City Flame | 14 March 2012 15:40 CET


By Eric Ikhilae

MORE facts emerged yesterday on the last days of the late Mr Alex Uruemu Ibru, the frontline businessman and publisher of The Guardian, who died on November 28, last year.

The widow, Mrs Maiden Ibru, relived his last days in court where she has mounted a legal battle to wind up a company owned by her husband and his brother, Mr Goodie Ibru.

The matter came up at the Federal High Court, Lagos.

As Justice Okechukwu Okeke was about making his pronouncement on the submissions by the lawyers, he noticed that Mrs Ibru raised her hand, demanding to be allowed just two minutes to speak, a request the judge granted. At that point, the court went silent.

Mrs Ibru, who was accompanied by one of her children, Toke, told the court why she filed the suit.

“Six months before my husband died, the doctors told me that he was going to die. And for five months, he was out of circulation and nobody saw him and even his family members did not bother about him.

“Two weeks before he died, he embarked on a hunger strike and when the family members heard about it, some of them came to see him, including Mr Goodie Ibru. When Goodie came, he (the deceased) said he did not even expect he could be talking.

“Then my husband said he was going to fight him to the finish, dead or alive. That even when he dies, he was going to continue the fight, unless he (Goodie) resigned as the chairman of the company (Tourist Company Nigeria Plc).”

“He said out of all his brothers, the last person that he thought will betray him was Goodie. They had altered some of the company's documents, diverted money and committed all sort of atrocities without the knowledge of my husband. I am a widow and have children to take care of,” she said.

Mrs Ibru said while entering the court, she saw her husband who, she claimed, encouraged her to proceed with her actions.

She alleged that her late husband was unhappy with Mr Goodie Ibru and had demanded that he (Goodie) quit his position in one of the companies they jointly owned.

Dressed in a black gown, Mrs Ibru spoke at the hearing of a winding-up petition her lawyer, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, filed against Tourist Company of Nigeria Plc, jointly owned by her late husband and his brothers.

Mrs Ibru, who sued on behalf of Omamo Investments Corporation (a company owned by her late husband), is seeking to wind up Tourist Company, believed to own the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos on ground of alleged indebtedness.

She stated in the winding-up petition that Omamo Investments, between 2003 and 2009, lent to the Tourist Company $7.1m, N610m, N381m and N19m, which the company has allegedly been unable to repay.

Mrs Ibru, who claimed to have made several demands on the respondent to no avail, prayed the court to wind up the company for allegedly being insolvent.

She stated that the respondent “has failed beyond resuscitation, has insufficient assets to meet its liabilities, does not have the capacity to meet the conditions for which it was incorporated and has suffered a total erosion of its capital base”.

“The respondent is both cash flow and balance sheet insolvent and has not been carrying on effectively, the business of hotelling and catering.”

She averred that the whole substratum of the company is gone and it is impossible to carry on the essential purpose for which it was formed.

Mrs Ibru urged the court to wind up the Tourist Company under the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, CAP C20 LFN 2004 and appoint a provisional liquidator in the person of the President of the Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) or his nominee.

But the respondent has denied Mrs. Ibru's claim and asked the court to dismiss the suit on the ground of incompetence, adding that it discloses no reasonable cause of action and constitutes a gross abuse of the court process.

In a preliminary objection filed by its lawyer, Onyebuchi Aniakor , the Tourist Company argued that no grounds, as provided for by law, had been disclosed by the petitioner to justify the commencement of a winding-up proceeding against it.

It said the petitioner had not shown that the alleged indebtedness, the subject matter of the petition, was due for payment or payable by the respondent.

The respondent contended that as against the petitioner's claim, no demand for payment on the alleged indebtedness had been made on it.

At yesterday's proceedings, the presiding judge informed parties about a letter written to the court by Chief Edwin Clark and J.P Clark, two Delta State elder statesmen, praying the court to adjourn the case indefinitely for parties to explore amicable settlement options.

Part of the letter, read out by one of the court's officials, reads: “As members of the family, the two parties are our relations. We will like the court to give us the opportunity to intervene and settle the matter amicably.”

Braithwaite urged the court to ignore the letter, arguing that the writers had nothing to do with the case and were not party to the petition.

Besides, he has written to the Chief Judge for the case to be transferred to another judge.

Aniakor, who agreed with Braithwaite that the writers of the letter were busybodies in the petition, said they were well-intentioned busybodies.

He said it was the duty of the court to promote amicable settlement of any dispute before it and that the recent development has provided the platform for such settlement in this case.

Aniakor, however, left the final decision on the issue to the court.

Justice Okechukwu Okeke, after studying the court processes filed by the parties, noted that the case involved two brothers, an observation Braithwaite objected to, stressing that it was a commercial dispute between two companies.

The court, at that point sought the opinion of a senior lawyer in court - Kola Awodein (SAN) - who told the court it has the
discretion to handle the case the way it pleases, but consider the interest of all the parties – in accordance to the rules and regulations of the courts.

He observed that there may not be an end to such interventions, should the letter be allowed. Awodein noted, however, that the court has the duty to encourage amicable settlement, which the letter has provided the right platform for in the case.

Awodein said the court has the powers to consider the letter on its merits and decide to grant an adjournment so that the matter could be settled out of court, in view of the provision of Section 17 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules.

Justice Okeke later adjourned the case for a week for parties to explore the opportunity to settle the dispute out of court, in view of the provision of Section 17 of the court rules.

The judge consequently withdrew from handling the case and announced his intention to return the case file to the Chief Judge for reassignment to another judge. His decision, he said was informed by the conducts of parties, particularly the petitioner's letter to the Chief Judge demanding a reassignment.

- Eric Ikhilae

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