LAGOS – The Federal Government and the Ministry of Aviation have sought the transfer of the case instituted against it on the planned establishment of a national carrier project, Nigeria Air, to the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, from Lagos.
But, a source close to one of the plaintiffs, confided in our correspondent on Saturday that the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) would kick against the transfer of the case away from Lagos to Abuja, suspecting a foul play.
The originating summons with the suit number: FHC/L/ CS/2159/22, filed against the government is expected to come up for hearing tomorrow (Monday) at the Federal High Court of Nigeria in the Lagos Judicial Division.
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The plaintiffs are the registered trustee of the Airline Operators of Nigeria, Azman Air Services Limited, Air Peace Limited, Max Air Limited, United Nigeria Airlines and Top Brass Aviation Limited, while the defendants are the Nigeria Air Limited, Ethiopian Airlines, Sen. Hadi Sirika and the Attorney General of the Federation.
But, the Federal Government, through its counsel, Liman Suleiman Shehu, Maimuna L. Shiru (Mrs), Oyin Koleosho and Oriowo Oluwaseun, filed the application on Friday, January 13, 2023, barely three days to the hearing on the summons.
An affidavit in support of motion on notice sworn to by Des-Bordes Felicia, counsel to the defendants, Nigeria Air (1st defendant), Sen. Hadi Sirika (3rd defendant) and Attorney General of the Federation (4th defendant), argued that hearing of the suit in Lagos would add financial burden on the defendants.
The 11-page application obtained by Sunday Independent at the weekend, only dwelt on the transfer of the case to Abuja by the court.
The counsel wanted the court to invoke Section 22, Federal High Court Act, LFN 2004, which empowers it to transfer the suit out of Lagos to any other divisions, this time around to Abuja, for hearing.
AON had on November 19, 2022 filed an originating summons against the establishment of a new national carrier for Nigeria by the Federal Government after the liquidation of the former, Nigeria Airways.
With the originating summons, the court was expected to review the submissions by all parties and give a particular date for ruling.
AON had called on the court to look at the extant laws and interpret such to know if the processes following the planned rebirth of a new national carrier for the country were not in violation of the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The government through its defence, argued that all the defendants in the suit reside in and carry on substantial part of their business in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and wondered why the case should be heard in Lagos.
The counsel further argued that after the firm carefully studied the originating processes filed by the defendants, it observed that the cause of the action alleged by the plaintiffs occurred in the FCT, outside judicial division of where the suit was instituted.
The counsel added: “That the 1st, 3rd and 4th defendants who are not residents within the judicial division of this honourable court will be subjected to serious hardship in the event this suit proceeds to hearing and prosecuted within the judicial division of this honourable court wherein this suit is commenced.
“That the engagement of counsel to handle the instant case in the judicial division of this honourable court, which is outside all the defendants’ place of residence will attract huge amount of expenses on the part the defendants and that may likely affect the defendants’ proficiencies to properly prosecute the suit to a logical and expeditious conclusion and by extension, affects the course of fair hearing in the course of the trial.”
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However, a source close to one of the plaintiffs told our correspondent that the AON and other concerned parties might oppose the planned transfer of the case to Abuja from Lagos.
The source feared that this might lead to the manipulation of the case by the Federal Government.
The source said: “Definitely, we will oppose the transfer of the case to Abuja. All the parties involved in this case are based in Lagos and AON’s office is also in Lagos.”
Recall that Ethiopian Airlines, the major partner in the Nigeria Air project, had on December 19, 2022, filed a defence at the Federal High Court in Lagos as a 2nd defendant against the AON, claiming ignorance of the model of the project.
The 37-page document of Ethiopian Airlines was sworn to by Wondwossen Beyene, the Country Manager of Ethiopian Airlines in Nigeria.
The airline argued that it bided for the purchase of shares in the airline, just like other Nigerian shareholders.
Ethiopian Airlines further described the attempt by the AON to restrain it from participating in the national carrier process as an act of “malicious intervention by a meddlesome interloper.”
According to the airline, the Federal Government had agreed to sell 95 per cent of the shares, retaining only 5 per cent and invited 46 per cent of Nigerian investors, while the other 49 per cent was ceded to an international airline.