• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Court acquits Alex Okoh, ex-BPE boss of contempt charges in BPE, BFIG legal tussle over ALSCON

Court acquits Alex Okoh, Ex- BPE boss of contempt charges in BPE, BFIG legal tussle over ALSCON

Alex Okoh, immediate past Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises ( BPE) has been acquitted of contempt charges in a long legal tussle between the BPE and BFI Group (BFIG), over the ownership and operation of Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) located in Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State.

The Abuja Federal High Court which ruled on the matter found no basis to hold Okoh in contempt and commital over the dispute and decided to acquit him.

BusinessDay understands that Femi Atoyebi, Ogunde and Jide Koku, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) were instrumental in achieving this and did it on their own initiative.

“The committal order for contempt of court meant that he would have been sent to prison had he been in the country. With this discharge he is now free to come home a free man,” a reputable lawyer told BusinessDay.

Okoh who was appointed the DG, BPE in 2017 was relieved of his position in January 2024, and had battled contempt charges and commital rulings by courts up to the Supreme Court in the ALSCON which began some thirteen years before he was even appointed to head the agency.

His legal troubles began in December 2019, when Anwuli Chikere, who is the judge, Federal High Court in Abuja, ordered his arrest and imprisonment, after accusing him of disobedience of the Supreme Court order over the ownership controversy of the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON).

A Federal High Court in Abuja, presided over by Justice D.U. Okorowo, has upheld Okoh’s request for dismissal and discharge of the contempt/committal and all charges thereof, in Suit Number FHC/ABJ/CS/583/2004 between BFI Group Corporation (judgment creditor/respondent) and BPE (judgment debtor/respondent.

Okoh, approached the Federal High Court with the yoke of a contemnor, and secured the discharge as contained in an enrolled order issued by the court on Friday April 5, 2024.

According to a statement personally signed by Okoh, the order by the judge (Justice Okorowo), was sequel to a motion on notice dated and filed on March 12, 2024, praying the Court to direct that the contemnor/applicant (Alex Okoh) be discharged.

In the ruling, the judge said he listened to the motion moved by J.O. Adesina (SAN) and others for Okoh, and the response by the opponent’s lawyers led by P.I.N Ikwueto (SAN) for the judgment creditor/respondent who he said did not oppose the application.

“It is further ordered that in the light of the submission of judgment creditor/respondent counsel and to uphold the majesty of the Court in particular the decision of the apex court on the entire judgment that led to the contempt proceedings that BPE are duty bound to continue to fully abide by the order handed down by the Supreme Court in appeal number SC/12/2004 by satisfying the said judgment.”

The judge said the ruling from the apex court affecting this case is where the Supreme Court gave an order restraining the BPE, their servants, agents, privies, management or however called from ‘Negotiating to sell, selling, transferring or otherwise handing over the Aluminum Smelter Company Nigeria Limited (ALSCON) to any person in violation of the contract between the BPE and BFIG.”

Okoh was not the DG when the transaction was executed in 2004/06 or when the Supreme Court judgment was delivered in 2012.

The judgment of April 5, 2024, has thus cleared him of the contempt entanglements concerning ALSCON, BPE and BFIG.

Okoh was appointed DG of BPE on April 13, 2017, five years after the said ruling of the Supreme Court, and was relieved of the position on January 8, 2024, three weeks before the contempt ruling of January 26, 2024.

In 2013, the federal government cancelled the sale of ALSCON to BFIGroup Corporation.

BPE announced the government’s decision at the time as well as the directive of the National Council on Privatisation, NCP, to terminate the offer to BFI Group Corporation for the purchase of 77.5 per cent of ALSCON.

In a statement by Chigbo Anichebe, its then Head, Public Communications, BPE said the decision followed BFIG’s inability to pay the agreed 10 per cent of the offer price within 15 working days of the execution of the Share/Sales Purchase Agreement, SPA, as directed by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

But Reuben Jaja, BFIG Chairman, had countered government action through NCP which he stated, amounted to a violation of the July 6, 2012 order of the Supreme Court, which granted perpetual injunction restraining any act by any agency of government against the contract until all the issues that resulted in the crisis are resolved.

The BPE is the Federal Government agency charged with economic reforms especially the privatization and commercialization of government-owned enterprises in the country.

It also serves as the secretariat of the National Council on Privatization (NCP), however, its DG is not in the capacity to take final decisions as regards sale or concession of Federal Assets.

BusinessDay finds that such decisions, according to the law, solely rests on the NCP which is chaired by the Vice President.

Recall that the battle between BPE and BFIG began in 2003 when the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) approved the commencement of the privatization process for ALSCON. This was about some fourteen years before Okoh was appointed BPE DG in 2017.