By Odunayo Abiodun:
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Friday nullified the election of Aliko Dangote as the president and chairman of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). This was the ruling in a suit filed by some aggrieved shareholders of African Petroleum (AP).
“An order is hereby made nullifying, vacating and setting aside all steps taken by the 13th defendant (NSE) in purporting to elect the 11th defendant (Mr. Dangote) as the president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, including but not limited to the entire purported election held on the 6th day of August 2009, during the pendency of this suit and in disregard of the positive order of this court made on 4th of August 2009,” the justice, Akanbi Lambo, said while delivering the judgement.
15 shareholders of AP had filed a legal action against Mr. Dangote, Nova Finance and Securities Limited and 12 others over an alleged massive manipulation of AP shares. In addition to their originating summons, the applicants urged the court to grant an order of interlocutory injunction.
Accordingly, the shareholders approached the court for an order restraining the NSE and the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) from retaining Mr. Dangote as the 1st Vice president and member of the council of the NSE, pending the determination of the suit. They also sought an order restraining Mr. Dangote from remaining the 1st Vice President and member of the council of the NSE.
However, during the proceedings in the suit on 4 August, 2009, the court presided over by Mohammed Liman ordered all parties to maintain status quo pending the hearing of the suit.
Noting that Mr. Liman could not continue in the matter because an allegation of bias was levied against him by the defendants, the suit was transferred to Mr. Lambo, who is now presiding.
Election despite court order
At the next court hearing, the applicants filed a motion on notice praying for an order of court nullifying the election of Mr. Dangote as president of the council of the NSE, during the pendency of the suit by the aggrieved AP shareholders. The election was allegedly conducted on 6 August 2009, before the next court sitting.
The motion of the applicants was predicated on the fact that despite the order of the court asking all parties to maintain status quo, the defendant went on to elect Mr. Dangote as its President.
While ruling on the motion filed by the applicants, the court held that there was indeed a positive order of this court made on 4 August 2009 commanding parties to maintain status quo. Mr. Lambo held that the 13th and 14th defendants deliberately defied the order of the court.
“The 13th and 14th (SEC) respondents, in spite of that order and in flagrant and reckless disregard of same, went ahead not only permitting the 11th respondent, Alhaji Aliko Dangote as a member of the council, but also putting him up to contest election as the National President of the council. That is certainly a deliberate and contemptuous disregard of the order of the court.” Justice Lambo said.
He added that “I see the deliberate act of officials and executives, who operate the NSE and SEC as a subtle strive and exploration by devious or dubious way to circumvent and render nugatory the true intention of the order of the court.”
In the ruling, Mr. Lambo urged the government to look for ways to punish any of it agents that default in carrying out court orders.
“The government should also look inward for a way to sanction domestically, any government functionaries found in disobedience of the court’s order,” he said. “This is the only way ‘the boys’ and those claiming to be close to power and who are laws unto themselves can be checkmated, so that genuine desire of the present administration to enthrone true and genuine democracy can be attained.”
After the ruling, the matter was adjourned to 16 March 2010, for continuation of the substantive suit filed by the shareholders.
Sunny Nwosu, national coordinator of the Independent Shareholders Association of Nigeria (ISAN), while reaction to the ruling, described the removal of Mr. Dangote as triumph for the rule of law.
Fola Sowemimo & Co, the law firm representing Mr. Dangote, in it’s reaction to the court ruling, said “Our client is obviously dissatisfied with this ruling. His position remains that he believes in the Nigerian judicial system and what it stands for, and he is confident that justice will be served and he will be vindicated. Tempting as it is to join issues and give the background to some of our concerns, the dignity of our profession requires that we follow a certain course of action. We will abide by that and as such a notice of appeal as well as application for stay of execution of the order has been filed this afternoon. We look forward to justice taking its course.”
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