A Federal High Court in Lagos, on Wednesday, dismissed $55 million debt recovery suit filed by the Federal Government of Nigeria against Agip Oil Company Ltd, over insufficient evidence.
This suit, filed since 2016 by FG counsel, Prof.Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), is one among other suits by the FG, seeking to recover almost 12 billion dollars in missing crude oil revenue from some international oil companies.
The plaintiff is claiming the sum of 55 million dollars against Agip, representing a shortfall in the amount of excess crude oil lifted out of Nigeria, onboard the vessel MT Cosmos.
Parties had closed their cases in November 2018, and had adopted final addresses on Feb.21, 2019, while the court reserved judgment until May 8 (today)
Delivering judgment on Wednesday, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun first gave a highlight of the facts of the case as stated in the plaintiff’s claim, and also the various arguments as canvassed by parties in support of their respective cases.
Reiterating to the reliefs sought by parties, the court posed a pertinent question “Has the plaintiff succeeded in proving its case to entitle it to a grant of the reliefs sought,”?
In answer, the court held that it is trite and settled law, that he who asserts must prove, adding that although allegations were made, the plaintiff failed to establish same on a preponderance of evidence.
“The burden of proof starts with the plaintf and keeps shifting until all the required evidence is placed before the court.
“Exhibit DA 10 shows that MT Cosmos was nominated to ship 949,096 barrels of crude oil and exhibit DC 10 from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, shows the barrel of crude oil as 949,096 barrels from MT Cosmos.
“The plaintiff cited the same bill of lading number, but i have no reason to suggest that the bill of lading covers the excess 500,000 barrels of crude oil.
“While I do not have any evidence to ssuggest that it is impossible for the defendant to carry undeclared crude oil from Nigeria, i have no evidence to show that MT Cosmos carried the excess 500,000 barrels of crude oil with same bill of lading,” she held
The court held that the plaintiff failed to prove its case by supplying the requisite evidences, adding that the main purpose of final addresses is to assist the court .
“It is trite law that whoever asserts, must prove that the facts exists; no amount of brilliant address can make up for a lack of evidence.
“The plaintiff failed to make out a case that 500,000 barrels of crude oil was offloaded in Pennsylvania; the case of the plaintiff fails on the lack of proof on the preponderance of evidence.
“At this stage, i do not find it neccessary to proceed with the evaluation of the other reliefs .
” I, therefore, proceed to make an order dismissing this suit; it is hereby dismissed,” the court held.
Meanwhile, the plaintiff has indicated its intention to take the case through the due process of the law.
Speaking to Journalists, afterwards, plaintiff counsel had said “The Federal Government shall be taking the case through the due process of the law,”
During trial, the plaintif called one witness and tendered three exhibits before the court, while the defendant also called one witness and tendered 12 exhibits.
FG accused Agip of under-declaring the volume of crude oil it shipped out of the country between January 2011 and December 2014.
Government claims that Agip short-changed it to the tune of 55million dollars.
It had filed the suit, to recover the lost revenues arising from undeclared and under-declared crude oil shipments from Nigeria to different parts of the world.
The plaintiff had therefore, prayed the court to compel the oil firm to pay the said sum, with an annual interest rate of 21 per cent
Meanwhile, the court also dismissed a similar suit against Brasoil, seeking to recover the sum of 4.8million dollars in missing oil revenue.
The Federal Government had also sued Total E&P Nig. Plc, alleging that the oil company under-declared the volume of crude oil it shipped out of the country between January 2011 and December 2014.
Government accused the oil company of short-changing it to the tune of 245 million dollars, by allegedly shipping several barrels of crude oil out of Nigeria, without making due remittance to the government.
Similar suits are also pending against Chevron Nigeria Ltd, Chevron Petroleum Nigeria Ltd, Shell Western Supply & Trading Ltd among others