Not Guilty: Court Clears Ex-BPE Boss of Contempt Charges

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A Federal High Court sitting  in Abuja has cleared a former director general of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE),  Alex Okoh,  of contempt charges in the legal feud between BPE and BFIG over the ownership and management of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) in Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State.

The Federal High Court’s ruling absolving Okoh of contempt charges was based on findings that there was insufficient evidence to hold him in contempt over the dispute.

 

Okoh had faced legal battles since December 2019 when a Federal High Court judge, Anwuli Chikere ordered his arrest and imprisonment for alleged disobedience of a Supreme Court order regarding the ownership of ALSCON.

 

However, in a recent ruling, the Federal High Court in Abuja, presided over by Justice D.U. Okorowo, dismissed all contempt charges against Okoh in Suit Number FHC/ABJ/CS/583/2004 between BFI Group Corporation (judgment creditor/respondent) and BPE (judgment debtor/respondent.)

 

This decision, contained in an enrolled order issued on Friday, April 5, 2024, followed Mr. Okoh’s motion praying for dismissal and discharge of all contempt charges. In his ruling, Justice Okorowo upheld Okoh’s request, citing the need to uphold the Supreme Court’s decision and directives regarding the ALSCON ownership dispute.

 

According to a statement personally signed by Okoh, the order by the judge (Justice Okorowo), was a 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 Mrs 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, who was relieved of his position as DG of BPE in January 2024, had battled contempt charges and committal rulings by courts up to the Supreme Court. His court troubles began in December 2019, when Anwuli Chikere, judge of a 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 ALSCON.

The legal battle between BPE and BFIG dates back to 2003 when the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) approved the privatisation process for ALSCON. In 2013, the federal government cancelled the sale of ALSCON to BFIGroup Corporation, following BFIG’s inability to pay the agreed 10 percent of the offer price within 15 working days of executing the Share/Sales Purchase Agreement (SPA). This decision was announced by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, stating that it followed BFIG’s failure to meet the terms set by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Despite various twists and turns, the recent court ruling has cleared Okoh of contempt charges, marking a significant development in the longstanding dispute over ALSCON’s ownership and management.

 

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