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Court Clears Ex-BPE Boss, Alex Okoh of Contempt Charges

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The Federal High Court in Abuja has acquitted the immediate past Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises ( BPE), Mr. Alex Okoh, of contempt charges in a legal dispute between BPE and BFIG, over the ownership and operation of Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON), in Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State.

The Court’s decision to acquit is based on the Court’s findings that there was no basis to hold against Alex Okoh in contempt and commital over the dispute.

Okoh was relieved of his position as DG of BPE in January 2024, and had battled contempt charges and commital rulings by courts up to the apex, 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 the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON).

While the Federal High Court in Abuja, presided over by Justice D.U. Okorowo, upheld Okoh’s request for dismissal and discharge of the contempt/committal and all charges thereof, in Suit Number FHC/ABJ/CS/583/2004 between BFI Group Corporation (judgment creditor/respondent) and BPE (judgment debtor/respondent.

Okoh, had approached the Federal High Court with the yoke of a contemnor, he however, secured the discharge as contained in an enrolled order issued by the court on Friday April 5, 2024.

According to a statement personally signed by Mr. 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 the case, 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 is in violation of the contract between the BPE and BFIG.”

It is also true that Okoh was not the DG when the transaction was executed in 2004/06 or when the Supreme Court judgment was delivered in 2012.

The judgment of April 5, 2024, thus cleared him of the contempt entanglements concerning ALSCON, BPE and BFIG.

Okoh was appointed DG of BPE on April 13, 2017, five years after the said ruling of the Supreme Court, and was relieved of the position on January 8, 2024, three weeks before the contempt ruling of January 26, 2024.

In 2013, the federal government cancelled the sale of the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria, ALSCON, to BFIGroup Corporation.

The government’s decision was announced by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE. The BPE announced the directive of the National Council on Privatisation, NCP, to terminate the offer to BFI Group Corporation for the purchase of 77.5 per cent of ALSCON.

The BPE in a statement by its then Head, Public Communications, Chigbo Anichebe, said the decision followed BFIG’s inability to pay the agreed 10 per cent of the offer price within 15 working days of the execution of the Share/Sales Purchase Agreement, SPA, as directed by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

However , BFIG Chairman, Reuben Jaja had countered government action via NCP which he said amounts to a violation of the July 6, 2012 order of the Supreme Court, which granted perpetual injunction restraining any act by any agency of government against the contract until all the issues that resulted in the crisis are resolved.

The BPE is the Federal Government agency charged with economic reforms especially the privatization and commercialization of government-owned enterprises in the country.

BPE also serves as the secretariat of the National Council on Privatization (NCP), but the DG is said not to be in any capacity to take such decisions as regards sale or concession of Federal Assets as such decisions rest by law on the NCP which is chaired by the Vice President.

In 2013, the federal government cancelled the sale of the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria, ALSCON, to BFIGroup Corporation.

The government’s decision was announced by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE. The BPE announced the directive of the National Council on Privatisation, NCP, to terminate the offer to BFI Group Corporation for the purchase of 77.5 per cent of ALSCON.

The BPE in a statement by its then Head, Public Communications, Chigbo Anichebe, said the decision followed BFIG’s inability to pay the agreed 10 per cent of the offer price within 15 working days of the execution of the Share/Sales Purchase Agreement, SPA, as directed by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

However , BFIG Chairman, Reuben Jaja had countered government’s action via NCP which he said amounts to a violation of the July 6, 2012 order of the Supreme Court, which granted perpetual injunction restraining any act by any agency of government against the contract until all the issues that resulted in the crisis are resolved.

The legal battle between BPE and BFIG dates to 2003 when the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) approved the commencement of the privatization process for ALSCON.

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