The Federal High Court in Lagos, Nigeria, will hear on May 30 all pending applications in a debt recovery suit filed against Senator Stella Oduah by Sterling Bank Plc. 

The bank alleges that Ms. Oduah and her Sea Petroleum and Gas company owe it over $16.4m and N100.4m.

In court today, Ijeoma Esom, representing Sea Petroleum, said she had not been served with a copy of the petition, although she has filed a preliminary objection to the suit. The same complaint was made by A. Nweke, representing Ms. Oduah, who also noted that he has filed an application urging the court to discharge the order of the court freezing the account of the defendants.

Kemi Balogun, representing Sterling Bank and leading 10 other lawyers, affirmed that the court’s order was advertised in two national daily newspapers, copies of which he showed, corroborating his argument by showing the court the proof of service by its bailiff. 

Nonetheless, the defendants’ lawyers urged the court to grant them an extension of time for them to file their responses to the petition. 

The matter was initially pending before Justice Abdulaziz Anka, before it was transferred to the current judge, A. O. Faji. 

It would be recalled that two months ago, the court restrained Senator Oduah, Sea Petroleum and its directors, from making any withdrawals whatsoever from the account of the company and of three other limited liability companies: Sea Shipping Agency Limited, Rotary Engineering Services Limited, and Tour Afrique Company Limited at 21 commercial banks listed before the court over the indebtedness at issue.

The court granted another order directing the said commercial banks holding Stella Oduah and the four companies' assets to sequestrate up to the indebtedness of Stella Oduah and Sea Petroleum and Gas Company Limited in in both sums as of November 2016, and keep same in an interest-yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar of the Federal court pending the determination of the suit filed before the court to recover the debt.

The order of the court was sequel to an affidavit sworn to by the business manager, Maritime of Sterling Bank, Segun Akinsanya, filed and argued before the court by Mr. Balogun.

Mr. Akinsanya, in the affidavit averred that on October 8,2012, the bank granted a lease/cabotage vessel finance facility to Sea Petroleum in a sum of over $10m to finance one unit 5,000MT tanker vessel.

The loan was secured by an unconditional personal guarantee of the companies’ director, Ms. Oduah, supported by a statement of her net worth, legal mortgage of two properties worth N135million, power of attorneys of the tanker vessel in favor of Sterling Bank, a fully executed irrevocable standing payment order and a tripartite remittance agreement between First Bank, Sterling Bank and Ms. Oduah.

It was further averred that on June 27, 2013 Sea Petroleum requested and was granted additional facilities in the sum of $449,600.00 for post-delivery expenses, $642,954.00 and $350,000, to meet the requisite conditions of the Federal High Court in securing the release of the tanker. 

He then stated that following the persistent failure of the defendants to liquidate their indebtedness, Sterling Bank then instructed the law firm of Oluwakemi Balogun to recover the debt.

According to him, despite several reminders, demands, pleas and persuasion from the bank and its solicitor, the defendants were said to have failed or refused to liquidate their indebtedness, culminating in the total sum of $16,412,819.06 and N100,493,225.59 as of November 2016.

Mr. Akinsanya further averred that the defendants are also greatly indebted to a number of banks and have conceded a number of assets to AMCON, which has stepped into the shoes of those banks.  As a result, he asserted that there is an imminent risk of the defendants dissipating the assets of the companies, and he therefore urged the court to grant the order restraining Ms. Oduah and other directors of Sea Petroleum from withdrawing money from the accounts of the companies domiciled with the 21 banks listed before the court, pending the final determination of the debt-recovery suit. 

Meanwhile, based on the ex-parte application filed and argued before the court by Mr. Balogun that it has been difficult to serve court processes and orders on the defendants, the previous judge, Mr. Anka, had ordered that further processes be advertised in two newspapers.

Justice Faji will hear all the pending applications on May 30. 

Stella Oduah and her multi-million dollar oil tanker the Sea Sterling

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