Unpaid Debt: Court Orders SEPLAT Petroleum To Pay ABM Global Services $2,112,500.00

 

 

A Lagos State High Court, Ikeja Division has ordered one of the foremost oil and gas exploration company in Nigeria, SEPLAT Petroleum Development Company Plc to pay its outstanding indebtedness of  $2,112,500.00 (N1,499,875,000 .00)  to an oil servicing company, ABM Global Services Limited.

Justice O. A Dabiri gave the order while delivering judgement in a debt recovery suit instituted by ABM  Global Services Limited against SEPLAT Petroleum Development Company Plc in suit number LD/2457GCMW/2016

ABM Global Services Limited in a bid to recover the money owed her by SEPLAT Petroleum Development Company Plc for materials supplied to the oil prospecting company, had in 2016 through her lawyer, Mr. Ade Oyebanji, SAN, instituted a debt recovery suit at the Lagos State High Court Ikeja.

In the amended statement of claim dated 23rd November, 2020 and  filed by Mr. Ade Oyebanji , SAN, on behalf of ABM Global Services Limited, the claimant  said that sometimes between 2012 and 2014, SEPLAT Petroleum Development Company Plc secured her service to supply 9-5/8 N80 VAM Top Casing Pipes  and 2-7/8 N80 HCS Tubing within the space of 3 years.

ABM added  that it supplied the defendant (SEPLAT) with all  the numbers of 2-7/8 N80 HCS Tubing Pipes which were received by the defendant.

Plaintiff further averred   that in fulfilment of the terms of contract for the supply of them materials and in adherence to the purchase order of the defendant, it made several supplies.

In fulfilling part of its obligations in accordance with the contract term, plaintiff said SEPLAT made an upfront payment of $3,640,000.00 being 80% of the total cost of the 50,000 feet of 9-5/8 N80 VAM Top Casing Pipes supplied leaving a balance sum of $910,000.00 and $227,500.00 as Value Added Tax totaling $1,137,500.00.

The oil servicing company   said it supplied the products requested by the defendant satisfactorily through it PO number 013537 and the defendant issued Work Completion Certificate for the job.

Plaintiff stated that it issued invoice number ABM /MD/ SEPLAT/14/Vol. 4/892 dated November 17,2014 to the defendant in respect of the balance sum of $1,137,500.00 due on the supply, but the defendant has refused to settle the outstanding invoice.

It was further contended by the claimant that the defendant also requested for the supply of 120,000 feet of 2-7/8 N80 HCS pipes and made an upfront payment of $3,120,000.00 being 80% of the total cost of the 120,000 feet of 2-7/8 N80 HCS Pipe in accordance with the terms of contract, leaving a balance sum of $780,000.00 and $195,000.00. (Value Added Tax) , totaling $975,000.

The plaintiff said all the goods were said supplied, with SEPLAT issuing a Work Completion Certificate, but that the defendant has refused to settle the outstanding debt despite repeated demands, hence the resort to litigation.

Consequently, the plaintiff is claiming from the defendant the sum of $1,137,500.00 and another $ 975,000.00 being cost of the unpaid materials supplied to the defendant.

However, during trial both parties call one witness each and tendered documentary evidence in support of their case.

While the claimant call it’s only witness, Chioma Kelechukwu , a Business Development Officer in the claimant company who came to identified her statement on Oath and was later cross-examined by the defence counsel.

The defendants also  call it’s lone witness Igbi  Oghenerume, the Lead Inventory Manager in the defendants’ company who also identify his statement on Oath and was cross-examined by the plaintiff counsel, Mr Ade Oyebanji, SAN .

During cross examination, the claimant’s witness told the court that she was aware of the defendants’ indebtedness to ABM  Global Services Limited and that she was part of the meeting of 16th September, 2016 where the issue tabled and discuss by the parties, she also did not accept the claim of a shortfall of 17,842.02 feet of pipes as alleged by the defendant.

