N22.45bn Wonder Bank Funds: Court Declares Nospetco Investors’ Suit against CBN, SEC Statute-barred

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Efforts by Nospetco Oil & Gas Limited investors to recover their investment worth N22, 445, 571 446.84 billion may have suffered a technical setback as a Federal High Court in Lagos has dismissed their suit against the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Justice Lewis Allagoa in his ruling on a Preliminary Objection, filed by counsel to the CBN, Mr. Olumuyiwa Aduroja, held that the suit filed by Nospetco investors is statute-barred and no longer legally enforceable owing to a prescribed period of limitation having lapsed.

Fourteen Nospetco investors through their lawyer, Debo Adeleke, had on behalf of 13, 741 other investors, instituted suit number FHC/L/248/2012, against the Security & Exchange Commission, (SEC), the Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN), and Nospetco Oil & Gas limited.

The plaintiffs are praying the court to mandate the 2nd Defendant (CBN) to release a sum of N22, 445, 571, 446.84 presently in its custody on the instruction of the 1st Defendant.

They are also praying the court to mandate the CBN to release the N22, 445,571,446.84 billion back to the investors through their solicitor or through the court in a profit-yielding account.

In addition, the plaintiffs also prayed the court for an order compelling the 3rd Defendant, (Nospetco Oil &Gas limited) to stop forthwith its illegal, unlawful and fraudulent business and banking activities, which it has been relentlessly carrying out under the covers since May 2007.

Also, they are demanding for N10 million damages against the defendants.

However, Justice Allagoa in his ruling upheld the submissions of CBN counsel, Aduroja that the plaintiffs failed to commence the suit within the statutory period of three months as prescribed under CAP. P41, LFN, hence the court has no jurisdiction to entertain the suit.

Aduroja had in a preliminary objection brought pursuant to Section 6(6) (b) of the Constitution and Section 53 of Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, argued that the plaintiffs’ cause of action arose on May 2007, and the suit was filed in 2012.

He argued that the suit was filed five years beyond the three months within which the plaintiffs were allowed to bring an action against a public officer including corporate or statutory corporations or bodies like the CBN.

Aduroja urged the court to hold that the issue of limitation touches on the jurisdiction of the Court and can be raised at any time.

He stated that the 2nd Defendant (CBN) became involved in the transaction in the process s of carrying out its statutory duties under Section 2 of the CBN Act 2001, saying that by the provision of Section 53 (1) of BOFIA, the 2nd Defendant was protected against any adverse claims for anything done or omitted to be done in good faith in connection with the execution of any power conferred upon the bank.

He further argued that the provision of Section 53 (1) of BOFIA applies to the 2nd Defendant not only when it is implementing the provisions of BOFIA but also when it is carrying out its statutory duties under the Central Bank of Nigeria Act, 2007.

The Supreme Court had affirmed that the rights of Investors in Nospetco Oil & Gas Ltd to approach the court for recovery of their money.

The apex court decision had aligned with the judgement of the Court of Appeal which held that the money actually belonged to the investors.

The 14-year old legal battle began when SEC declared a scheme founded by Nospetco Oil and Gas Limited illegal.

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