$14million Debt: Sahara Group, Ecobank Opt for Settlement

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By Davidson Iriekpen

The Federal High Court in Lagos has adjourned till July 10, for hearing or report of settlement in a $14million debt lawsuit between Sahara Group Limited and Ecobank Nigeria Limited.

Justice Rilwan Aikawa adjourned the case at the instance of the parties, which prayed to be given time to explore possible amicable settlement of the case out of court.

As soon as the case was called in court on Friday, Sahara Group Limited’s lawyer, Mr. Bode Olanipekun, told the judge that he had been in discussion with Ecobank’s lawyer, Mr Kunle Ogunba, towards possible amicable resolution of the dispute.

“We agreed that the court should grant a short adjournment to see if we are able to reach an amicable agreement between the parties,” Olanipekun said.
Confirming the development to the judge, Ogunba said, “That is very accurate.”

Consequently, Justice Aikawa adjourned till July 10 for either report of settlement or hearing of pending applications, in case the parties fail to agree Sahara Energy Resources Limited, Isle of Man, and Sahara Group Limited had dragged Ecobank to court seeking an order to stop the bank from carrying out a “unilateral review of interest rates” on loans obtained by the oil firms.

But Ecobank filed a counter-claim, insisting that it “reserves the right to review its interest rates from time to time in line with prevailing market conditions.”

The bank claimed that based on computation, Sahara Energy Resources Limited and Sahara Group Limited were indebted to it in the sum of $14,069458.30 “being the principal sum and interest due to the counter-claimant as of 21st August, 2019.”

Ecobank said though the oil firms had offered to pay it $9,125,119.34 “as full and final settlement of their indebtedness,” it remained firm in its demand for $14,069,458.30 as their debt as of August 21, 2019.

However, the bank urged the court to, in the meantime, order the oil firms to immediately pay the $9,125,11934, which they had allegedly admitted “after the joint reconciliation carried out by parties.”

It then further prayed the court to compel the oil firms to pay it another $5,069,458.30 “being the outstanding correspondence to the defendant in tandem with the offer letters of the 1st of May, 2016 and other subsisting agreements between the parties.”

But Sahara Energy Resources Limited, Isle of Man, and Sahara Group Limited, through a motion on notice, urged the court to strike out the bank’s motion on notice and other processes on the basis that the bank wrote Sahara Energy Resources Limited, instead of Sahara Energy Resources Limited, Isle of Man, as the first plaintiff in the papers it filed.

Counsel for the oil firms contended that by omitting to include Isle of Man, in the name of Sahara Energy Resources Limited, Ecobank had “unilaterally introduced a new party to this suit that is not a party to the originating processes, without the express order of this court to do so.”

He insisted that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the papers filed by Ecobank.