By Innocent Anaba
Counsel to Alhaji Aliko Dangote, inÂ the suit by some shareholders of African Petroleum Plc, who are challenging the election of Alhaji Dangote as the President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, Chief Seyi Sowemimo, SAN, has asked the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos judge handling the matter to hands off the suit.
Trial judge in the matter is Justice Mohammed Limah. The court had early in the month in its ruling on an application by Sowemimo for a stay of proceeding, heldÂ Â â€œI do not see any basis in this application, all the authorities cited bu counsel have failed to avail him and accordingly this application is refused and is accordingly dismissedâ€. The court had adjourned till February 18, 2010 for hearing on the application for the quash of Dangoteâ€™s election as NSE President.
But Vanguard gathered that Chief Sowemimo last week petitioned the Chief Judge of the court, accusing the trial judge of bias. He also asked the CJ to transfer the matter to another judge. But the trial judge, had in his ruling of February 1, 2010, insisted that it was in the interest of justice to go ahead with the matter. It was also gathered that the judge had been ordered to respond to the petition, a development one of the plaintiffs in the matter, said was aimed at ensuring that the matter did not go on, wondering why the defendants counsel were hellbent on blackmailing the judge for just course.
By the petition, the court may not be able to hear the suit, as the judge would be battling to respond to the petition and by implication, hearing in the matter will not go on, which may be what the defendants want to achieve.
It will be recalled that on February 1, when the court in its ruling, insisted on hearing the application by the plaintiffs for the quashing of Alhaji Dangoteâ€™s election as NSE President, shortly after the court proceeding, one of the defendants counsel, threatened outside the court room, that they would stop the judge from hearing the matter, no matter what it took.
On the said day, counsel to the plaintiffs, Mr Onyebuchi Aneakor, was overheard telling the defendantâ€™s counsel that if they had any problem with the ruling, that they were at liberty to appeal same, more so as it was the proper thing to do and not to resort to threats of stopping the judge from hearing the matter at all cost.
Justice Liman had on August 4 ordered parties to maintain the status quo pending the final determination of a suit filed by some aggrieved shareholders of AP, against Dangote, Nova Finance and Securities Limited and others over alleged massive manipulation of AP shares.
However, on August 6, Dangote was elected as NSE President, a development that prompted the shareholders to file a motion to set aside the election on August 7, on the ground that the election was conducted in defiance of a subsisting court order that parties should maintain the status quo.