How Seplat Petroleum obtained N38.5b Access Bank loan by proxy

By Editor.

Evidence adduced on Friday, last week showed that Seplat Petroleum Development Company Plc eventually utilised the loan worth N38.5 billion obtained from Access Bank by its subsidiary firm, Cardinal Drilling.

According to documents filed in court by the bank through its lawyer, Kunle Ogunba, SAN, Cardinal Drilling is revealed as a subsidiary of Seplat Petroleum Plc contrary to its earlier claim.

Seplat purportedly wrote a petition against Ogunba to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).

It alleged that Ogunba misled the court in obtaining an order for Access Bank to take over Seplat’s offices at 16A Temple Road, Ikoyi as receiver/manager over a multimillion naira debt.

Seplat, in the petition, claimed that Access Bank could not hold it liable for a loan obtained by a third party (Cardinal Drilling).

The oil firm faulted Ogunba’s claim that Seplat employed Cardinal Drilling “as a veritable ‘vehicle’, ‘smoke screen’, and/or ‘shell company’ for the obtainment of the facilities from the plaintiff (Access Bank)”.

But contrary to Seplat’s claim that there was no documentary information exhibited to buttress the claim, findings from the processes filed by Access Bank showed that the plaintiff provided proof of Seplat benefiting from the loan.

After Cardinal Drilling obtained the loan and disbursed it, the company passed the obligation onto Seplat.

This is as shown in company’s statement of account, which Access Bank exhibited in court.

Sources close to the bank said Seplat is paying back the money to the bank by proxy.

The bank has details of Seplat transferring funds into Cardinal Drilling’s account, which in turn would transfer it to Diamond Bank (which was later acquired by Access Bank), as loan repayment.

To the bank, Seplat is the real debtor, which was why the bank and its lawyers joined Seplat in the debt recovery suit and obtained and executed the order against it, which is now a subject of appeal.

Sources close to the bank say rather than Seplat repaying the loan, there is a bid to tarnish the image of Ogunba by writing a petition against him that is in itself questionable.

Access Bank and Ogunba insist they acted based on a ruling by Justice Rilwan Aikawa, who, despite objections by Seplat’s lawyers, granted Ogunba’s application.

The judge, among others, held: “In my view, all these issues touch the substance of the case and should therefore be reserved for substantive trial…

“An attempt to delve into any of them at this stage has the potential and danger of determining substantive issues at this interlocutory stage, a tendency which has been frowned upon by the appellate courts.

“There is no evidence of suppression of any material facts by the plaintiff in this application.”

The petition against Ogunba was written even before the ruling on Seplat’s application to discharge the order made by Justice Aikawa.

Seplat’s petition was submitted on December 18, 2020 while Justice Aikawa delivered his ruling on December 24, 2020.

Judicial watchers see an attempt to blackmail Ogunba over an earlier petition written by Honeywell Group, which led to the LPPC striping him of his SANship rank which was later restored.

Apparently sponsored reports of Seplat’s petition make reference to the Honeywell’s petition.

But the reports ignore the fact that not only was Ogunba cleared of any wrongdoing, Honeywell also lost to Ogunba at the Appeal Court in the cases that formed the basis of the petition.

Besides, even before the LPPC restored Ogunba’s rank, the NBA had cleared him of any wrongdoing, dismissing Honeywell’s petition for not disclosing any prima facie case of professional misconduct against him.

Observers are worried that lawyers are being blackmailed with petitions over issues that should be subjects of appeal.

They also see it as the tactics of powerful debtors who will rather intimidate lawyers for doing their jobs instead of paying back the huge loans they undeniably took from banks.

Such debtors, observers say, are a menace to the economy and should be made to face the consequences of their actions.

To them, the LPPC and NBA LPDC should no longer give attention to such frivolous petitions in future.