The timely intervention of lawyers at the premises of the Federal High Court, Lagos, Tuesday, stopped the war of words between two senior Nigerian lawyers from degenerating into fisticuffs.
At the end of the day’s court proceedings, Olisa Agbakoba and Wale Babalakin, who have been engaged in a protracted and bitter legal dispute, threw caustic words at each other outside the courtroom.
Both lawyers are Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
On September 22nd, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court appointed Mr. Agbakoba’s client, the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON, as receiver of Bi-Courtney Nigeria Limited, Mr. Babalakin’s firm.
But on Tuesday, Justice Ibrahim Buba, of the same Federal High Court vacated Mr. Abang’s ruling, which was barely one week old.
A furious Mr. Agbakoba stepped out of the court room to the sight of Mr. Babalakin, who had been waiting in his Toyota jeep during the court’s proceeding and was just getting out of his car.
“Wale, give me my money. I will collect my money from you, and that is final,” Mr. Agbakoba bellowed at Mr. Babalakin.
“Why do you want to ruin me? You want to kill my businesses. I will never allowed you,” the Bi-Courtney boss shot back.
Mr. Agbakoba, further enraged, wagged a finger at Mr. Babalakin: “You this small lawyer, when did you start practising sef? I’m 40 years at the bar, and so you are too small to me.”
The war of words continued until their fellow senior colleagues intervened.
On September 22, Justice Abang granted possession, management and control of assets belonging to Bi-Courtney Limited, Chartered Investment Limited, Resort International Limited and Roygate properties to AMCON.
The assets include the Murtala Mohammed Airport 2, Lagos, (the domestic wing of the airport) owned by Bi-Courtney pursuant to a concession agreement with the Federal Government and the Old Federal Secretariat building Ikoyi Lagos, belonging to Roygate Properties pursuant to another concession agreement between Roygate and the Federal Government.
The Court also appointed Mr. Agbakoba as Receiver to realize the assets of the companies, enforce the individual liability of the shareholders and directors and to manage the affairs of the above mentioned companies for the purpose of recovering debts owed to the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria.
The Court also granted orders freezing the various bank accounts of the companies and directed the banks to disclose all account balances.
AMCON had through Mr. Agbakoba applied to the Federal High Court for orders of possession and receivership over these assets as a result of the failure of these companies to pay a cumulative debt of about N50 Billion owed to AMCON.
But in his ruling on Tuesday, Justice Buba upturned all the orders of his colleague, noting that the true facts of the case were not disclosed to Justice Abang.
“This court has no doubt its process has been abused. It has been misled on the issue of settlement breaking down and obtaining orders ex-parte while cases are pending in court, with orders subsisting,” Mr. Buba said.
“Where a court of law feels its orders are irregularly obtained, or its process abused, it shall deal with the process instantaneously, without any formality, to protect its integrity.
“The order is a nullity, having been obtained ex-parte in the face of subsisting orders already made by this court and also which constitute an abuse of the court process. This court will not suspend it (the order).
“The court has inherent jurisdiction to deal with abuse of its process and any conduct that impugns its integrity.
“I so deem and set aside the orders of 22nd of September 2014 made by my brother Abang J. The court was misled. It is within the issues that this court can deal with.”
Earlier, Abiodun Layonu, Bi-Courtney’s lawyer, had expressed surprise with the orders of Justice Abang, noting that Justice Buba had already barred AMCON from either appointing a receiver or taking over the companies.
“For AMCON to now secretly obtain another order at variance with a subsisting order from a different court is an attempt to scandalize this court and cause confusion,” Mr. Layonu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, told Justice Buba.
“Already, banks and the police are already implementing Abang’s orders, and that is the more reason why this court should act fast,” he added.
But Mr. Agbakoba countered the Bi-Courtney lawyer’s claims, noting that the suit before Mr. Abang was filed pursuant to the admission by Mr. Babalakin that he was owing AMCON N50 billion.
Dissatisfied with Tuesday’s ruling, AMCON, through Mr. Agbakoba, has filed a notice of appeal at the Court of Appeal in Lagos.