All is not well between an Indian-owned firm, Global Sterling Products Limited, and a Federal Government agency, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). The two are locked in a legal battle. And the victims of the feud are ordinary Nigerians who are staff and clients of the firm.
It was gathered that business at Global Sterling Products Ltd, a plant, machinery, beverages and food company, has been grounded, with its 50 members of staff unpaid since March. Clients and customers have been unable to access their goods since AMCON sealed the firm’s Lagos premises, in spite of a court order directing the government corporation to allow resumption of business activities at the firm pending the determination of a court case.
The company, located in Oregun, Lagos, has been in operation for 38 years, according to the managing director, Mr. Harish Puri, an Indian national.
On March 6, 2020, a day that Puri had believed would be business as usual, turned around to be different and marked the beginning of the company’s travails.
Opening up on his ordeal, the company’s managing director said that at about 11am that fateful day, officials of AMCON, its receiver and court bailiffs, protected by armed policemen and others numbering 35, entered the company’s premises. Waving a court order, they ordered everyone out, declaring that they had come to seal the place.
Puri said: “I wanted to know what our crime was and why we had to vacate, because we had no prior notice. But they said that they had a court order. I said they should have notified us. They showed me a paper from AMCON and said that there was a court order and we had to sign it and vacate the premises immediately.
“My staff numbering about 50 started running helter-skelter. They mounted so much pressure on us that we didn’t know what to do. Most of our phones, office phones, laptops, computers with which we transacted our regular businesses, were left on the premises. They didn’t allow us to take anything. We wanted to take some of our routine gadgets like phones, so that if there is an enquiry we could tell our customers.
“So, we started pleading that we came to work with our cars, so that they could let us leave with our cars. Finally they agreed and allowed us to take only two cars, and they locked the compound. The next day, we contacted our lawyer, Mr. Ade Adedeji, SAN, and he swung into action.
“Since then, our business has been completely dead. Our customers cannot reach us. Our systems, master computer, where we access our official emails and all that, are all in the office.”
It was gathered that, on March 29, 2019, AMCON filed a suit, FHC/L/CS/521/2019, against a company called Cortex Limited and 26 other defendants allegedly owing the Federal Government N8.4 billion.
The others are a law firm, Succedant Solicitors, Evang. (Mrs.) Adebimsola Olufunmilade Odunaiya, Mr. Olufemi Kehinde Odunaiya, Dr. (Mrs.) Olushola, Taiwo Odunaiya, Mrs. Ololade Ososami, Dr. (Mrs.) Tolulope Solola, Mr. Akin Thomas, Mr. Wole Odubanjo, ASCO Quarry Nigeria Ltd, Basorun Rotimi Obeisun, Chief (Mrs.) Bosede Obeisun, Mr. Oluwamayowa Ayokunle Obeisun, Murufudeen Olabode Abu, Kehinde Afeez Abu, Abdullahi Kamar, Juliet Kesiena David, Adeyemi Olufunmilade Adekoya, Olufunmilade Moses Adeyemi, Sani Fatima Dabai, and Michael Ayodele Ewuosho.
Global Sterling Products Ltd was not named as a party or defendant in that suit.
In addition to the suit, AMCON also appointed a receiver/manager, Mr. Lanre Olaoluwa, to run the operations of Cortex Ltd.
On March 7, AMCON’s enforcement units and sheriffs of the Federal High Court, Lagos, executed an April 11, 2019, order of Justice Rilwan Aikawa against 12 of the defendants. They seized their multi-billion naira properties in simultaneous operations at Lekki, Apapa, Ikeja, Somolu and Kosofe, Lagos.
The affected properties at Elegant Court on Mobil Road, Lekki, include 12 three-storey blocks of 72 luxury apartments, a tennis court and other facilities on 1.802 hectares. A three-storey shopping complex on Mobil Road, Lekki, was also sealed.
But many have wondered why Global Sterling Products Ltd was sealed too when it was never named as a party.
AMCON, however, explained the reason on July 24 before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke in a counter-affidavit sworn to by Ayodele Majekodunmi. It stated that Cortex obtained a loan from the former Skye Bank. now Polaris Bank, which was acquired by AMCON as a non-performing loan.
AMCON, therefore, on April 11, 2019, then obtained a court order to attach all the assets that AMCON reasonably believed to be owned by the defendants.
It said there was no evidence that the three plots of land measuring approximately 2170.897 square metres was owned by Global Sterling Products.
But Puri disagreed with AMCON’s claim. He explained to the officials that he had proof of ownership. Yet, AMCON would not budge.
He said: “They (AMCON) said the court paper showed that we had taken some kind of loan. I said our name was not there as one of the parties to the suit. They said our company’s street number, No. 98, was mentioned. I said No. 98 is very big. My neighbour, Balmoral (Events Centre) is also No. 98. They said no, this is No. 98.
“We were afraid because of the police with their guns and so on. They were violent; so, we had no option but to vacate the place.”
