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Shell, AFC, GTBank, others drag Aiteo over $2 billion loan

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A high court in England has ruled that Shell Plc, Africa Finance Corporation, and seven Nigerian banks have established their right to block Aiteo Eastern E&P Company Limited from taking legal action when a suit initiated by them against the oil firm has not been resolved.

According to court documents made available to the media, the verdict approving the “final anti-suit injunction” was delivered on April 1,

Aiteo had urged the court to set aside the interim anti-suit injunction that had been granted ex parte. An anti-suit injunction is an order of a court restraining a party from commencing a legal action in relation to a dispute subject to an ongoing arbitration.

The claimants are Africa Finance Corporation, a multilateral development finance institution headquartered in Nigeria, Shell Western Supply and Trading Limited, and several Nigerian banks including Ecobank Nigeria Limited, Fidelity Bank plc, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, Guaranty Trust Bank plc, Sterling Bank plc, Union Bank of Nigeria plc, and Zenith Bank plc.

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The case concerns a debt allegedly owed by Aiteo to the nine claimants. Details showed that based on two agreements dated September 2, 2014, Aiteo borrowed some US$2 billion from the lenders in order to purchase an interest in Nigerian oil fields and facilities. They include Shell’s OPL 29.

About 75 per cent of that funding came from AFC and the banks, regarded as “the onshore lenders”, via a Nigerian-law governed facility agreement known as “the Onshore Facility Agreement”. The rest came from Shell in the form of vendor financing via an English-law governed agreement and was dubbed “the Offshore Facility Agreement”.

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In October 2018, the parties began to correspond in relation to sums which the lenders said were due to them from the borrower. On August 19, 2019, the lenders alleged certain breaches of the agreements and asked the borrower to remedy them. On September 10, 2019, the borrower denied that any sums were due in a letter addressed to the lenders.

On October 23, 2019 the lenders’ Nigerian lawyers, Aluko & Oyebode, sent a letter demanding payment of the outstanding debt within seven days.

Eight days later, Aiteo commenced proceedings against the lenders (and four other parties) in the Nigerian Federal High Court, asking the court to declare that it was not liable as alleged in the demand letter.

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It is understood that the basis of the claim concerned allegations of force majeure which led to requests by the borrower to restructure the facility agreements. Force majeure is an unforeseeable circumstances that prevent a party from fulfilling a contract. The borrower argued that since the lenders refused to restructure, there was no default.

Aiteo subsequently obtained an injunction in from the Nigerian court restraining the banks from taking legal action and “…acting in any way or manner or taking any step to interfere with the res of this dispute by giving effect to the content of the [Demand Letter], or taking any step to enforce any right in respect of alleged indebtedness of the plaintiff (being contested and disputed in this suit)”.

The court injunction also restrained the banks from “…acting on or taking any step pursuant to or in furtherance of the [Demand Letter], from taking over, obstructing, or interfering in any way or manner howsoever with the running of the business of the Plaintiff…”.

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The banks appealed against the court injunctions, and sought an order dismissing the borrower’s suit.

Both parties have since engaged in commercial negotiations over the alleged debt. In one of its written evidence, the claimants argued that the loans, being in “extremely large amounts”, were “systemically important loans within the Nigerian banking system” and “represent significant credits on the books of the Onshore Lenders and a default under the loans would be a very serious matter for each Lender”.

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The court documents stated that no progress was made with the Notice of Appeal for a number of reasons. In early 2020 there were two adjournments, and between 24 March 2020 and 4 May 2020, court sittings were suspended on account of COVID 19. The high court and court of appeal only returned to full operation on September 28, 2020, it stated.

By October 2020, one of the claimants said that it was becoming clear to all the lenders that the negotiations were stalling and although some lenders continued to hope that they would be successful, others began to doubt that there would be a successful restructuring.

On November 23, 2020, an attempt by the CEO of Sterling Bank, one of the lenders, to break the impasse with the borrower failed.

Subsequently, in December 2020, the lenders prepared arbitration proceedings and an arbitration claim in the English court seeking an anti-suit injunction.

In the UK court judgement, the judge noted that the commencement of proceedings in the High Court of Nigeria by the borrower seeking declarations of non-liability was a breach of the arbitration agreement in the Onshore Facility Agreement and the continuation of those proceedings was a breach of the arbitration agreement in the Offshore Facility Agreement.

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After considering arguments from lawyers of both parties, the judge noted that the Nigerian Court of Appeal has recently dismissed the borrower’s application for injunction restraining the lenders from proceeding with the London arbitrations.

“That dismissal sits unhappily with the suggestion that the Lender’s Notice of Appeal had caused the Lenders to have lost their right to arbitrate,” the judgement reads in part.

With regard to the Offshore Facility Agreement, the court found that there has been no waiver of the right to arbitrate and that decision binds the borrower and the sixth claimant. It follows that the borrower remained in breach of the arbitration agreement in the Offshore Facility Agreement in December 2020, the judge noted.

“Thus, there is in the present case a clear case of a breach of the agreements to arbitrate. The court will in such a case grant an anti-suit injunction unless there are strong reasons for not doing so,” the judge declared.

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N10bn fraud: Court grants ex-Kwara gov N50m bail

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A Federal High Court sitting in Ilorin, Kwara State, has given a N50m bail condition for the embattled former governor of the state, Abdulfatah Ahmed, after he pleaded not guilty to 12 counts bordering on alleged mismanagement of public funds to the tune of N10bn.

The Ilorin Zonal Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission arraigned Ahmed before Justice Evelyn Anyadike of the Federal High Court in Ilorin on Friday.

The immediate past governor of Kwara State has been in the custody of the EFCC after being initially invited for questioning on Monday.

