A decade after their N23.7 billion was deposited with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), 14 of 14,296 investors of a giant oil firm, NOSPETCO Oil and Gas Limited, have approached the Supreme Court for intervention. The investors are contesting the N23.7 billion allegedly deposited in the apex bank by SEC following an embargo it placed on NOSPETCO’s operations.
They are asking the Supreme Court to compel the CBN to release the money trapped in its coffer even as some of them are already in the grave while others are on sick bed as a result of the shock the alleged seizure of their investment had brought upon them. CBN and SEC are to defend the suit initiated by the 14 of the 14,296 in-vestors in respect of the trapped N23.7 billion in the apex bank’s coffer.
The initiators of the suit – Prince Matiluko Emmanuel Olorunnimbe, Comrade Badejo Kenny Rowland, Mrs. Victoria Omotunde George, Ishatayo Taofeek Akanni, George Ushie, John Igho, Joshua Zamani Kanwai, Wada Patrick FWA, Alhaji Abubakar Buba, Yakubu S. Lawal, Col. Gil sese, Hajiya Bilikisu Haruna Rawayau, Olorunfemi Adesina Biodun and Adedeji Adegoke Lawrence, alongside 14,282 others had allegedly invested N23.7 billion in NOSPETCO solely for importation, sale and distribution of petroleum products and cooking gas. But shortly after their investment in the firm, SEC in 2007 allegedly stopped NOSPETCO’s operations, describing it illegal.
Besides, the regulatory operator allegedly froze NOSPETCO’s various bank accounts and deposited the money with the CBN on behalf of the investors. Miffed by this, NOSPETCO filed a suit No: IST/OA/19/07 at the Investment & Security Tribunal (IST) in 2011 wherein it challenged SEC’s power to declare its business illegal.
Already, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) has taken over the suit at the Supreme Court. Determined to recover the N23.7 billion trapped in CBN, the investors had constituted themselves into a group known as NOSPETCO Investors Forum being led by a lawyer, Mr. Debo Adeleke. Although the initiators of the suit – 14 of the 14,296 registered NOSPETCO investors in a representative capacity, commenced litigation at the Investment and Security Tribunal (IST) in 2011.
They, in suit No: SC/305/2012 sued SEC and the CBN as codefendants. Their trouble began when NOSPETCO Oil & Gas Ltd was allegedly listed amongst 48 companies by the Federal Government as ‘Wonder Banks’ following a judgement in suit No: IST/OA/17/07.
NOSPETCO had, between 2004 and 2005, allegedly encouraged thousands into its investment scheme with each slot attracting N450,000 with a promise of monthly N40,000 on each slot. This, according to the firm, would be ploughed into importation, sale and distribution of petroleum products and cooking gas.
But this plan may have gone awry as SEC wielded the big stick and stopped NOSPETCO’s operation as it allegedly described the firm’s activities illegal. Also, SEC froze NOSPETCO’s accounts in some banks and re-deposited the money, amounting to N23.7 billion with the Central Bank of Nigeria in trust for the investors. But NOSPETCO challenged SEC’s powers in the suit No: IST/OA/19/07 at IST to declare its business illegal.
The suit was dismissed. NOSPETCO did not appeal the ruling. Instead, NOSPETCO’s investors jointly filed a suit against NOSPETCO Oil & Gas Ltd, SEC and CBN for the release of their money.
At the IST, NOSPETCO Oil & Gas Ltd challenged the jurisdiction of the tribunal by way of preliminary objection. The tribunal ruled in favour of the investors.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, NOSPETCO Oil & Gas Ltd appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The appellate court, however, held that it was the Federal High Court and not IST that had jurisdictional powers to entertain the suit as the suit had SEC and the CBN as parties. Determined to compel CBN to release the money, the investors, led by their lawyer, Adeleke, headed for the Federal High Court, Lagos, instead of appealing against the judgement of the Court of Appeal.
At the Federal High Court, the investors told on how scores of them had suffered terminal ailment while others were bedridden just as they said the seizure of the N23.7 billion had led to broken homes and divorces. They had also filed a notice of appeal at the Supreme Court against the Court of Appeal judgement that did not favour it.
The investors also sought a cross appeal against part of the judgement which held that it was the Federal High Court and not IST that had jurisdiction to entertain the case. They are now asking the apex court for extension of time to cross appeal against part of its judgement as contained in their Motion on Notice, that IST lacked the requisite jurisdictional powers to entertain the matter. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has fixed April 3 for hearing.