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British court stops sale of Nigerian government property in London over $5m debt



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The English Commercial Court has ruled against the forced sale of one of Nigeria’s choice properties in London to recover a debt of $5million and a further N4.71 million awarded as costs (excluding interest) arising from a dispute with an Israeli company.

The 1927-built three-storey property situated at 56-57 Fleet Street which previously housed a number of sections of the Nigeria High Commission London including its Consular services, is currently leased to Online Integrated Solutions Ltd (OIS) for the purpose of providing visa and passport services in exchange for an annual rent of £150,000.

Hitherto, the property was the London home of the Glasgow Herald Newspaper in the days when Fleet Street was the centre of Britain’s newspaper industry.

The property had been the subject of a suit filed by a company registered in Israel – L R Avionics Technologies Ltd which had entered into a contract with the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 22 October 2002 to supply military equipment. The contract was governed by Nigerian law and was subject to arbitration in Nigeria in accordance with the Nigerian Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1998.

A subsequent dispute arose on 31 January 2012, and Mr Babajide Ogundipe, a Nigerian barrister, was appointed as Sole Arbitrator on the dispute by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria. On 8 February 2013, the Arbitrator awarded $5million to L R Avionics Technologies Ltd as damages for breach of the contract, together with costs of N4.71 million. The award did not carry interest.

An attempt to get this award set aside by way of an application filed at the Federal High Court Abuja on 17 March 2013, was unsuccessful.

On 30 June 2014, the Federal High Court granted leave to recognise and enforce the award in the same manner as a judgment and entered judgment ordering the Nigerian Government and the Attorney General, to pay the sums awarded together with interest at the prevailing bank rate from 11 March 2013.

The Nigerian Government did not comply with the order of the Federal High Court,  so L R Avionics Technologies sought to enforce the award in the United Kingdom. On 4 March 2015, it made a “without notice” application to register the award under the Arbitration Act 1996 and also to register the Nigerian judgment under the Administration of Justice Act 1920. Justice Phillips made both orders on 14 April 2015 and also gave permission for service of the claim form, the witness statement in support of the application and the order itself on the defendants out of UK jurisdiction through diplomatic channels under Section 12 of the State Immunity Act. These were duly served on 24 June 2015, but the Nigerian Government did not acknowledge service.