Olugbenga Soyele:

BARELY 24 hours after he was named among the richest men in the world by Forbes, business mogul Alhaji Aliko Dangote lost his headship of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), courtesy of an order of a Federal High Court in Lagos.
Justice Lambo Akanbi  gave the order while ruling on a suit filed by some aggrieved shareholders of African Petroleum (AP) against Dangote, the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), Securities and Exchange Commission, Femi Otedola and 10 others.
The judge declared: “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 (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 fifteen-shareholders of AP had filed the action against the 14 defendants over an alleged massive manipulation of AP shares.
In addition to their originating summon, the applicants urged the court to grant an order of interlocutory injunction ordering all parties in the case to maintain status quo.
This order was granted by the former judge handling the case, Justice Mohammed Liman, the judge at the time directed parties to maintain status quo pending the hearing and determination of the suit shortly before the said election.
However, Justice Liman could not continue with the case because an allegation of bias levelled was against him by the defendants, the suit was then transferred to Justice Akanbi.
The counsel representing the shareholders, Onyebuchi Aniakor, had instituted a contempt proceeding against the respondents, urging the court to set aside the purported election held on August 6 last year.
According to the lawyer, the election in the particular circumstances of the case was unlawful and amounted to a calculated attempt to undermine the judiciary.
While ruling on the motion for contempt, the court held that there was indeed a positive order of the court made on 4th August 2009, compelling all parties in the suit to maintain status quo.
Justice Lambo also held that the 13th and 14th defendants deliberately defied the order of the court.
“The 13th (NSE) 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.”
He further held 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.”
“The conduct of all officials of NSE and SEC who organized the purported election is reprehensible and highly condemnable. They perhaps look at the court and think that it can only bark but can not bite. This court will make them to see that our teeth are not only sharp; they can be poisonous when they chose to bite.
“The court will not allow tham to treat the court orders as useless by refusing to obey them lest anarchy may set in and in a developing country like ours where people particularly the illiterates are literarily itching to take law into their hands,we will lapse into the dark ages and becomes once again the dark country which we where recently portrayed by the civilized committee of nations” the judge held.
Also in the ruling Justice 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. This is the only way that “the boys” and those claiming to be close to power and who laws unto themselves are can be checkmated, so that genuine desire of the present administration to enthrone true and genuine democracy can be attained.”
The matter has been adjourned to March 16, 2010, for continuation of hearing of the substantive suit filed by the shareholders and the preliminary objection raised by some of the defendants.
While reacting to the ruling counsel to Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Seyi Showemimo (SAN) 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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