31 January 2013

Nigeria: Judges Appointed to Handle AMCON Debt Recovery Cases

The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, has designated seven judges of the court to handle debt recovery petitions filed by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).

The judges are: Justices Ibrahim Buba, John Tsoho, Mohammed Idris, Okon Abang, Chukwujekwu Aneke, Elvis Chukwu and Ramat Mohammed.

Investigations by THISDAY revealed that while five of the judges are currently sitting in the Lagos division of the court, two are in Abuja.

It was further revealed that the decision to designate the judges might not be unconnected with difficulties AMCON confronts in the recovery of debts owed the corporation for loans obtained by businessmen and their companies from the banks.

In designating the seven judges, Justice Auta complied with Section 53 of the AMCON Act, which empowers him, in his capacity as the chief judge, to assign judges to hear AMCON's petitions on debt recovery.

The section states: "The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court may designate any judge of the Federal High Court to hear matters for the recovery of debts owed the corporation or an eligible institution and other matters arising from the provision of this Act to the exclusion of any other matter for such period as may be determined by the chief judge."

Investigations further revealed that there are over 70 petitions filed by AMCON and banks against adamant and recalcitrant businessmen and companies mostly in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt divisions of the court but with very little progress made towards their resolution.

The move, it was gathered, is aimed at expediting action on the petitions in order to recover the debts.

When contacted on the issue, a source in AMCON confirmed that seven judges had been designated to handle cases brought before the Federal High Court in Lagos and Abuja, stating that it was a welcome development.

He added that AMCON intends to pursue all cases with vigour in order to recover the debts owed it.

Recently, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who was irked by the delay in concluding suits instituted by banks against their debtors, called for a special court to handle suits relating to debt recovery, breach of contracts, finance and banking in the country.

The situation had even prompted a cross-section of lawyers in the country to at various times call for the subdivision of courts at the Federal High Court, particularly in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, where there are high concentration of judges, similar to what obtains in the Lagos State judiciary.

At the Lagos State High Court, courtrooms are subdivided or designated into criminal, commercial, probate and land divisions.

This enables each of the courts and judges to focus on the cases and deliver ruling in a timely manner.

AMCON, which had acquired over N3 trillion in non-performing loans from banks, recently informed THISDAY that it had restructured over N1 trillion loans owed by debtors.

Besides seeking judicial assistance in the recovery of the debts, the CBN has introduced measures that would assist AMCON recover some of the debts.

One of these included the directive by the central bank last year barring banks in the country from extending further credit to 113 companies and 419 directors/shareholders.

The move was as a result of the reluctance by the debtors to pay back their loans despite the purchase of the debts at an agreed price by AMCO.

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