By Taiye Agbaje
A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday, ordered committal proceedings against the Managing Director, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), Ahmed Lawal Kuru, over alleged takeover of companies belonging to the businessman, Jimoh Ibrahim, against court order.
Justice Okon Abang, in a ruling on an ex-parte motion moved by Victor Ogbonna, counsel to Mr Ibrahim and others, also directed the plaintiffs to commence committal proceedings against Director General, Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Alexander Okoh.
Justice Abang held that it was lawful to grant the committal proceeding for the defendants to come and show how they flouted the court order in spite of the undertaking by their counsel “not to take any step to undermine the res (subject matter).”
He expressed doubt if Kuru, Okoh, and others, who, he said, had contributed to the economic development of the country, would allow such direct confrontation with the law.
“They are persons that have contributed so much to the development of the country’s economy.
“I hope they will not by their action bring themselves to the direct confrontation with the law for nobody is above the law.
“I hope the allegation made against them is just in the realm of allegation.
“I hope it is not true based on the undertaking by their counsel,” the judge said.
The companies are Nicon Investment Limited, Nicon Insurance Limited and Nigeria Reinsurance Corporation PLC, including Nicon Luxury Hotel.
While the companies are 1st to 3rd plaintiffs respectively, Mr Ibrahim is the 4th plaintiff in the suit.
AMCON, BPE, Lamis Shehu Dikko, Dr Henry Uko Ationu, John Abuh Oyidih, Alexander Ayoola Okoh, Ahmed Dahiru Modibbo, Mr Mela Audu Nunghe SAN, Mr Olugbenga Falekulo, Olusegun Ilori, Mrs Yvonne Isichei, and Inspector General of Police are 1st to 12th contemnor defendants respectively.
Ogbonna also sought the leave of court to join Ahmed Lawal Kuru, AMCON MD/CEO; Eberechukwu Uneze and Aminu Ismail, who are both executive directors of AMCON.
Moving the motion, Ogbonna said the application was brought pursuant to Order 9, Rule 5 of the federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, 2019 and under the inherent powers of the court.
He said the motion prayed for an order of the court granting leave to the plaintiffs/applicants to commence committal proceeding by issuance of (form 48 and 49) against the 1st defendant and the following natural persons being principal officers of the 1st defendant/contemnor:
“(a) Ahmed Lawal Kuru, Managing Director/CEO (b) Eberechukwu Uneze, Executive Director (c) Aminu Ismail, Executive Director of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) being principal officials and acting as agents of the first defendant alleged contemnor.”
He also prayed for an order granting leave to the plaintiffs/applicants to commence committal proceeding by issuance of (form 48 and 49) against the 2nd defendant and the following natural person who is also the 6th defendant in this case, viz: ALEXANDER AYOOLA OKOH – Director General, Bureau of Public Enterprises, being principal officer and acting as agent of the second defendant alleged contemnor.”
The lawyer said the application was brought on right grounds.
He said AMCON is an artificial person whose affairs are coordinated by its principal officers who include Kuru, Uneze and Ismail.
“These individuals are the prime movers and alter ego that take decision for the 1st defendant (AMCON). The alleged 1st defendant/contemnors act through the persons mentioned above,” he said.
He further argued that BPE (2nd defendant) is an artificial person whose affairs are coordinated by its principal officers who include the 6th defendant (Okoh), the “principal officer of and acting as agent of the second defendant alleged contemnor.”
He said: “The above named natural persons sought to be served with Forms 48 of this Honourable Court, being principal officers of the 1st and 2nd defendants respectively, acted in contempt against the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court by taking the following actions to undermine the subject matter of the suit:
“a. Retained the purported appointment of 3rd-11th defendants to run the affairs of the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs.
“b. Wrote to the Corporate Affairs Commission to remove certain directors from the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs in total disregard to the undertaking made by them and the court orders made by this Honorable court.
“c. Appointed and retained, and unlawfully registered one LAWMATICS CONSULT LTD (1497862) as company Secretary despite their undertaking and court order.
“d. Purportedly sold property belonging to the 3rd plaintiff.
“e. Maintaining and running account in Nigeria Banks in the name of the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs.
“f. Employing the services of other different security agents and preventing the principal officers of the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs access to the company premises
“g. The 12th defendant (IGP) notwithstanding demand made to the office of Inspector General of Police has refused to restore the police security to the premises to protect the 1st and 2nd plaintiffs as requested.
“That the said order of court was not made against them in person but they are persons that take decision for the alleged contemnors who are not natural persons but artificial persons.
“The current application is imperative to seek leave of court to proceed against the said principal officers of the 1st and 2nd defendants in contempt.”
The lawyer said “the natural persons sought to be served in the application with Forms 48 and 49 are the respective principal officers, prime movers and alter egos of the said 1st and 2nd defendants/contemnors respectively.”
Ogbonna, who said the application was necessary “for the preservation of the res pending the conclusion of the matter,” also said that it would be in the interest of justice that the application be granted.
Justice Abang, in the ruling, held that though it was a legal impossibility to commence committal proceeding against AMCON and BPE to commit them to correctional centre, the natural persons that take action on their behalf can be committed to prison.
The judge then granted the first prayer of the plaintiffs.
“This court has jurisdiction to permit the plaintiffs under its inherent powers to enable the plaintiffs commerce committal proceeding against the natural persons,” he said.
Abang said that despite the undertaking by the counsel to the defendants on August 16, 2021 before Justice Ahmed Mohammed and reaffirmed on March 9 before him to maintain status quo, they were alleged to have acted in disobedience to the undertaking and the court order.
He, therefore, ordered that the names of Kuru, Uneze and Ismail and their designations be endorsed on Forms 48 and 49 and serve on them to enable the court to hear from them.
The judge, who struck out prayer two, held that the plaintiffs could commence committal proceeding against the 3rd to 12th defendants without the leave of court since they were already listed as parties in the suit.
No date was fixed for the commencement of the proceeding.
NAN reports that Justice Abang had February 22, 2021, set aside the order made by a sister judge, Nkeonye Maha, on January 4, 2021, in suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/001/2021 against Jimoh Ibrahim and his companies, directing AMCON to takeover Ibrahim’s assets.
Counsel to the 1st to 11th defendants in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/760/2021 had, on August 16, 2021, gave undertaking before Jutstice Ahmed Mohammed of FHC not to flout the court order in respect of the subject matter in litigation relating to the suit.
Ogbonna, however, alleged that contrary to the undertaking by their counsel “which is binding on the defendants, the defendants went ahead and took steps in defiance of the orders of this honourable court and the undertaking made by their counsel.”(NAN)