Among the charges against the former governor is the use of N1,610,730,500.00 meant for the security and running cost of the Government of Kwara State, in chartering private jets for local travels, on different occasions through Travel Messengers Limited, while he was governor between 2015-2019.

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Another charge against the governor was the conversion of the sum of N411m meant for the provision of security in the state between January and December 2018.

Also named as second defendant, was former Kwara state Commissioner of Finance, Ademola Banu, who, in a statement by EFCC Director of Media and Publicity, Dele Oyewale, is facing a 10-count charge “also bordering on mismanagement of public funds while he served under Ahmed’s administration as commissioner for finance”.

According to the statement, when the matter was called, EFCC’s lead counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, informed the court that Banu jumped an administrative bail granted him by the EFCC and efforts to arrest him had proved abortive.

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He urged the court to rely on Section 83 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, to issue a summons against his surety, Salami Bashiru Ola and/or a warrant of arrest against the second defendant (Banu).

The defence led by Kehinde Eleja, SAN, did not put any defence in favour of the second defendant, as he said that his appearance was for the first defendant. In a short ruling, Justice Anyadike issued a bench warrant against Banu.

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“After listening to the arguments and counter-arguments of both counsels, Justice Anyadike admitted the first defendant to bail in the sum of N50m, with two sureties in like sum.

“According to the judge, the sureties must deposit their passports with the court’s registrar. One of the sureties must have a landed property in Ilorin with the title documents of the property deposited with the Registrar of the Federal High Court,” the EFCC state read in part.

Justice Anyadike thereafter ordered the defendant to be remanded in EFCC custody pending the perfection of his bail terms, while the case was adjourned to April 29th and 30th, 2024 for the commencement of trial.

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Two guards, fuel attendants killed in Ebonyi community attack

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There was panic at the Iboko community in the Izzi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State on Tuesday, when gunmen stormed the area and killed no fewer than two security guards and two fuel attendants during attacks in the community.

An eyewitness, who pleaded anonymity, said the gunmen disguised as natives, stopped at strategic locations in the community and bought food items before unleashing the mayhem.

According to him, no few than over 500 people in the area, comprising women, traders and pupils, scampered for safety while equally abandoning their wares, when the incident occurred.

A worker at the Ebonyi State High Court, Abakaliki, told our correspondent in confidence that she missed being lynched by the hoodlums, adding the incident was destabilising.

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He said, “According to a report, the gunmen first stopped at a popular filling station at Iboko and filled their vehicles with fuel before gunning down two persons there.

“They moved to where the Ebubeagu operatives (now called Neighbourhood Vigilante members) were and opened fire on them, killing one Fredrick Idike and another person.”

The source added, “They equally used an axe to slice two of the vigilante members, whose corpses have been deposited at the mortuary.

“Yesterday was Iboko Market and the ugly incident made the traders to start running for safety.

“The whole market was deserted yesterday because of the ugly incident.”

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The Ebonyi State Police Command confirmed the incident when our correspondent contacted it.

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The Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Ukandu Joshua, said, “Yes. It happened. Two lives were lost. But we are still investigating.”

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Painter bags life jail for raping neighbour’s daughter

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The Ikeja Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Court, on Wednesday, convicted and sentenced a painter, Azeez Salau, to life imprisonment for defiling his neighbour’s nine-year-old daughter.

Justice Abiola Soladoye handed down the sentence after finding Salau guilty of the offence of defilement charge preferred against him by the Lagos State Government.

Delivering her judgment, Justice Soladoye held that the convict was a sexual pervert who entered the room of his neighbour while she had gone to work at night and sexually assaulted the girl.

The court held that the survivor recognised the convict as ‘Daddy Kalid’ who had sex with her three times in her mother’s room while her mother was at work.

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Justice Soladoye said the testimony of the survivor was clear, coherent and consistent even when she was cross-examined, as her evidence was corroborated by the medical report.

She said that the prosecution had sufficiently proved the three ingredients of defilement against the convict.

The judge held that the survivor, in this case, gave vivid, thorough evidence which was corroborated by the medical report.

“The survivor who was the first prosecution testified before this court that she lived with her mother and identified the Salau in the dock as their neighbour, known as Daddy Kalid.

“She said that the convict would come to her room and have sexual intercourse with her and that no one was usually home when it happened. She said ‘I am always on the bed and he is also on the bed with me.

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“He touches my body with his hands and uses his penis to have sex with me through my vagina.”

The court also held the evidence of Dr. Alagbe Oyedeji of Mirabel Medical Centre who said that the medical report showed multiple healed lacerations as there was blunt forceful penetration of the vagina.

Justice Soladoye also held that the testimony of the survivor’s mother who testified that she was a night worker and that the survivor and her brother were made to sleep alone in the house.

“The survivor’s mother told the court that one of her neighbours, Mummy Darasimi, informed her of the incident.”

But Salau in his defence said he had an issue with the mother of the girl but his story did not add up as he tried to distance himself from the commission of the crime.

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However, Justice Soladoye convicted him of the charge and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The judge said his name should be registered in the Lagos State Sexual Offences Register.

She said: “The convict is a neighbour to the victim and in this case, he ought not to have done what he did to the child.

“This should serve as a strong warning to the perpetrators of this act that the day of reckoning is near.

“Parents are once again advised that the need for mentorship and monitoring of their children is not negotiable. Salau is hereby found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.”

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During the trial, the state prosecution counsel, Mr Olusola Soneye, who led Ms Abimbola Abolade, had called three witnesses while the convict testified as a sole witness.

The prosecutor told the court that the convict committed the offence sometime in January 2020 at Oshiboyede Street, Selewu, Igbogbo, Ikorodu Lagos.

According to the prosecution, the offence contravened Section 137 of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2015.

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