the rights and interests of the parties.
“Notwithstanding the decision of the Supreme Court, the first defendant set up an administrative committee to carry out plotting of coordinates of crude oil and gas wells drilled from September, 2008 to December, 2016.
“The administrative committee without any representation or impute by the plaintiff deviated from the decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria delivered on 18th March, 2011 in Suit No: SC/27/2010, between: Attorney General of Rivers State and Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State & Anor in relation to OML 112 offshore by recommending that accruals from OML 112 offshore be reported in favour of Akwa Ibom State at variance with the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“The defendants acted on the recommendations of the administrative committee by directing (again without any impute from the Plaintiff) that OML 112 offshore be reported in favour of Akwa Ibom State and that a monthly deduction of the sum of N502, 298,943.03 be deducted from the statutory allocation of the plaintiff vide their letters dated 26th November, 2018, 30th April, 2019 and 20th June, 2019 respectively.
“The defendants have denied the plaintiff of its proprietary rights to the statutory allocation of 13 per cent derivation from OML 112 offshore from September, 2018 till date in defiance of the subsisting decision of the Supreme Court.”