Staff Releasing In Oil and Gas Industry: Lawyer’s Suit Against Petr. Minister, DPR Dismissed
A Lagos Federal High Court, has struck out a suit filed by a Nigerian lawyer, Temilolu Ademolekun, challenging the constitutionality of the Regulation and Guidelines issued by the Minister of Petroleum Resources on the Release of Staff in the Nigerian oil and gas industry.
The presiding judge, Honourable Justice Nicholas Oweibo, struck out the suit which has the Minister, Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) as co-defendants.
Adamolekun in his suit marked FHC/L/CS/647/2020, had asked the court for declaratory and injunctive reliefs against the defendants, challenging the constitutionality of the provisions of Regulation 15A Petroleum (Drilling and Production) (Amendment) Regulations 1988 and the Guidelines for the release of staff in the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry 2019.
In response, the defendants through their Counsel, Adebayo Ologe, filed a defence together with a preliminary objection. In the notice of preliminary objection, Ologe asked the Court to strike out the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for the plaintiff’s lack of standing to sue.
In his judgement, Justice Oweibo, first considered the defendants’ preliminary objection, whereby he agreed with the defendants’ submissions that the Federal High Court lacks the subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the suit and that the plaintiff lacks the locus standi (the standing) to institute the action.
Justice Oweibo held that: “section 254(C) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) confers special and exclusive jurisdiction on the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) in civil causes or matters relating to or connected with labour and employment, welfare, wages, benefits, and compensation of employees as well as matters pertaining to industrial relations irrespective of the industry involved.
“Even where the matter is not on employment per se, so long as the claims or issues for determination are related to or connected with labour or employment, including health, safety of employees, then the NICN shall have and exercise exclusive jurisdiction over those matters.
As for the instant case, the Court found that the subject-matter of the plaintiff’s claims relates to labour and employment, hence, it robs the Federal High Court of jurisdiction.
On the issue of locus standi, Justice Oweibo held that: “contrary to the plaintiff’s argument, the issue in contention in this case is not whether the National Assembly has lawfully delegated its constitutional function of law making to the Minister of Petroleum Resources i.e the constitutionality of Section 9 of the Petroleum Act.
In order words, the issue here is not a constitutional issue as to avail any person such as the plaintiff (who has not been affected by the provisions of the Regulations or the Guidelines for the Release of Staff in the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry, 2019) the standing to approach the Court for remedy. For this reason, the plaintiff lacks the standing to institute and or maintain this suit.
On the substantive suit, Justice Oweibo held that Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) vests on the National Assembly the powers to make laws for the Federation and that Section 9(1) of the Petroleum Act, which is an Act of the National Assembly, empowers the Minister of Petroleum Resources to make Regulations, prescribing anything requiring to be prescribed for the purpose of the Petroleum Act and there is no contention that the powers of the Minister to make Regulations was not properly given by the National Assembly.
The judge further held that the ambit of the powers of the Minister as prescribed in Section 9 of the Petroleum Act, is quite wide and enormous such that it accommodates the Regulations and the Guidelines in contention in this case.
Justice Oweibo further placed reliance on a recent decision of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in the suit numbered NICN/LA/257/2013, between Raphael Obasogie v. Addax Petroleum, where the NICN recognised the powers of the Minister to make the Regulations and Guidelines in contention in this case.
In sum, the judge held that; “Regulation 15A of the Petroleum (Drilling and Production) (Amendment) Regulations 1988 and the Guidelines for the Release of Staff in the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry, 2019 are constitutional and consequently the plaintiff is not entitled to the reliefs sought”.
Having held that it lacks the jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit, the Court made an Order striking out the suit for lacking in merit.