Puri’s counsel, Adedeji, then filed a motion on notice on March 13, before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke seeking to discharge Justice Aikawa’s order of April 11, 2019, which was in AMCON’s favour. Following that motion, Puri explained better in an affidavit of June 26, 2020, that Global Sterling Products Ltd was the victim of a fraud perpetrated by the 13th and 14th defendawnts in the suit, Murufudeen Olabode Abu and Kehinde Afeez Abu.
He said the land in question was purchased from Asphalt Company Nigeria Ltd, owned by the Abu siblings for N100 million.
Puri said this was after necessary searches had been carried out by two lawyers at the state’s Land Registry to ascertain the genuineness of the property. Parties then executed a deed of assignment dated October 24, 2008,
But the company discovered that the previous owner registered a fake document and got the Lagos State government to issue and register a private certificate of occupancy. On February 27, 2009, the Lands Bureau sealed the premises and cancelled the C of O issued to Asphalt Company of Nigeria.
Global Sterling, on March 23, 2009, wrote a letter to the Permanent Secretary of the Lands Bureau, Alausa, Ikeja, for the regularisation of the property and “the government decided to re-assign the property to the applicant (Global Sterling Products Ltd).”
He said that he petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Abuja, about the alleged fraud suspected to have been perpetrated by the previous title owners.
Puri said he had since applied for regularisation of title in respect of the unassigned portion of land that reverted back to Lagos State, and that he was in the process of regularising his title to the unassigned portion of land at 98, Kudirat Abiola Way, Ikeja, Lagos, which reverted to the Lagos State Government.”
He further told the court: “ASCO Quarry Nigeria Ltd is not the owner of the property known and described as 98, Kudirat Abiola Way, Oregun Industrial Estate, Ikeja, or any portion of it.
“That the bank on its own part failed to carry out a proper authentication of the certificate of occupancy from the authorised government agency before disbursing the loan to ASCO Quarry Nigeria Limited.
“The 22nd defendant/applicant (Global Sterling) should not suffer for the sins, ineptitude and failure to conduct a proper due diligence by Polaris Bank, whose debt was purchased by the claimant/respondent (AMCON) in this suit.
“That the 22nd defendant/applicant remains a victim of an error/fraud and is suffering huge damages due to perishable goods in the premises and factory equipment that has since remained unserviceable and open to consequential damages and loss.”
He prayed the court to set aside and discharge Justice Aikawa’s order of April 11, 2019. The company further undertook to “vacate the property in the unlikely event that, in the course of the hearing of the substantive action, the above facts are found to be false.”
On July 21, Justice Aneke upheld Global Sterling’s application and varied Justice Aikawa’s order.
He ordered AMCON to allow Global Sterling to continue running its business on its premises.
“The receiver is, therefore, restrained from interfering with 22nd defendants’ (Global Sterling Production Ltd)’s occupation and use of the said premises contained in the said 98, Kudirat Abiola Way, pending the determination of this suit. The suit is hereby adjourned till October 26, 2020 for hearing,” Justice Aneke held.
Reacting to Puri’s claims and the court’s order, the Head of Corporate Communications, AMCON, Jude Nwauzor, in a statement, described the allegations as spurious.
Nwauzor noted in the statement that the Federal High Court granted an order, which enabled AMCON to take possession of Puri’s property pending the determination of the substantive suit. He added that the agency had filed an appeal against the variation order granted to Global Sterling Products.
The statement read in part: “After execution of the above-mentioned interim order, Global Sterling Products Limited made a claim to a portion of the attached property (2170.897 square metres), while admitting that the land within the premises was far in excess of the 2,170.897 square metres covered by its certificate of occupancy. On July 21, 2020, the Federal High Court, in determination of their application, which was opposed by AMCON, granted their application in part and varied the order made on April 11, 2019.
“The corporation immediately filed an appeal against the variation order on July 22, 2020, and also filed separate applications to suspend the effect of the order before the Federal High Court on the same date and the order for injunction pending an appeal on August 26, 2020. Both the notice of appeal and the applications to suspend the order and for injunction pending appeal were promptly served on Global Sterling Products Limited through its counsel.
“By well-established rules of practice and procedure, the pending appeal and applications, all of which were immediately served on Global Sterling and were duly acknowledged by Global Sterling’s MD in the report, Global Sterling cannot take further actions on the order varying the interim order in respect of the property.
“Despite this fact, Global Sterling, through its counsel, purported to issue forms 48 notice of the consequence of disobedience of court order and form 49 notice to show cause why order of committal should not be made against the Managing Director of AMCON, Ahmed Kuru and Mr Lanre Olaoluwa despite the fact that both persons were not parties to the proceedings and the fact that no order was made against AMCON’s MD.
“AMCON has also filed preliminary objections in court against the forms 48 and 49 issued by Global Sterling on the grounds that both are incompetent. It is rather curious that while these processes have been served and are pending, Global Sterling has proceeded to make baseless and defamatory allegations of disobedience of court orders against the corporation, its managing director and the receiver/manager.”