Suit relates to former Nigerian staff engaged in Iraq
Likely to reveal ExxonMobil dealings in Iraq
To provide understanding of IOC’s staff treatment
United States multinational oil giant, ExxonMobil Corporation, will on Monday, 15 August, 2022, make a historic first time ever appearance in a Nigerian court to defend itself in a $23 million suit instituted against it and its Nigerian arm, Mobil Producing Unlimited.
Not to be mistaken for its Nigerian subsidiary, Mobil Producing Unlimited, which is well known to have appeared before many Nigerian courts in different cases, Business A.M. has learnt that mother-company, ExxonMobil Corporation, even when it has been joined in cases in the past, has never made any kind of own appearance before a judge in a Nigerian court. But this will change today as its representative is billed to appear before a National Industrial Court sitting in Lagos, where a former employee is suing the oil giant and its local arm for $23 million, among other reliefs.
The National Industrial Court in Lagos, which will hear ExxonMobil Corporation’s representative’s pleadings virtually, got to this stage after the American oil company, which operates largely in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria as Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, tried fruitlessly to exclude itself from the case claiming it is not a known entity in Nigeria.
The matter has been ongoing since 2018 and it is recognised in the records of the National Industrial Court as Suit No: NICN/LA/22/2018; James N. Ebede vs Exxon Mobil Corp & Anor.
Justice A. Gwandu, who is presiding over the case, had ruled against the preliminary objection to the case brought by ExxonMobil Corporation, the first defendant, wherein it tried to exclude itself by describing itself as a stranger in Nigeria.
Justice Gwandu’s ruling dismissing the preliminary objection followed arguments from counsels to the defendants and plaintiff, and the judge ruled that he has both subject matter and territorial jurisdiction on the matter.
The stage for the appearance of the ExxonMobil Corporation representative virtually before Justice Gwandu was set on June 28 when the judge set August 15, 16, and 17, 2022 for what looks like an accelerated hearing to take place and issued an order for the virtual appearance to be held.
ExxonMobil Corporation and Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited are being represented by two top senior advocates of Nigeria (SAN)-led firms, Paul Usoro & Co. and Banwo & Ighodalo, and it gives hint of the likely fireworks in the arguments expected to take place in the court, especially with what sources say is a matter which happenings will bring out information about how ExxonMobil carries on its business in different countries.
For instance, James N. Ebede, the plaintiff in this matter, is a former manager of Mobil Nigeria Unlimited’s strategic Qua Iboe Terminal in Akwa Ibom State. But the tiff between him and ExxonMobil and its Nigerian subsidiary began far out in Iraq, where he was under the employment coverage of ExxonMobil Corporation.
Ahead of the virtual court appearance of ExxonMobil representative on Monday, 15 August, in a letter seen by Business A.M., the law firm, Paul Usoro & Co., sent in a written application through the deputy chief registrar of the National Industrial Court, Lagos Division, on August 3, 2022, seeking for afternoon virtual hearings on the days slated.
In the application, the firm gave reasons why afternoon hearings were being sought.
“We are Counsel to Exxon Mobil Corporation, the 1st Defendant in the above numbered suit which the Honourable Court at the proceedings of 28 June 2022, had adjourned to 16, 17 and 18 August 2022 for Definite Hearing via Virtual means and directed that the link be circulated to parties before the adjourned dates.
The request for Virtual Hearing was made by the 1st Defendant’s Counsel to enable the Representatives of the 1st Defendant to observe the proceedings and for the benefit of 1st Defendant’s Witness who together with the 1st Defendant’s representatives, reside in the United States of America, outside the jurisdiction of the Court.
“To this end, we kindly apply that the Virtual Proceedings of 16, 17 and 18 August 2022 be fixed for 12 noon or so soon thereafter to enable the 1st Defendant’s Representatives participate in the proceedings as a result of the difference in time zones,” the counsel pleaded in their application.
The journey to this point began for both the plaintiff, James N. Egede, and the defendants, ExxonMobil Corporation and Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, in the Middle East country of Iraq. When Justice Gwandu of the National Industrial Court, Lagos, sits to hear the matter amidst technology enablement for virtual video link to the United States for the participation of the representative of the corporation, a lot would be about what happened in Iraq.
In 2018 James Ebede, a former manager of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corporation, filed a statement of claims against the defendants and stated that he was employed by the defendants in the suit in 2001 from where he rose through the ranks to a position of trust to be allowed to manage several key assets in Nigeria for the defendants. Following successful discharge of his duties in Nigeria, he was considered competent and qualified and was, therefore, sent on an expatriate assignment to another affiliate of ExxonMobil Corporation called ExxonMobil Iraq Limited in late 2014.
According to his statement of claim, Egede said he was made to sign to comply and work only in line with the Ethics and Business Policies of the defendants as a condition of employment.
And in an amendment to his original statement of claims filed by his lawyer, Chuks Uguru, Egede stated that while he was in Iraq he observed several of the defendants’ officials desperately trying to cover some project irregularities.
He particularly noted that the defendants wanted to use the completion certificates for projects they were yet to complete to showcase to the Iraqi government in their bid for the $40 billion Southern Iraq Common Seawater Supply Pipeline Project.
He alleged that when he refused to participate in the unethical acts, officials of the defendants deliberately and maliciously exposed him to several near-death situations in the perilous Iraqi environment.
According to him, he submitted a harassment complaint in line with the policies of the defendants and investigations were carried out by the defendants in which they discovered the overwhelming evidence provided by the claimant.
Egede’s statement of claim alleged that in apparent fear and determination to cover up its operations, the defendants maliciously withheld his personal belongings with the belief that this could deny the claimant the additional documentation proofs to institute legal proceedings.
He also alleged that the defendants continued to withhold his belongings after nearly five years of shipping them from Dubai and that they have refused to hand over the shipping documents to him so he can take delivery of his belongings.
Both ExxonMobil Corporation and its Nigerian subsidiary, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, who are first and second defendants, respectively, are fighting the case vigorously with the hiring of two leading law firms in Nigeria headed by two senior advocates of Nigeria (SAN), Paul Usoro & Co. and Banwo & Ighodalo, respectively.
As the case kicked off earlier, ExxonMobil Corporation had filed a preliminary objection claiming to be a stranger in Nigeria but after arguments were heard in this regard by the judge, Justice A. Gwandu dismissed the objection and ruled that he has both subject matter and territorial jurisdiction on the matter.
Meanwhile, apart from the virtual hearing opening Monday, 15 August, 2022, a pending motion is likely to be taken by Justice Gwandu.
The motion on notice is seeking to make the defendants pay security down following plans by the first defendant to sell Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, the second defendant, in a deal that has now been stalled following the refusal by the government of Nigeria to grant regulatory approval to the deal between ExxonMobil Corporation and indigenous oil production company, Seplat Energies, for just under $2 billion.