…Says Suit ‘Vexatious’, Abuse Of Court Process
The Federal High Court in Abuja has dismissed a suit by the Chairman of Platform Petroleum, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs and three others, challenging the decision of the late Kalabari High Chief, O.B. Lulu-Briggs to transfer his shares in Moni Pulo Limited to his wife, Dr. Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs, his daughters and the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation.
Justice James Kolawole Omotosho noted that Dumo’s suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1481/2021, was the same as FHC/ABJ/CS/1576/2019, which was discontinued by Justice Taiwo Taiwo on September 30, 2021, and which is pending on appeal before the Court of Appeal.
The judge held that Dumo’s fresh suit constituted an abuse of court processes and did not deserve further hearing by his court.
The 1st to 4th plaintiffs in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1481/2021 are Senibo Lulu-Briggs, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Sofiri Lulu-Briggs, ‘Chima Onimin Lulu-Briggs.’
The defendants are Mrs Seinye Lulu-Briggs, Incorporated Trustees of the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation, Rachael Lulu-Briggs, Solate Ovundah-Akarolo, Moni Pulo Ltd and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
The defendants, through their lawyers, challenged the plaintiffs’ claims.
They asked the court to consider if: Having freely, unequivocally and fully transferred their entire shareholding to the late High Chief O. B. Lulu-Briggs in two settlements and having received consideration which the plaintiffs acknowledged as valuable and sufficient for such transfer ($3million to Dumo Lulu-Briggs in 2003 and the other $5million to Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Senibo Lulu-Briggs and Sofiri Lulu-Briggs in 2004), whether the plaintiffs could rightly turn around to impugn the said share transfer.
They also asked the court whether the action is not statute-barred by virtue of the provision of Section 11 of the Limitation Act, having been filed 12 years after the date of the consent judgment on 18th May 2004, and;
“Whether by virtue of the pendency of Appeal Nos.: CA/ABJ/CV/859/ 2021, CA/ABJ/CV/681/2021 and CA/ABJ/CV/29/2022, the suit did not constitute a gross abuse of the process of court.”
The defendants also urged the court whether it has the jurisdiction to hear the matter.
Justice Omotosho, in a February 15, 2023, ruling, agreed with the defendants.
He held: “I hold without hesitation that filing a fresh suit on a subject between parties on appeal is an abuse of court process.”
“The fresh suit as in the instant suit is nothing than to overreach and make the outcome of the pending appeal nugatory…Filing this instant suit on the same subject matter and reliefs and against the same parties is vexatious and nothing more than a gross abuse of the process of the Court.”
Justice Omotosho further agreed with argument of the 1st to 5th Defendants that the suit was an abuse of court process.
He added: “This court will not allow its processes to be used in such as frivolous and vexatious manner. Consequently, the instant suit before the court is hereby declared to be an abusive process and as such it is dismissed.”
“Having dismissed the suit for being an abuse of court process, the other issue formulated goes to no issue.”
The plaintiffs had asked the court to annul an earlier agreement between Dumo, his two brothers and their father, the late O.B. Lulu-Briggs.
According to the defendants, the two agreements reached by the parties stated that they would cease to be shareholders in Moni Pulo Ltd if they were paid off, which was done in two tranches in 2003 and 2004 after they allegedly attempted to take the company from their father.
It was also said that they also agreed to make no future claims over Moni Pulo or to have any association with it for the rest of their lives.
The plaintiffs prayed the court to, among other reliefs, make a declaration that the “fundamental terms of the settlement agreement between the 1st and 3rd plaintiffs and their father, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs (the deceased) on the 13th of May, 2004 have been breached by the deceased based on the share transfers made to his wife Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs on 29th February 2012, thereby rendering the said terms of settlement liable to be set aside.”
The plaintiffs also introduced a new claimant, one Chima Onimin (4th Plaintiff), whom they said wanted to be recognised as the owner of 3,250, 000 shares in the firm, which amounted to 0.81% of the firm’s total shareholding.
They prayed the court to mandate Moni Pulo (the 5th defendant in the suit) to pay the said Onimin “the dividends and all other rights, benefits and entitlements that have accrued and/or accruing to the 4th Plaintiff as a shareholder in the company.”
Dumo’s suit was filed by Damian Dodo, SAN, whose firm, D.D. Dodo and Co. represented Dumo and his brothers in the settlement agreement between them and their father in 2003 and in 2004.
Two decades later, on behalf of the same clients, the plaintiffs hired the same law firm to ask the court to annul the agreement despite knowing that their clients had received payment for their shares and the matter had been laid to rest.
The plaintiffs, through their lawyers, claimed that the payment they received notwithstanding, their shares in Moni Pulo remained intact and that their father held them in trust, considering his continuing love and affection. They claimed that upon the death of their father in 2018, the shares ought to have reverted to them.