Nospetco Oil & Gas: Court Frowns At Lawyers’ ‘Silly Applications’
Justice Lewis Alagoa of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has faulted attempt by lawyers to frustrate investors having access to their N22.4 billion invested in Nospetco Oil and Gas Limited, which fund is trapped in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Justice Alagoa, who descended heavily on lawyers who he said file ‘endless’ motions for purpose of stalling pending cases, dismissed a preliminary objection seeking discontinuation of a 14-year-old suit where Mr Debo Adeleke led 13,741 investors in court over their N22.4 billion investment kept with the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Observing that some lawyers for some parties in the case had developed interest in filing “silly and frivolous applications” for the purpose of stalling the aged long case of trapped investors’ funds instead of serving the interest of justice and seeing that the case is heard and determined on merit, the judge cautioned that his court would not indulge such act, warning that he is interested in the quick dispensation of justice to let all parties know their fates.
Justice Alagoa further observed that from the records of proceedings, it is unfortunate that the same motions that were earlier raised in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, heard and determined were brought back to the High Court again for determination, thus prolonging the real matter from being heard.
“I think lawyers should work to the satisfaction of the interest of justice. The investors’ money is crying for collection and you busy yourselves filing silly applications, wearing wigs and gowns, riding in expensive cars, while the investors of the trapped funds are suffering and dying”, the Judge observed.
The Judge had earlier dismissed the preliminary application brought by the 3rd Respondent in the suit, Nospetco Oil and Gas Limited from the chambers of Rikky Tafa, SAN, which had prayed for discontinuation of the suit, holding that it had no reason for bringing such motion, while awarding the cost of N100,000 penalty against the 3rd defendant.
Justice Allagoa, however, granted an application seeking striking out of names of Rowland Badejo, and three other investors, led by Chief Roland Otaru, SAN, who had earlier filed an application for discontinuance of the suit, holding that although they have the right of the choice of their legal representatives, they could not foist such right on other investors.
In his reaction, Adeleke, head of MCI-law chambers and leading counsel, commended the court for an in-depth and analytical appraisal of the matter, liking the ruling to the biblical King Solomon’s judgement of over 2,000 years ago, saying it would stand the text of time.
“The ruling is a further manifestation that the court is the last hope of the common man. Even though justice might seem to be delayed due to shenanigan attitude of some lawyers, at the end of tunnel, there would be light, meaning that justice would, one day, be delivered.
“We thank God and his lordship for his erudite ruling in the matter. It is hope rising for the hapless and innocent investors who are dying at geometrical progression since inception of their case by our law firms”, he said.
Tracing the genesis of the case, Adeleke said the matter, which commenced in 2008, traversed all the courts in the land, i.e. from the Industrial, Federal High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
According to the lawyer, all the courts emphatically and collectively agreed, in an unmitigated language, that the funds kept at the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, by Security Exchange Commission, SEC, belongs to the Investors.
Besides, all the courts equally agreed that Nospetco Oil and Gas Limited were operating ultra vires and outside its strait jacketed object clause. Hence, it was described as “a wonder bank”, a euphemism of saying it was operating illegally.
Consequently, SEC statutorily confiscated the money from Nospetco Oil and Gas Ltd and kept same for and on behalf of the Investors. In fact, the Supreme Court in its judgement, stated copiously and emphatically that the money kept with the CBN belongs to the Investors and the Investors should collect their funds from the CBN by taking their grievances to the appropriate quarters or court.
Adeleke stated further that the CBN suo-moto (on its own) advertised in two National Dailies, The Guardian (12/02/2008) and Vanguard Newspapers (13/02/2008) for the investors to come and collect their money.
He said but none of the investors has been able to collect his or her money from the CBN hence the MCI-Law chambers was approached by 13,741 investors and their total investment currently with the CBN is N22,434,771,466.84.
Adeleke further said that continue holding on to the investors money is uncalled for and insensitive to the plight of the investors who are dying at geometrical progression while others are living in abject poverty and daily going through the agony of slow death.
It would be recalled that the 14-years-old legal battle began in 2008 when the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), declared a scheme founded by Nospetco Oil And Gas Limited illegal.
Nospetco was registered solely for the importation, sale and distribution of petroleum products and cooking gas.
The firm started a collective investment scheme between 2004 and 2005 and encouraged thousands to invest N450,000 per slot, with a promise of a monthly N40,000 return on investment on each slot.
Shortly after the respondents had invested in the firm, SEC, in 2007, stopped the firm’s operations, describing it as illegal.
The regulatory agency also froze its various bank accounts and deposited the money with the CBN on behalf of the investors.
Miffed by this, Nospetco filed a suit No: IST/OA/19/07 at the IST in 2011, challenging SEC’s power to declare its business illegal and lost.
In suit No: SC/305/2012 the investors sued SEC and the CBN as co-defendants.
Adeleke on behalf of the investors also filed a suit at the IST, Lagos, for payment of the seized money and got a favourable judgment.
Dissatisfied with IST’s judgement, the firm appealed at the Court of Appeal in Lagos, urging it to set aside the decision, but the Court of Appeal upheld the decision.
Still dissatisfied, the company again appealed to the Supreme Court to quash the appellate court’s decision. But the apex court dismissed Nospetco Oil & Gas claims, declaring that the money actually belongs to the investors.
Further hearing has been fixed for March 30.