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The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, has ordered a stay-of-execution of the committal order issued by the Federal High Court Abuja for the remand of the Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Alex Okoh, in prison custody for a minimum of 30 days for serial disobedience and contempt of the court.

Justice Anwuri Chikere gave the order after Mr Okoh refused on several occasions since July 6, 2012 to respect the Supreme Court order on the ownership controversy involving the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON).

ALSCON, located at Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom State, has been the subject of an ownership struggle between UC RUSAL and Nigeria-American consortium, BFIGroup since the government privatised the firm in 2004.

UC RUSAL was disqualified by the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) for violating bid guidelines. BFIG had gone head to win the bid with an offer of $410 million.

But, BPE cancelled the outcome of the bid in controversial circumstances, triggering a bitter legal tussle that ended in July 6, 2012 with a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court, which directed the BPE to rescind its decision to cancel the bid and hand over the company to BFIG.

Despite multiple court rulings, the privatisation agency refused to respect the apex court’s order and transfer ownership of the firm to BFIG.

In April 2019, BFIG initiated contempt proceedings against the BPE and Mr Okoh.

The judge ruled that the continued refusal to obey the Supreme Court order by BPE and Mr Okoh was a fundamental violation of the rule of law, “which portrays the government as lawless.”

Justice Chikere ordered that Mr Okoh be remanded in prison for at least 30 days until he purges himself of the continued disobedience of the court and further contemptuous conduct.

Reprieve

But, following an appeal No. CA/A/117/M/2019, filed before the Appeal Court, a panel of three, consisting Justice S. J. Adah, Justice R. M. Abdulahi and Justice M. B. Idris in, on Monday, directed a stay of execution of the order pending the hearing and determination of the motion fixed for January 20, 2020.

The restraining order reads in part: “An order restraining the respondent, the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court, Abuja, their servants, agents, law enforcement agents and persons acting for or on behalf of the Respondent from enforcing, attempting to enforce arrest or imprisoning the 2nd Respondent/Applicant pursuant to the ruling/committal order of the Federal High Court, Abuja, Coram Chikere J. dated 17th December, 2019 in the suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/583/2004 BFI Group Corporation v Bureau of Public Enterprises, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed by the Appellants/ Applicants.”

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