Petro Union Oil and Gas Ltd Demands Journalist Apologise, Retract ‘Distorted’ Analysis on Matter between the Company and Union Bank


Petro Union Oil and Gas Limited has sent a cease and desist letter to Thisday Deputy Law Editor, Jude Igbanoi demanding he apologise and retract “false statements” he made about the company on a television show.

In a letter sent to Igbanoi, the Petro Union asserted that the on-air commentary is designed to mislead viewers hinged on a biased analysis and skewed perspective.

The letter, signed by the company’s Managing Director, Mr. Kingsley Okpala demanded the journalist retract the statements which they called a “distorted, inaccurate, unfair and misleading analysis is against the ethics and well established principles of journalism.”

The letter reads:

Monday, 5th July, 2021                           

Mr. Jude Igbanoi,

Deputy Law Editor,

Thisday lawyer,

Thisday Newspapers, 

Thisday Newspapers Ltd,

35, Creek Road,

Apapa, Lagos.

Dear Sir,

DEMAND FOR APOLOGY AND RETRACTION OF MISLEADING STATEMENTS ON UNION BANK/PETRO-UNION MATTER ON ARISE TELEVISION NEWS ANALYSIS

We watched with dismay, your analysis of the matter between Union Bank of Nigeria PLC and our Company – Petro-Union Oil and Gas Company Ltd – on the morning show programme of Arise Television News on Tuesday, 29th June, 2021. 

Your analysis of the matter was full of fallacies, inaccuracies and misinformation which may appear to be sponsored, deliberate and could have been motivated by pecuniary or other inducement. As a legal practitioner as well as a veteran journalist for a reputable Newspaper – Thisday, one would have expected that you reach out to all parties and/or their Counsel involved to obtain and/or verify relevant facts before rushing to a national television to mislead the public. Your analysis was broadcasted and widely viewed by millions of people in and outside the Country.

We hereby set out some of your false statements in your supposed analysis as follows:

  1. Allegation of fraud: You carelessly stated in your analysis that there is serious fraud involved in the matter and that both the Judgments of the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal in our favour were ‘clearly fraudulently obtained’. By this, you have also made weighty allegations against the trial Judge – Kafarati, J (of blessed memory) and the noble Justices of the Court of Appeal who sat over the appeal and by extension the Honourable Justices of the Supreme Court panel that dismissed Union Bank’s earlier application for leave to appeal on 16th December, 2019. This is shocking as you quite recognize that the suit filed by our Company at the Federal High Court succeeded after thorough consideration and it was affirmed by the Court of Appeal. You also know very well that the concurrent findings in both Judgments of Courts of competent jurisdiction are still subsisting. You equated the subsisting Judgments in our favour as “another P & ID award’. One now wonders in what capacity, authority and/or basis upon which you confidently concluded that there was ‘serious fraud’ involved when you fully know that no Court has found our Company or any of its Directors guilty of fraud. 
  1. Reference to the Barclays Bank Cheque as ‘purportedly’ issued by Gazeaft: By stating that the Barclays bank cheque was ‘purportedly’ issued by Gazeaft, you mean that although it was alleged by us, it may not necessarily be so. This is also troubling in view of the fact that to your knowledge, the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal already made conclusive and concurrent subsisting findings on this and other related facts which makes this not to be an issue at all. We are curious as to whether you have turned yourself into an appellate or supervisory authority over these two Courts of competent jurisdiction. 
  1. Assertion that Barclays Bank indicated to Union Bank/CBN not to honour the cheque:   In your analysis, you wrongly stated that Barclays Bank indicated to Union Bank not to honour the cheque and that Gazeaft which issued the cheque was non-existent as at 1994. Interestingly as you know, this is false and no such evidence was presented by Union Bank at the Federal High Court trial which started in 2012, about 8 years after the cheque was lodged in Union Bank in 1994. Any purported correspondence from Barclays Bank are what Union Bank now seeks to admit as fresh evidence at the Supreme Court and their application is contested and still pending. It is now currently slated for hearing on 7th October, 2021. There was therefore no factual and/or legal basis for this statement by you. 
  1. Alleged EFCC investigation of Union Bank and outcome exonerating the Bank: Just like the Barclays Bank correspondence which you alluded to, no such EFCC investigation report was presented by Union Bank at the trial of the matter which started in 2012. Although currently there are now a number of contradicting documents purported to have recently emanated from EFCC, they are subject of an application before the Supreme Court which is still pending. It is also worrisome that you failed to investigate these issues which are publicly available before jumping into conclusions. 
  1. Award of 2.1 million pounds in favour of Petro-Union: During your analysis, you wrongly stated that the Federal High Court awarded the sum of 2.1 million pounds to Petro-Union. This is false as no such award of 2.1 million pounds was ever given in favour of our Company. We are tempted to believe that you deliberately put out this misinformation just to cause confusion in the minds of the viewing public when you knew the truth and could access the certified copy of the Judgment of the Federal High Court. 
  1. Argument in support of Union Bank’s application to raise fresh issues and adduce fresh evidence on appeal: As a lawyer, even though you may not be in any known active legal practice, you know or reasonably ought to know that there is a limit to the extent to which you can publicly discuss/analyse a matter which is pending before a Court. In this case, you threw caution to the wind by arguing on behalf of Union Bank that they did not know of the existence of the supposed documents which they now seek to tender in the Supreme Court, during the Federal High Court trial. This is one of the issues before the Supreme Court apparently to your knowledge but you defied all known legal ethics to discuss this matter on national television and even proceeded to justify your position in support of the Union Bank application with legal authorities which we believe may have been written for you by your sponsors and/or enablers. We understand that the principle of Sub Judice is an elementary principle of law so, although you mentioned it passively, it is either that you lack appreciation of the principle and/or you deliberately wanted to violate it. We say so because in addition to your flawed legal analysis and supporting arguments, you formulated a question – ‘Can the Supreme Court admit new evidence and whether it can set aside a Judgment ‘fraudulently’ obtained’ – and you went ahead to answer your question in the affirmative after citing out-of-context cases on live TV in support of a pending application before the Supreme Court. You concluded your analysis by stating that our Company has had challenges from the onset which makes the case very bad for us. This is unbecoming of a legal practitioner and ordinarily should necessitate necessary disciplinary sanctions against you. 
  1. Issue of legal representation of Petro Union: In addressing this issue, you wrongly stated that Mr. Egwuonwu, SAN was briefed by us to represent us and seeing the complexity of the case he approached Chief Gadzama, SAN to lead him. If you had bothered to reach out to the Company or make proper findings, you would have realised that the Company indeed directly briefed Chief Gadzama, SAN to lead its legal team in the matter. We had actually debriefed Mr. Onyechi Egwuonwu and assured him that his legal fees would be paid when the Judgment sum or any part of it is realised. You also misstated that there are issues of disagreement on fees between Mr. Egwuonwu and Mr. Gadzama. This is not correct as there is no dispute on fees between the both lawyers. The main issue is between Mr. Egwuonwu and our Company on where the Judgment sum should be paid into against our choice that it should be paid into a Clients’ account in our name under the supervision of J-K Gadzama LLP.

