SAN Demands N115m Fees from Client

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A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Prof Yemi Akinseye-George, is demanding a fee of N115 million from a firm, Nacenn Nigeria Ltd, for services rendered in recovering a debt. But, the company has filed a counter-claim, insisting its contract with the SAN had ended. The firm claims the SAN misled it into overpaying him and is demanding a refund.

What began as a cordial Lawyer-client relationship between Prof Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN and a company, Nacenn Nigeria Limited, has ended up a subject of litigation. The SAN sued the firm, over alleged unpaid professional fees of N115 million. He is praying the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, for an order to “attach and deduct” the sum from the balance in the company’s account, and to transfer it to his account.

The money in the account, he said, are inflows from judgement sums received from the Federal Government, which he facilitated.

But, the company filed a counter-claim, asking for a refund of N50 million which it claimed it overpaid the SAN, due to his “fraudulent misrepresentation”.

Akinseye-George, through his counsel Akinlolu Kehinde SAN, said the company’s Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, the late Chief Greg Ezulike, engaged him to help recover some long-standing debt of about N2billion owed the company by the Federal Government. The Claimant said he was engaged due to his expertise as a Professor of law, and experience in mediating between the government and the private sector, having also worked as a Special Assistant to three different Attorneys-General of the Federation.

He said the late Chief Ezulike asked him to do all within his power to recover three judgement-debts worth about N2 billion, and was engaged via a February 28, 2018 letter. Akinseye-George said the first Defendant (Nacenn Nigeria) promised to pay him 10 percent of any money received from the Federal Government, on or before March 30, 2018.

According to him, he immediately began negotiations with relevant high officials in various Ministries. He said he briefed his client about the developments at the expiration of the time given him. He said he was asked “to continue to carry out the assignment”, with the assurance that the promised 10 percent would be paid on the recovery of the debt.

The SAN said he succeeded in recovering the funds. He said he was informed during a visit to the Ministry of Justice on June 4, 2018, that the government was about to pay some judgement-creditors and contractors.

According to the Claimant, he subsequently signed a settlement agreement with the Ministry on the company’s behalf, which culminated in the payment of the first N100 million, after which the company paid him 10 percent (N10 million).

Akinseye-George said he also recovered a second instalment of N150 million through the Ministry, and he was also paid 10 percent (N15 million).

He said the debt repayment was eventually transferred to the Ministry of Finance, and he facilitated meetings between the relevant officials, and the company’s representatives.

The SAN said the Finance Ministry formally took over the payment of the debt in April 2019, based on his efforts.

Sadly, Chief Ezulike died on October 23, 2019, aged 83.

Akinseye-George said the late Ezulike’s son, Afam, called to reassure him that the company would honour his father’s commitment to him.

Nacenn Nigeria, in its statement of defence and counter-claim, said the suit cannot be maintained against it for non-disclosure of a reasonable cause of action. The firm said it would urge the court either before or during the trial, to dismiss or strike out the claim.

The Defendant said it was aware that, based on the February 28, 2018 letter of engagement, Prof Akinseye-George “was engaged to provide additional services to support the efforts of other firms already engaged by the first Defendant in relation to the same matter”. The Defendant/counter-claimant, through its counsel Godwin Omoaka, SAN, said the letter of engagement “did not stipulate that the first Defendant will pay the Claimant 10 percent of any payment received from the Federal Government on or before 30th March 2018”. The company said the SAN is rather indebted to it in the sum of N50million, “being excess fee paid to him in November 2019 following the Claimant’s misrepresentation of due professional fees to the new management of the first Defendant, demanding 20 percent (instead of agreed 10 percent) of the recovered sum of N500 million from the Federal Government in November 2019”.

The company said it did not make a new promise to Prof Akinseye-George upon the death of its former Chairman/CEO, to pay him 20 percent of the recovered debt.

Akinseye-George denied the allegation of fraud or misrepresentation.