The legal battle between a private firm, Mauritz Walton and the Abia state government over N12 billion Paris Club Refund contractual dealings has resumed before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, where the state lost its bid to obtain a stay the proceedings of the case.
The firm has sued the Abia state government over its alleged refusal to pay the consultancy fee of N12bn after it successfully carried out reconciliation on the Paris Club Refund to the state.
Abia State government, Attorney General of the state, United Bank for Africa and Ziplon Concept, are the 1st to 4th defendants respectively in the case.
The court equally dismissed a motion by one of the defendants to the suit, Ziplon Concept, for an indefinite adjournment of the case to await the outcome of its appeal pending at the Court of Appeal. Justice K. N. Ogbonnaya of the Kubwa division of the court in her ruling dismissed the motion on the grounds that the outcome of the appeal would not affect the substantive matter of the case. The court consequently ordered the 1st and 2nd defendants to open their defence. Smith Imowo, who held the brief of Jeff Nijokonye (SAN), had argued that the 4th defendant has appealed against the ruling of the court in July this year which foreclosed the right of the 4th to file a statement of defence after abandoning the case for more than two years. It was shortly after the ruling that counsel to Abia state, Chukwuma Machukwu Ume (SAN), requested for a long adjournment to enable him to look through the case file.
In addition, he told the court that the “long reasonable time,” would also enable him to consult his clients on whether to appeal the ruling of the court which refused to stay proceedings because of the 4th defendant’s appeal.
He also said he was new in the case and needed time to go through the file. “I’m just coming into the matter today, I will not be able to comply with the ruling of today asking the 1st and 2nd defendants to open their defence. I have not opened the file, I don’t even know the witnesses. In line with Section 36(1&2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended) which gives defendants leave to defend themselves properly, I ask for a long and reasonable time to prepare the defence. I have taken a sober analysis of your ruling just delivered, I need time to immediately revert to my clients and I’m sure they will want to escalate the appeal against this wonderful ruling. I apply for a long adjournment.”
However, counsel to the plaintiff, Isaac Anumudu, who led Charles Udeh and Uzoma Konyeaso, countered Ume, opposing the oral application for long adjournment.
He held that it was a ploy to frustrate the case. According to him if there was a need for adjournment it should be a very short one because the case has lingered for too long.
He reminded the court that the defendants had earlier vowed openly to frustrated the matter, to make sure it does not see the light of the day.
He noted that Section 36 the counsel to the 1st and 2nd defendants referred to actually favoured the plaintiff’s case.
He wondered while the defendants will keep changing counsel, and any time a new counsel comes will ask for a long adjournment.
He added Ume was the fourth counsel since the matter started in 2014 while reminding the court that when Ogbolafor took over the case last year through a fiat, he did the same thing and was obliged by the court.
He also wondered how an intention to appeal a ruling and interface with clients has become a ground to ask for a long adjournment.
“A counsel had come here before to lie that he wrote a petition to Chief Justice (CJ) to disqualify the court alleging bias. When we went to CJ’s office, it was found out that was no petition. All was to frustrate and delay opening their defence.”
In a ruling, Justice Ogbonnaya held that it is common knowledge in law that chambers handle cases and not an individual.
“Fair hearing is opened to all parties in a suit. It is to be enjoyed by all. Any counsel who wants to enter into a matter must follow the laid down rules. Recording and notes of proceedings hold captive the judge and all parties, they speak louder than human brains. A fair hearing is not an open cheque that an individual can add an amount to be cashed,” she held.
She held further: The learned silk did not file any process to say he is new in the matter. If he said he was new he would not have been given time in the matter. He repeatedly said he has not seen the file until only today. That is shockingly surprising for the learned silk to have said that which is shockingly strange.
It is surprising that a counsel can come to the court stating such reasons why a matter should be adjourned. It is more strange that a Senior Advocate of Nigeria can give such an explanation without first taking a deep look before accepting to lead the team of lawyers. The court finds it difficult to believe that this time the learned silk can agree to do so, to lead a team in a case that has lingered for over four years, when he has not seen the statement on oath of the plaintiff, and notes in the case. I find it difficult to believe. Asking for long adjournment of a case of over four years is strange and shocking to me. I can’t sacrifice justice, delay or truncate it.
“Telling the court that he will revert to his clients is saddening, with due respect, is disrespectful to the court and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. No judge or court will entertain adjournment base on such grounds.”
She consequently dismissed the application and ordered the 1st and 2nd defendants to open their defence while adjourning the matter to Oct. 14.
In the suit marked: FCT/HC/CV/2470/2017, filed by Charles Udeh, the plaintiff is seeking the order of the court to make the Abia government pay Mauritz Walton Nig.Ltd, the sum of N12bn being a consulting fee for the Paris Club Refund.
The firm said the Abia government had engaged it to pursue the refund of excess deductions on foreign loans and miscellaneous charges in exchange for 30% per cent of any fund recovered.
In the affidavit by the Chief Executive Officer/Director, Mauritz Walton Nig. Ltd., a consultancy firm, Dr Maurice Ibe averred that Abia state government owes the firm the sum of N12bn.
He said Abia state government had engaged Mauritz Walton Nig. Ltd on the 3rd of November, 2014 to reconcile and pursue the refund of excess deductions on foreign loans and miscellaneous charges in exchange for 30 per cent of any fund recovered.
But since the completion of the reconciliation and have been paid, according to Dr Ibe, the Abia government refused to fulfil its part of the agreement, but rather suspiciously brought in another firm (Ziplon Concept) to claim the consultancy fee.