A Lagos High Court, Ikeja Judicial Division has adjourned further hearing till December 6, 2023 a $47 million loan suit between an investment company, Nichole Integrated Investments Ltd, and oil Magnate, Alhaji Sayyu Dantata and his three companies, MRS Holdings Company Limited, MRS Oil Nigeria PLC, and Bestaf Trading Company Ltd.
The trial judge, Hon. Justice Yetunde Pinheiro on the adjourned date will hear two applications, one, a mareva injunction from the claimants seeking the following:
An order of Mareva injunction restraining all the four defendants jointly and severally from paying out any money standing to the credit or for the benefit of the respondents from the under-listed accounts pending the determination of the suit.
An order of mareva injunction restraining the defendants, particularly the 4th defendant from disposing, alienating, and or transfering the large expanse of land measuring 400,000 square meters situate at Lekki Free Trade Zone Phase 2, Ibeju-Lekki pending the hearing and determination of the suit;
Alternatively, the Claimants seek the order of Court directing the Defendants jointly and severally to pay the sum of $23,359,626.00 (Twenty Three Million, three Hundred and Fifty Nine thousand, Six Hundred and Twenty Six) USD being the amount claimed as the balance outstanding from the total loan sum of $44,516,000.00 ( Fourty Four Million, Five Hundred and Sixteen thousand) USD facility given by the claimants to the defendants under contract on the 5th of August 2009, or the naira equivalent at the current bank rate. The sum of N 50 million (Fifty Million) Naira being the cost of litigation, and N25 million ( Twenty Five) million Naira cost for damages for breach of contract. The claimants want the sums to be paid into an interest yielding account to be opened in the name of the Chief Registrar, High Court of Lagos State, to await the judgment of the court.
The Banks listed on the mareva application are GTBank, Coronation Merchant Bank, Access Bank Plc, WEMA Bank Plc, First Bank, Zenith Bank Plc, Stanbic IBTC, and Sterling Bank.
The other application is the one filed by the Defendants seeking the court to stay proceedings pending the determination of an appeal they filed at the Court of Appeal, Lagos to determine whether the lower court has jurisdiction to hear the suit since according to them, the claimant’s suit is statute barred. There application on this issue had earlier been over-ruled by the ADR Judge. Hon Justice Folami.
When the matter came up for hearing on Friday 17th of November, the Claimant’s Lawyer, Dele Adesina SAN informed the Court that he was ready to move his application for Mareva injunction and that the application is not opposed as the Defendants/Respondents have failed to file counter affidavit to the application. At this point, Norrison Quakers SAN informed the Court that they filed a Counter Affidavit on 1st of November and that the Claimants Counsel refused service of same.
He drew the attention of the court to an affidavit of refusal of service filed before the court. At this point, Adesina SAN told the court that his office was never served with any Counter Affidavit insisting that his Office has never refused service of any process. “My lord, I am speaking from the Bar. I’m telling this court that we were not served the counter affidavit”. He said, taking objection to Quaker’s claim, that this is not the way to practice law. He was particularly vehement in his opposition against the insistence of Quakers that his(Adesina) office was served. Adesina cited the words of a former Chief Judge of Lagos State, the late Justice Samuel Omotunde Ilori, who once said that he would rather believe the statement of a Lawyer from the Bar ten times over than the words of a witness in the witness box.
At this point, Justice Pinheiro took a look at the said affidavit of refusal of service and noticed that the address in the affidavit was different from the address of the law office of Mr Adesina and said she could not agree with Mr Quakers as the address pointed out that service was made in different and wrong address.
Mr Quakers who was actually attending court for the first time in the matter looked at the address on the affidavit and confirmed it was not the Learned SAN’s address. Thereupon, Mr Quakers apologized both to Adesina and to the court, saying “I take full responsibility and apologize to my brother silk whom I hold in high esteem”. Although he thereafter asked for a short adjournment to enable him effect the service properly but Mr Adesina accepted service right in the Court. The court therefore adjourned the suit till December 6, 2023 for arguments of both applications.
Nichole Investment Ltd, according to its statement of claim, gave a $44 million loan to Dantata and his companies(defendants) to meet its shortfall towards acquisition of Chevron-Texaco Africa Holdings(Ivory Coast Operations in August 2009.
In the statement of claims filed before the Court, Dantata had already secured a $300 million facility the Bank for the same acquisition but needed the 44 USD to make up the required fund.
The Claimants states that Alhaji Dantata and second defendant, MRS Holdings Company Ltd assured the Claimants that the Federal Government of Nigeria was indebted to the third defendant MRS Oil Nigeria PLC in the sum of N20 billion being an outstanding payment due from petroleum subsidies.
That the $44 million facility will be settled by the first and second defendants upon the receipt by the third defendant, the N20 billion owed by the Federal Government.
That parties further agreed that interest of 10% per annum would be paid to the claimants on the loan.
Upon this agreement, the first claimant, on August 5, 2009 successfully transferred the sum of $44,516,000:00 to Chevron Africa Holdings Ltd through Coral Bureau Account with Union Bank PLC. That this enabled Dantata to acquire 60% of the Chevron-Texaco Africa Holdings.
Things however began to turn sour soon after when the defendants began to repay in piecemeal. “In contravention of the clear promise, undertaking, and agreement by the defendants to stand by the agreement regarding payment and satisfaction of the loan facility, the defendants chose the path of a piecemeal and staggered repayment to the extent that substantial amount of repayment still remains outstanding and unpaid despite several oral and written demands”, the claimants averred.
It was alleged by the Claimants that the Defendants have repaid a total sum of $21, 156,374:00 (write in words) by July 10, 2017 when the Defendants stopped leaving an outstanding sum of $23,359,626:00. (in words)
Also every effort made by the claimants to ensure repayment was frustrated by the defendants.
The promise by the Defendants to pay by transferring 200,000 square meters of a landed property of the fourth defendant at Lekki Free Trade Zone was also not kept.
The claimants therefore urged the Court to order the defendants to pay the sum $23.3 (in words) million, 10% interest on the sum of $44.5 million as agreed at the time of granting the facility and interest at the rate of 6% from the date of judgment plus N50 million general damages and N25m as cost of litigation.
However, in the statement of defense filed by the defendant’s Lawyer, Olushola Abiloye, the Defendants stated that the court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate on the suit on the following grounds:
That “assuming without conceding that the Claimants have a cause of action against the Defendants, their right of action has been extinguished by the Limitation Laws of Lagos State.
That the statement of claim discloses no reasonable cause of action against the defendants. The defence also stated that the Claimants lack the locus standi to institute the suit against the Defendants.
The defendants denied ever entering into any loan agreement with the claimants, describing the suit as a “figment imagination of the Claimants.
Also in a 48 paragraph affidavit deposed to by Miss Ngozi Ofoegbu-Dike, the Legal Manager of MRS Holdings, the defendants denied ever owing the claimant. “I know that there is no loan contract or any loan agreement between the Claimant’s and the Second Defendant or any of the Defendants”, she averred.
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