The issue Mr. Egwuonwu actually has is with our Company that debriefed him. We believe it is within our rights to brief and debrief any lawyer at any stage of the matter in line with our constitutional right of counsel of our choice. The fee arrangement with Mr. Egwuonwu is on contingency basis which means that his fees will become due and payable once the Judgment sum or any part of it is received by our Company. Unfortunately, despite our victory at the Federal High Court which was affirmed by the Court of Appeal, the Judgment sum has remained unpaid till date and as such, there is no fee immediately due and payable to Mr. Egwuonwu. 

We have repeatedly assured Mr. Egwuonwu, including in writing that despite the fact the company has debriefed him; his fees for participating in the legal team will be paid upon receipt of the judgment sum or any part of it. This is the real issue on legal representation. We have physically attended the proceedings of the Supreme Court to indicate to the Court that Chief Gadzama, SAN is the Counsel of our choice. We have also written letters to the Supreme Court and sworn to affidavits on this matter to confirm this. Despite all these, Mr. Egwuonwu has mischievously refused to stay away from the Supreme Court matter against the Company’s wishes. In furtherance of his mischief, he lied on oath against the Supreme Court when he deliberately falsely deposed as follows in paragraph 3 (c) of his counter affidavit filed on 15th June, 2021 marked as SC632/2018: 

“ … the Respondent on 20/10/20 made an oral application to this apex Court seeking DSW to be re-admitted as counsel to 1st Respondent and this Supreme Court on the said 20/10/2020 unanimously refused and dismissed Respondent’s oral application. Now produced and shown to me as EXH AA1 (EXH AP 1) is a certified true copy of the RULING of 20/10/20.”

Mr. Egwuonwu deposed to the above quoted statements on oath when he fully knew that no such event occurred in court and no ruling showing same was attached as exhibit as indicated in the said reproduced paragraph. 

