By Ngozi Onyeakusi
In a move that would enable Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) meet its recovery mandate before its sunset period, the duo of the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mr. Walter Onnoghen, GCON and the President Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, CFR have called on AMCON to leverage the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) infrastructure, which is now available for use in courts in the country.

The two justices’ spoke today in Abuja at the interactive session between honourable justices of Supreme Court; Court of Appeal, AMCON and National Judicial Institute (NJI). The discussion, which centered on how AMCON can effectively recover its outstanding N5.4trillion debt was themed ‘Strengthening AMCON Recovery Drive.’

Justice Onnoghen in his opening address at the event said the judiciary must be aware of the daunting task before AMCON, which required judicial support on the one hand and for AMCON to think outside the box and come up with innovative ways of accomplishing its mission within the ambit of the law. According to him, that is the only way AMCON will recover as much debts as possible within its defined lifespan. He added, “It is for this reasons, that I will encourage the use of ADR, as part of the mechanism put in place to resolve asset management related disputes in our courts.”

The CJN who insists that it is in the interest of Nigeria that AMCON succeeds in its assignment also added, “Certainly, judicial time and capacity are scarce public resources; as such repeated delays constitute waste of these precious resources. A better understanding of the current trends in this area of the law will go a long way in curbing delays and waste of judicial time and resources, thereby helping AMCON in fulfilling its mandate. The judiciary will continue to do its best to ensure judges remain conversant with the AMCON regime towards engendering efficiency, uniformity and improvement in the quality of judicial services in our courts.”

Stretching the argument of the CJN, Justice Bulkachuwa who stated her happiness for the interaction, which she said holds the key to fast tract debt recovery activities of AMCON and the eventual industrialisation of the Nigerian economy added, “As I congratulate the honourable and distinguished participants…, I urge you to consider leveraging the Alternative Dispute Resolution infrastructure that is now available in ours courts towards your efforts on speedy recovery. In fact, the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria has consistently encouraged the utility of ADR viewing the delays in adjudication caused by the density of cases in the dockets of the trial and appellate courts.”

She further explained that, the “Appellate courts trust that this form of interactions holds the key to fast tracking debt recovery by AMCON and the eventual industrialization of the Nigerian economy. The judiciary has been playing its constitutional role through dynamic and proactive but fair and objective interpretation and enforcement of the AMCON Act by expeditious determination of AMCON cases and the enactment of AMCON Practice Directions both at the Federal High Court and the court of Appeal as well as the Supreme Court.

“I am aware that my Lord the CJN – Hon. Justice Onnoghen is also considering an exclusive Practice Direction for AMCON at the Supreme Court. In the meantime, I am also aware that the Hon. CJN has advised AMCON lawyers to adopt the fast track window for all AMCON appeals at the Supreme Court. In the court of Appeal, I have since issued a circular directing the expeditious disposition of all AMCON appeals and I am aware that the circular is being effectively implemented,” Bulkachuwa affirmed.

Considering the novelty and significance of AMCON as a recovery agency of the government of the Federal republic of Nigeria, Justice Bulkachuwa who described AMCON’s assignment as difficult and challenging however commended the management and staff of AMCON led by Mr. Ahmed Lawan Kuru for taking the bull by the horns on behalf of all Nigerians. She therefore called for a continual review and interaction with all relevant stakeholders especially the judiciary until AMCON recovers its humongous outstanding debt.

Mr. Kuru earlier in his submission reminded the honourable justices that AMCON currently has a lot of cases that are pending at the Federal High Court because obligors of the corporation deliberately raise issues that would cause delay in justice believing that by the time AMCON starts addressing the substantive matter, things would have changed. Hear him, “AMCON currently has over 3,000 cases pending at the federal high court. Given the litigious tendency of our obligors, we anticipate that more than 50 per cent of the cases will proceed to the court of Appeal and eventually the Supreme Court.

“We hope that the special Practice Directions issued by the President of the Court of Appeal will be very instrumental to speedy determination of the eventual appeals. The Practice Direction prescribed three months for concluding all AMCON matters. If the national assignment of recovering over N5trillion of bad debts will be achieved, the Practice Direction needs to be strengthened and encouraged.”

Kuru who said that AMCON has enjoyed the support and counsel of both the immediate past and incumbent CJN through the Practice Directions for expeditious hearing and determination of AMCON matters appealed for its sustainability because it would go a long way to helping AMCON especially with its sunset in mind. Kuru said the quest to recover more was the reason why AMCON shifted its gears from restructuring towards enforcements, meaning that even more AMCON cases would arrive the courts in the years ahead.