Paul Usoro and Co (“PUC”) successfully represented and secured a remarkable victory for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (“NNPC”) at the Federal High Court (“FHC”), Lagos Judicial Division in a Judgment delivered on 18 January 2022, after twenty-five (25) years of turbulent legal battles in SUIT NO. FHC/L/CS/1186/96: ROBINSON EDOBOR & ORS v. NNPC.
The legal tussle started sometime in 1996 when the Plaintiffs vide a Writ of Summons, Statement of Claim and other accompanying processes (“Originating Processes”) commenced a Suit against NNPC seeking inter alia declaratory reliefs, perpetual injunction, refund of excess monies paid as housing allowances, as well as damages and an Order compelling NNPC to transfer the Certificate of Occupancy in respect of the houses occupied by the Plaintiffs to them. The Plaintiffs’ claims were predicated on the fact that on or about 16 March 1977 in the Daily Times Newspaper Publication, the then Federal Military Government under the Leadership of General Olusegun Obasanjo introduced a Housing Policy Scheme to facilitate home ownership for Nigerian workers. The said Housing scheme which was open to all participating organization had three (3) categories of houses, to wit: Two (2) Bedroom at the rate of N12, 000.00, three (3) Bedroom at the rate of N16,500.00 and four (4) Bedroom at the rate of N21,000.00 respectively and the said amounts were paid by the Plaintiffs.
According to the Plaintiffs, the Federal Government sequel to the housing policy, vide a Letter of Allocation, allotted parcels of land at Satellite Town in Lagos to NNPC to develop, build houses, and deduct on monthly basis certain sums from their gross housing allowances with the sole aim of transferring ownership of the said houses to the Plaintiffs. Rather than comply with the government directives, NNPC issued a vacation Notice to the Plaintiffs and equally coerced them to sign an undertaking to vacate the house before they could be paid their entitlements.
PUC on behalf of NNPC mounted a very robust defence against the Plaintiffs and also Counterclaimed against them, seeking inter alia declaratory and injunctive reliefs. It was PUC’s arguments that NNPC was not bound by the then policy of the FGN, the Letter of Allocation did not provide that the developed staff quarters would have to be on owner/occupier basis. In point of fact, the quarters were governed by NNPC’s housing policy, which empowered NNPC to generally deduct 81/3% (eight and one-third percent) as cost of rent, from the annual income of its employees resident in the NNPC Staff quarters. The rent deduction is discontinued upon the vacation of the houses by any of the allottees’ or any other condition(s) provided by NNPC. However, the policy was discontinued several years before the determination of the Plaintiffs’ employment.
In support of the immutable principle that policy of the Federal Government was not a law binding on NNPC, PUC relied on the Court of Appeal decision in Wilkie v. FGN & ORS (2017) LPELR-42137, whereat, the Court upheld the afore-referenced principle. In addition, PUC established before the FHC that the Plaintiffs were not privy and/or party to the contract of allocation between NNPC and the then Federal Government as such, the Plaintiffs’ lacks the competence to have instituted the Suit. Moreover, the Plaintiffs did not establish that by the Letter of Allocation, the developed quarters were to be built on owner/occupier basis. What is more? The Plaintiffs did not even produce the Letter of Allocation before the Court, the plank upon which their case rested on.
The Court after the examination of the issues in contention agreed with PUC’s submissions and granted all the reliefs sought in the Counterclaim. In its Judgment, the Court raised two issues for determination to wit:
- Whether the Plaintiffs have placed sufficient materials and evidence before the Court to be entitled to reliefs sought?
- Whether the Defendant/Counterclaimant is entitled to the reliefs claimed in the Counterclaim against the Plaintiffs?
The Court held that the Plaintiffs failed to discharge the burden of proof on them to be entitled to the properties in issue. The Court went further to hold that the Counterclaimant’s claim succeeds having been able to prove its claims before the Court. The Court in its analysis held that the Letter of Allocation being the contract between the FGN and NNPC which contained the disputed conditions of allocation was capable of settling the Suit one way or the other. However, failure on the part of the Plaintiffs to produce same in proof of their case notwithstanding the issuance of a notice to produce on NNPC was tantamount to not discharging the burden of proof based on preponderance of evidence. Also, the Court held that the Letter of Allocation being a contract document between the FG and NNPC, the Plaintiffs were not privy to same and so could not sue for its enforcement.
As it relates to the Federal Government’s directives and policy in respect of the Housing Scheme, the Court held that Government policies cannot create contract and have no force of Law. In the final analysis, the Court agreed with the entirety of PUC’s submissions and held that the Plaintiffs’ Suit was frivolous and lacking in merit and dismissed same. On the other hand, the Court upheld NNPC’s Counterclaim in its entirety.
What is significant about this PUC victory, apart from the illuminating questions of law and facts that were in issue, is the fact that PUC reaffirmed again, its remarkable ability to competently defend the interest of its Clients.