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TRIBUNAL GRANTS 'WONDER BANK' LITIGANTS LEAVE TO SETTLE OUT OF COURT

By NBF News
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THE Investment and Securities Tribunal (IST) in Lagos has granted leave to parties in the suit brought by 14 investors of Nospetco Oil and Gas Limited against the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the company also known as 'Wonder Bank' to explore the possibility of settling out of court.

Presiding Chairman of the nine-man panel, Justice Salihu Usman while ruling on the matter said the idea of exploring the possibility of settling out of court was commendable, adding that the entire philosophy of Nigerian jurisprudence hinges on justice and peaceful settlement.

'Having realized that the parties have indicated that they want to settle out of court, this Tribunal hereby grant leave to parties to explore the possibilities of settling out of court', he said.

The decision of the Tribunal was sequel to the submission of the counsel to the applicants (Nospetco investors), Mr. Debo Adeleke informing the court that there is an on-going understanding between parties to explore the possibility of settling out of court in order to fast-track the process and end the sufferings of the applicants.

Confirming Adeleke's submission, counsel to the third defendant (Nospetco), Abubakar Shamshudeen of Ricky Tarfa Chambers said they have received the proposal for terms of settlement, adding that they are not opposed to it.

Also, counsel to the first defendant (SEC), Victor Adedipekun admitted knowledge of the settlement proposal and pledged his support, stating that he would like the parties to go through a Federal Government Committee, which has been set up to look into the matter.

However, Adeleke objected to that proposal, insisting that he would not reckon with a committee that has been sitting for the past two years without any meaningful progress.

He argued that the best thing was to go ahead with the settlement proposal with parties involved in the suit and report back to the Tribunal so that it (the Tribunal) would make pronouncements to give the decisions of the parties a force of law.

But counsel to the second defendant (CBN), Ms Loretta Onyenyeonwu in her own submission said she was not aware of the settlement proposal and as such has not seen the proposed terms of settlement. She, however, stated that she was just informed at the court premises some minutes ago by the applicants counsel that the other parties were muting the idea of going into settlement.

Responding, the Tribunal chairman said it was immaterial to the court whether she was informed a minute ago or not, but that the Tribunal would like to know if she is in support of the decision of parties to settle out of court. They advised her to express her disposition towards the proposal.

However, Onyenyeonwu insisted that she must inform her clients of the development before committing herself to it, an indication that the CBN was not well disposed to the settlement plan. But the Tribunal berated her and stressed that counsels must play outstanding roles in decisions involving client's dispositions to issues in court, insisting that the beauty of advocacy is settlement.

Throwing more light on the issue, Adeleke told the Tribunal that he was prepared to give the second respondent's counsel a copy of the settlement proposal after the sitting, disclosing that he wrote a letter to SEC to that effect but was told that the investors money was with the CBN and that the CBN was yet to respond to the letter written to her.

'We wrote to SEC and was informed by the secretary of the Commission that the money is in CBN. We have written to the CBN but they have not responded. But we have the proposal for the CBN counsel and it would be given to her today', he said, praying the Tribunal to grant a short adjournment to enable parties discuss the terms of settlement.

Consequently, the Tribunal granted leave to parties to examine the possibility of settling out of Court and agreed with Adeleke that when the terms are agreed, 'it shall serve as the judgment of the Tribunal.'

This development has, however, put paid to an application filed by the defendants challenging the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to hear the matter, the legality of the 14 persons to represent other investors as well as the applicants written response to the above application in which they punctured the objections.

The applicants had dragged the respondents to the IST praying the Tribunal to declare that the refusal of the first respondent (SEC) to direct the second respondent (CBN) to release the salvaged fund to the applicants on demand was contrary to its statutory duty.

The matter has been adjourned to January 26, 2011.