A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has dismissed a N300 billion suit filed by Dr. Wale Babalakin, and his five companies, against the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) for freezing his bank accounts.
The suit was dismissed for lack of merit, with the punitive cost of N10,000 awarded against him and his companies.
Babalakin's companies joined as claimants/applicants in the suit are Bi-Courtney Limited, Chartered Investment Limited, Resort International Limited and Roygate Properties Limited.
The suit (No. FHC/L/CS/1361/2014) was instituted against AMCON, following an ex-parte order of 22 September, 2014 by Justice Okon Abang, which stopped him from withdrawing money from all his bank accounts in the country.
In the suit, Babalakin and his companies had sought an order of the court to direct AMCON to pay him a total sum of N300 billion as general, aggravated and exemplary damages.
The claimants had also sought a declaration that as at 22 September, 2014, AMCON's offer letter, dated 7 May, 2014, could neither create nor could have created a new cause of action, either to him or the defendant as same arose from settlement process engaged in by them in the bid to resolve the dispute which was the subject matter of several court actions.
Babalakin and his companies also sought a declaration that AMCON fraudulently misinterpreted and/or concealed material facts in order to procure the ex-parte order.
In addition, they sought a declaration that they are entitled to be compensated in damages by AMCON due to the defendant's commencement of Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1361/2014, the effects arising from it as well as the AMCON's conduct in the aftermath of the court setting aside of the order.
In his evidence during the trial, Babalakin said he and his companies suffered substantial losses, including that of business on account of inability to access their bank accounts. He added that they also suffered loss of business owing to the lowering of their reputation and that of their businesses in the eyes of the general public and their business partners on account of AMCON's publication.
The applicants further told the court that their losses arose from AMCON obtaining the ex-parte order.
Consequently, they urged the court to grant their requests. But in its statement of defence filed before the court by Lagos lawyer, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), AMCON stated that being a body with the statutory responsibility of resolving non-performing loans in commercial banks, it acted in good faith and in accordance with its powers to recover the over N54billion owed by Babalakin and his companies, purchased the non-performing loans from various banks, following the claimants’ inability to repay the loans, and instituted recovery actions against them.
AMCON stated further that following protracted litigation, both parties met and agreed on an out- of-court-settlement, marked by a debt settlement agreement. An offer letter dated 7 May, 2014, added AMCON, was issued to the claimants, who failed to adhere to the terms of the letter.
Following the claimants’ failure to abide by the terms and on receiving legal advice, AMCON said it instituted Suit No. FHC/CS/1361/2014 to enforce the terms of the offer letter and that Justice Okon Abang granted ex-parte order of possession over properties belonging to the claimants and freezing orders over their bank accounts.
AMCON added that the ex-parte order was, however, set aside by Justice Ibrahim Buba on the ground that the suit constituted an abuse of court process. Dissatisfied with Justice Buba's ruling, it filed an appeal in Suit No. CA/L/930/2014 before the Lagos division of Appeal Court.
It explained that while the appeal is still pending, the claimants filed the suit just dismissed. AMCON, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the suit for being an abuse of court process and for failure to disclose a reasonable cause of action. It also branded the suit as premature and one over which the court lacks jurisdiction.
In dismissing the Babalakin's suit, Justice Idris said: "In conclusion, I find no merit in this case and it is at this moment dismissed. N10, 000, cost is awarded in favour of AMCON, the defendant against Babalakin and his companies”.
Explaining how the conclusion was reached, Justice Idris said: “It takes me to a very important issue I wish to address arising from the proceedings that led to this judgment. The issue has to do with the duty of a counsel to properly and fully represent his client. Once a counsel accepts a brief from his client, he is under a solemn professional duty to properly and fully represent the client.
As a repository of knowledge of the law, counsel must work hard on each individual case he is handling in terms of researching afresh and always keeping in touch with the facts of the case, especially at the trial stage. This is because he is duty bound by any strategy or procedure he adopts and he cannot recline from it together with the consequences flowing from that place.
Although, the court may intervene in the face of an obvious incompetence, it can only do so if the intervention will not occasion a miscarriage of justice to the other-another side.”