*Orders immediate payment of funds due to firm
A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered Katsina State Government to pay a firm, Mauritz Walton Nigerian Limited over N13.3billion for the debt management services it rendered to the state, which aided the refund of the $217,274,991.01 to Katsina by the Federal Government.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgment on Monday, held that Mauritz Walton was able to establish, through credible evidence, that it was entitled to its claims as laid out in its suit filed and argued on its behalf by its legal team led by Wole Olanipekun (SAN).
Justice Ekwo said the N13,253,774,451.60 to be paid to Mauritz Walton, formed 20 per cent of the $217,274,991.01 refunded to Katsina State Government.
The judge ordered the state government to, in addition, pay the firm 20 per cent interest on the judgment sum to be calculated from October 1, 2018 until the day the judgment was given, and thereafter, at the rate of 10 per cent per annum until full and final payment.
The judgement was on a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1298/2017 by Mauritz Walton against the Minister of Finance, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Accountant General of the Federation, Katsina State Government and its banker, the United Bank for Africa Plc.
Mauritz Walton claimed that it was appointed by Katsina State, by a letter dated August 18, 2014, with reference No: MOF/STAFF/409/1/31 to ascertain and recover the excess deductions by the Federal Government from its account to service its external debt between July 1995 and March 2002.
The firm stated that it was agreed between it and the Katsina State Government that it would be paid 20 per-cent of what was due to the state from the excess deduction, which is commonly referred to as the Paris Club refund.
Mauritz Walton’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr. Maurice Ibe stated, in his witness statement that, through his firm’s efforts, it was ascertained that Katsina State was entitled to $217,274,991.01 (estimated at N66,268,872,258.00 calculated at an exchange rate of $1 to N305) as Paris Club refund.
Ibe added that his firm’s efforts yielded further results when President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2016 directed the payment of the first tranche of the Paris Club refund to states, including Katsina.
He stated that, although almost all the amounts due to Katsina State had been paid into the state’s account, marked: 1019265062, in the United Bank for Africa (UBA), the state has refused and failed to pay his firm the 20 per cent fees agreed between parties.
Ibe further stated that despite the pendency of the suit and existing interim orders by the court, restraining further payment to Katsina, the 2nd defendant (Central Bank of Nigeria), on the instruction of the 1st defendant (Finance Minister) paid N35,364,610,435 to the 4th defendant (Kastina State), through the 5th defendant (UBA).
Justice Ekwo, in his judgment on Monday, said: “I fInd, by the evidence in this case, that the plaintiff has established the essential ingredients that must exist for a contractual relationship to be founded, that is; offer, acceptance, consideration, intention to create legal relationship and the capacity of the parties to enter into a contractual relationship by credible evidence which has not been successfully discredited by the defendants especially the 4th defendant.
“I hold therefore, that there was an agreement between the plaintiff and the 4th defendant for the payment of 20% commission charge of the recovered sum to the plaintiff by the 4th defendant.
“It is my finding also, that the defendants are ad idem (are in agreement) that the excess deductions have been fully paid to the 4th defendant and this was done during the subsistence of the debt management consultancy agreement between the 4th defendant and the plaintiff,” he said.
The judge faulted claims by the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th defendants that they ought not to be joined in the suit on the grounds that they were not parties to the contract between the plaintiff and the 4th defendant (Katsina State).
“The 1st defendant (Minister of Finance) was duly informed and it actually acknowledged the receipt of notices of the appointment of the plaintiff as a debt management consultant of the 4th defendant.
“Since the 1st defendant has been so notified, it cannot claim not to know about the contract between the 4th defendant and the plaintiff on the debt recovery consultancy.
“The same applies to the 2nd and 3rd defendants (Central Bank of Nigeria and Accountant General of the Federation), who are agencies of the 1st defendants.
“The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th (UBA) ought not to have taken steps that disturbed the res (subject of dispute) in this matter, especially when proceedings were on-going in this case and in the face of the orders of court to that effect.”
Justice Ekwo noted that it was strange that despite the presence of its lawyer through out the duration of the proceedings, the Accountant General of the Federation did not file a defence in the case.
He held that :”The implication of a defendant failing to file a statement of defence in response to a statement of claim is well known in our jurisprudence. The law is that where there is no statement of defence filed in response to a statement of claim, the averments in the statement of claim are deemed as admitted.”
Justice Ekwo further held that: “upon the evaluation of the relevant documentary evidence before this court, which evidence I have stated in the preceding pages of this judgement, I therefore have the requisite premise to hold that the case of the plaintiff has succeeded on the preponderance of evidence before this court.”
The judge proceeded to declare that the plaintiff was entitled to the 20 per cent of the $217,274,991.01 refunded to Katsina State Government by the Federal Government during the pendency of the contract between the 4th defendant and the plaintiff.
He ordered that the 4th defendant pays forthwith to the plaintiff the sum of N13,253,774,451:60 being its (the plaintiff’s) due remuneration for the consultancy services rendered by the plaintiff to the 4the defendant, leading to the recovery and release of 4th defendant’s said external debt excess debit refunds.
“The 4th defendant is hereby ordered to pay interest on the said sum of N13,253,774,451:60 at the rate of 20 per cent per annum from October 1, 2018 until judgment and thereafter at the rate of 10 per cent per annum until full and final payment,” the judge said.
Practical Considerations to Negotiate an Enforceable Joint Operating Agreement in Civil Law Jurisdictions (Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, 2020) By Professor Damilola S. Olawuyi, LL. B (1st Class), BL (1st Class), LL.M (Calgary), LL.M (Harvard), DPhil (Oxford), Professor of Law and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Nigeria, www.damilolaolawuyi.com. & Professor Eduardo G. Pereira, LL. B (Brazil), LL.M (Aberdeen), PhD (Aberdeen),www.eduardogpereira.com
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