Chioma, in her testimony admitted that she was aware of a shortfall of 10, 000 feet pipes in 2012, but added that the shortfall was a different transaction from the current claim of the claimant, adding that the current claim was in respect of good supplied in 2014.

On the part of the defence witness, who identified several purchase orders and emails of his company, he admitted that the defendant was not denying owing the claimant, but denied knowing to what extent.

Oghenerume also told the court that the former COO of SEPLAT, one Mr. Stuart Connal sometimes in 2014 proposed a 50/50 payment proposal to the claimant in an email, but added that the 50% proposal was not paid to the claimant

Justice Dabiri while evaluating the documentary evidence before the court  and counsel submissions, said that  by the defence own documents and oral testimony  there was no disputes that the defendant issued Work Completion Certificate  to the claimant after delivery of materials which pre- supposes the satisfactory completion of certain job or activities.

The trial judge added that the sanctity of contract or agreement is to ensure that a party who voluntarily entered into a contract is bound by it, no matter how unfavourable it may turn out to be as long as he entered into the contract fully conscious of what he was doing and had willingly signed same and the subject matter of the contract is lawful.

On the issue of shortfall of 17,842.02 feet of pipes as alleged by the defendant, Justice  Dabiri said the defendant conducted an in-house reconciliation exercise and came up with a shortfall in the specifications of the items supplied to it by the claimant in 2012 . The claimant rejected the reconciliation exercise, and rightly  so, a reconciliation exercise conducted without the active participation of the other party in dispute is one sided.

The judge added that to say the least, there was no sufficient materials placed before the court to prove that there was any shortfall in the supply. ” The court was not furnished with any official report detailing the shortage, rather an internal memo was tendered before the court, a communication between departments within the same organisation.

” The defendant could have been more circumspect and more discerning to invite the claimant for the verification and both parties to acknowledge, consent or reject, but this is a one-man show considering the colossal amount involved.

Justice Dabiri in the judgement held ” I have listened to the submissions of counsel on both sides, and having perused the array of processes and documents before me, the court hereby makes the following orders and this is the judgement of the court”.

That the claimant is entitle to the unpaid and outstanding balance sum of $1, 137,500.00 for the supply of 9-5/8 N80 VAM Top Casing Pipes and 9-5/8 HCS Tubing Pipes

That the sum of $1,137,500.00 is the sum due to the claimant from the outstanding balance of the defendant for the supply of 9-5 N80 VAM Top Casing Pipe and 9-5N80 HCS Tubing Pipe.

The payment of interest on the said sum of $1,137,500.00 from the 18th of February, 2014 at the rate of 6% per annum until judgement is delivered and thereafter at the rate of 6% per annum until full liquidation.

That the claimant is entitled to to the the unpaid outstanding balance of $975,000.00 due for the supply of 2-7/8 N80 HCS Pipe.

The sum of $975,000 .00 only is the sum due to the claimant for the supply of 2-7/8 N80 HCS Pipe and payment of interest on the said sum of $975, 000.00 from the 18th of February, 2914 at the rate of 10% per annum until judgement is delivered and thereafter at the rate of 6% per annum until full liquidation.

Justice Dabiri also awarded N500,000 in favour of the claimant.

Concluding, Justice Dabiri said,   “It is unfortunate that in a country where the business environment is already harsh, unfriendly and riddles with stings of bottlenecks primed to make  business owners fail, companies and individuals also constitute hindrances  to the smooth running of business by refusing / neglecting to make remittance for services rendered .Such attitude should be condemned in it’s entirety . Truly this is a simple case of contract, a business gone awry” , he said.

Meanwhile, the defendant has appealed the judgement of the Ikaja High Court.

According to the Notice of Appeal dated 13th December, 2021 and filed by the legal firm of Olaniwun Ajayi LP, the appellant in the notice of appeal raised ten grounds for adjudication. However, no date has been fixed for hearing of the appeal.

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