Usual belligerence and uncomplimentary remarks by Mr. Egwuonwu against Mr. Awomolo, SAN

It may also interest you to note that in his usual belligerent and uncooperative manner, Mr. Egwuonwu made scathing remarks and uncomplimentary insinuations about Union Bank’s lead counsel – Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN – who was appointed by the Court to mediate on the issue of our Company’s legal representation. He stated as follows in paragraph 12 of his affidavit in support of a motion he filed on 24th June, 2021:

“ I know as a fact that on his taking silk in 1992, the lead counsel to the Appellant, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN swore before the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria and other Honourable Justices of this apex Court to uphold the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and at all times to assist this Court in promoting the course of the rule of law and justice without fear or favour.” 

Mr. Egwuonwu continues to insist that he conducted the trial on a contingency fee basis and he has an irrevocable power of attorney which according to him entitles him to lien over the Judgment sum. In the proceedings of 28th June 2021, Mr. Egwuonwu was advised by the Supreme Court that the issues about his supposed lien cannot be discussed at the Apex Court but that he could institute a fresh action at the High Court for his fees.

Conclusive settlement of issue of legal representation before the Supreme Court and confirmation of Joe-Kyari Gadzama, SAN as Counsel to Petro-Union

Significantly, the issue of legal representation has now been conclusively laid to rest in the Supreme Court proceedings of today, 5th July, 2021. In the Court’s sitting in SC188/21, Mr. Egwuonwu again tried to announce his appearance for the Company as 1st Respondent in the application. This was without the Company’s authorization. The Supreme Court sought the Company’s indication of who its legal representative is in the matter and we confirmed and reiterated today that Joe-Kyari Gadzama, SAN remains our Counsel. The Court then recognized the learned silk and expressly overruled Mr. Egwuonwu that he was not our Counsel in the matter. The substantive application filed by Union Bank for leave to appeal was therefore adjourned to 7th October, 2021 for hearing.

As you also know, your analysis was also broadcasted and circulated by Arise News and other reporters on various platforms including on YouTube channels. You wrongly accused our Company of taking advantage of the loopholes and weaknesses in the judiciary to obtain judgment. As can be seen from the ensuing conversations on various fora, your false statements in your misleading analysis were understood by members of the Public to mean that our Company and its Directors are fraudulent people when you fully know or ought to know as a lawyer that fraud is a criminal offence and no court has convicted the Company or any of its Directors for fraud or any other offence whatsoever.

As a supposed seasoned Journalist, you know that your biased, distorted, inaccurate, unfair and misleading analysis is against the ethics and well established principles of journalism. You have never attended court sitting in any of the matters whether at the Supreme Court or at the Federal High Court, Lagos. Thus, it clear that all you said on television were second hand information given to you which you did not bother to verify as expected of a lawyer and journalist of your standing.

Since your misconceived analysis on Arise News, we have been bombarded with calls and text messages from business associates, friends, family members and members of the public many of whom expressed their disappointment and displeasure based on the statements you made in your supposed analysis. 

Immediate demand

In the circumstances, we hereby demand for immediate written apology and that you go back to the morning show programme of Arise News for not less than 30 minutes to retract your false statements about the Company, clarify, address the issues professionally and set the records straight. This retraction and clarification on Arise News should be done within 7 (seven) days from the date of this letter with same passion, emphasis and aggressiveness with which you granted the earlier interview and it should be given the same prominence as well as dissemination on various platforms that was given to your initial skewed analysis. As a responsible corporate entity, we will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that you adequately address the wrong impression which your analysis on national television has created.

Please be informed that if you do not meet the above demand within the stipulated seven days’ timeline from the date of receipt of this letter that is on or before Monday, 11th July 2021, we will be constrained to take appropriate actions against you which will include but may not be limited to the following:

  1. Petitioning the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to investigate and take disciplinary actions against you for conducts unbecoming of a legal practitioner.
  2. Petitioning the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) to try you for misconduct.
  3. Petitioning the Nigerian Press Council and Nigeria Union of Journalists.
  4. Instituting an action in Court for defamation.
  5. Commencing contempt proceedings against you for unjustifiably referring to Judgments of Courts of competent jurisdiction – Federal High Court and Court of Appeal – as being fraudulently obtained.
  6. Commencing contempt proceedings against you for arguing and/or discussing on live TV an application pending before the Supreme Court.
  7. Petitioning your employers – Thisday Newspapers Limited.

Once again, we hereby express our displeasure over your reckless analysis. We are hopeful that you will allow wise counsel to prevail and do the needful immediately without any further delay. 

Thank you.

For:    Petro Union Oil and Gas Company Limited

___________________

Mr. Kingsley Okpala

(Managing Director)


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