It’s time to play by a different (ethical) set of rules Nigeria 7
___Even if justice takes time, be patient and never lose faith.
The International Tribunal appointed by the Chief Justice of the Federal High Court of Nigeria took four years to complete the process of arbitration. This included hearing from lawyers representing all the shareholders who had been involved in the original sale to Zain (the company from the Middle East), and also lawyers from Bharti Airtel (the company from India) that had bought Zain’s shares.
The Tribunal issued its ruling on 22nd December 2011. It was a great Christmas present!
Key findings in the Tribunal’s ruling:
# Econet had never ceased to be a shareholder despite the cancellation of its share certificate. We remain shareholders to this day, and those shares are now worth more than $200m.
# There was sufficient evidence that Econet had raised $1.5bn in cash to buy the shares that were sold illegally to Zain.
# The sale of shares, first to Zain of Kuwait, and then later to Airtel of India, were found to have violated Econet’s rights of first refusal under the Shareholder’s Agreement. The sale was declared “null and void” in law.
# The people who bought the shares (Zain and Bharti Airtel) were ordered to pay us hundreds of billions of Nigerian Naira in compensation, and damages for their violations.
# All shareholders who had supported the sale were ordered to pay compensation.
# The local shareholders who had stood with us throughout were absolved of any wrongdoing.
In short, after being presented years of evidence, the Tribunal agreed there been multiple breaches of the Shareholders Agreement.
Whilst most of the Nigerian local shareholders immediately paid the money due, Bharti Airtel and Zain refused to pay what they had been ordered to pay. This was despite the fact that all parties are supposed to accept an Arbitration ruling as final. Instead they took the unusual decision to go to court, in Nigeria, and try to overturn the decision of the international Tribunal:
First, they went to the High Court of Lagos State; it ruled in OUR favour. (October 2012)
Then, they went to the Nigerian Federal Court of Appeal; it also ruled in OUR favour, supporting previous rulings in OUR favour. (February 2014)
___We had our hearings. We were heard. We’ve had patience and faith, and the rule of law prevailed.
Finally, they went to the Nigerian Supreme Court. We are now waiting for their ruling. I will let you know when it comes.
In a separate ruling, the Nigerian Federal High Court and its Appeals Court dismissed the allegation that Econet had not originally paid for its shares. This allegation had been widely circulated in newspapers as the reason for our departure.
They accepted evidence that Econet paid for its shares just like all the other shareholders, calling the allegation spurious and malicious. It took 10 years to get this ruling from the courts.
Like in any major conflict, all sorts of skirmishes have taken place. We had to fight other related legal battles in England, in Denmark, and in The Netherlands (including at The Hague Court of International Arbitration).
Throughout this saga in Nigeria, I had with me a few Nigerian brethren (and sisters) who stood by me. They were prepared to risk all to ensure justice prevailed. I salute them and all who stand up to protect the rule of law.
During the long period that went by, more than 10 years, I never stopped going to Nigeria despite the threats. I never stopped investing in new things in the country that interested me. I deepened my understanding of the country. I learnt to avoid many of the pitfalls of the past. I stayed true to my deepest convictions.
__I enjoyed myself.
__I love Nigeria.
The ensuing years have also been years of unprecedented growth and expansion of our business interests in Africa and around the world. We set up businesses as far afield as New Zealand, and invested in places as far as Latin America.
Yes, we prospered and we went from strength to strength. The path of those who stand for justice is as a “shining light, getting brighter and brighter unto the perfect day…”(Proverbs 4:18)