The Abuja Court of Appeal has ordered the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) to pay a total of N500 million in fines for the illegal and arbitrary cancellation of a contract with a private enterprise.
The board was found accountable for breach of contract law in terminating the contract issued to Messrs Mahaj Nigeria Limited for the evacuation of solid waste items in Nigeria’s capital city.
Justice Olasunmbo Goodluck upheld the Arbitration Panel’s judgment in an appeal marked CA/ABJ/CV/200/2020 filed by the AEPB, ordering the board to pay the firm N475 million for breach of contract, N15 million for litigation costs, and another N10 million as general damages to the respondent in the suit.
The appellate court further ordered the board to pay 8% interest on the judgment debt each year until the debt was entirely paid off.
In a unanimous decision of the court’s three-member panel of judges, Justice Olasumbo Goodluck declared that the Arbitration Panel was correct in using Section 30 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act to resolve the legality of the contract termination.
The Court of Appeal rejected the arguments of AEPB lawyer, Professor Andrew Chukwumere, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who had asked the appellate court to vacate the large sum awarded to his client.
Chukwumere contended that the Arbitration Tribunal’s decision was confused and contradictory, and that the panel was mistaken, biased, and rushed in awarding the award at such an early point in his client’s case.
However, Justice Goodluck disagreed with the counsel, stating that the Arbitration Panel’s findings were clear, unequivocal, and free of error.
The appeal court agreed with Mr. Dayo Akinlaja SAN, respondent’s lawyer, that it was too late in the day for AEPB to issue claims of bias because such did not occur during the Arbitration Panel’s deliberations.
In 2019, a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) high court confirmed the Arbitration Panel’s judgment to award N475 million to the aggrieved firm but refused to award N15 million as litigation costs and another N10 million as general damages.
Unsatisfied with the high court’s judgment, the AEPB petitioned the Court of Appeal, requesting that the whole decision of the Arbitration Panel and the high court be set aside due to charges of prejudice and miscarriage of justice in the conclusion of the disputed contract negotiations.
In its conclusions, the Court of Appeal determined that the contract agreement’s words and letters were straightforward, certain, clear, and without ambiguity.
Justice Goodluck ruled that if there was any doubt on the part of the appellant (AEPB), it was self-inflicted because the issues of prejudice, misconduct, and miscarriage of justice were never challenged or substantiated.
Justice Goodluck ruled that the appellant (AEPB) cried wolf where none existed, concluding that the appeal lacked merit, failed, and was dismissed.
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