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LEAVE OF COURT BEFORE SUING A COMPANY UNDER LIQUIDATION

Dictum

Let me quickly state that Section 417 of Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990 is in all fours with Section 580 of Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020. Now Section 417 of Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990 provides:- “…if a winding up order is made or a provisional liquidator is appointed, no action or proceedings shall be proceeded with against the company except by leave of the Court.” The above provision is very clear and unambiguous. It means clearly that if a winding up order is made or a provisional liquidator is appointed, no action or proceedings shall be proceeded with against the company undergoing liquidation. The intendment of the said provision is not to stop an aggrieved party from proceeding against the company which has been issued a winding up order or which a provisional liquidator has been appointed, but that leave of Court must be sought and obtained before commencing the action or proceedings.

— J.I. Okoro, JSC. Universal Properties v. Pinnacle Comm. Bank, NJA, Opia, Heritage, Fatogun (SC.332/2008, Friday, April 08, 2022)

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A COMPANY IS NOT BOUND BY A PRE-INCORPORATION CONTRACT

It is now a settled principle of company law that a company is not bound by a preincorporation contract being a contract entered into by parties when it was not in existence. No one can contract as agent of such a proposed company there being no principal in existence to bind. It is also settled that after incorporation a company cannot ratify such a contract purported to be made on its behalf before incorporation … But there is nothing preventing the company after incorporation from entering into a new contract to put into effect the terms of the preincorporation contract. This new contract can be in express terms or can be implied from the acts of the company after incorporation as well as from the minutes of its general meetings and board meetings.

— Nnamani, JSC. Edokpolo v. Sem-Edo & Ors. (1984) – SC.89/1983

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RATIONALE BEHIND NULLITY OF PRE-INCORPORATION CONTRACT

In Kelner v. Baxter (1866) L. R. 2 C.P. 174 Erie C.J. explaining the rationale of the principle [pre-incorporation contract] said: “as there was no company in existence at the time, the agreement would be wholly inoperative unless it were held to be binding on the defendant personally…where a contract is signed by one who professes to be signing as agent, but who has no principal existing at the time, and the contract would be altogether inoperative unless binding upon the person who signed it, he is bound thereby; and a stranger cannot by a subsequent ratification relieve him from the responsibility”.

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COMPANY CANNOT ACT ON ITS OWN, BUT ACT THROUGH HUMAN BEINGS

It is now trite in law that a company or corporate body not being a human being cannot act on its own and so carries out activities through human beings who are the operators or managers of the corporate body and so the manager or operators do not become personally liable for acts carried out for and on behalf of the company in the management or day to day business of the company. The follow up is that the company is an abstraction and operates through living persons and so an officer of the company takes an action in furtherance of the affairs of the company who is the principal and it is that principal that is liable for any infraction occasioned by those acts and not the official or employee. SeeN.N.S.C. v Sabana Company Ltd (1988) 2 NWLR (Pt.74) 23; Yusuf v Kupper International NV (1996) 4 NWLR (Pt.446) 17; UBN Ltd v Edet (1993) 4 NWLR (Pt.287) 288; Niger Progress Limited v North East Line Corporation (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt 107) 68.

— Tanko Muhammad, JSC. Berger v Toki Rainbow (2019) – SC.332/2009

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IN RECEIVERSHIP COMPANY DOES NOT LOSE ITS LEGAL PERSONALITY

It is important to appreciate the fact that the company neither loses its legal personality nor its title to the goods in the receivership.

– Karibi-whyte, JSC. Intercontractors v. National Provident (1988)

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A COMPANY IN WINDING UP IS NOT DEAD YET; A COMPANY IS DEAD UPON DISSOLUTION

In Progress Bank of Nigeria Plc. V.O.K. Contact Point Holdings Limited (CA 3) (2008) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1069) 514, the Respondent obtained judgment against the appellant (a wound-up bank). The Appellant sought to appeal the decision but the Respondent filed an objection to the capacity of the Appellant to file a Notice of Appeal on the ground that, it was dead and that only its liquidator could file such appeal on its behalf. The Court of Appeal held thus:- “l must say straight away that, there is a world of difference between the winding-up of a company and the dissolution of a company. Under the provisions of Section 454 (1) and (2) of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990, a company dies once the Court orders the dissolution of the company. The revocation of the company/bank and order of Court winding – up same does not indicate its death. The appointment of a liquidator is for the purpose of ensuring the smooth burial of the company. See Nzom v. Jinadu (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt. 51) 553; CCB (Nig.) Ltd V. Onwuchekwa (2000) 3 NWLR (Pt. 647) 65. There is nothing before us to show that Progress Bank of Nigeria Plc has been dissolved. It is so clear that the said bank is under a winding-up proceedings. In such a state, the bank is seriously ill, but not dead. That is the support of Section 417 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 1990. My Lords, a company/bank is certified dead on its dissolution, but where the bank as in this case is under winding up proceeding it has not died. It is gravely ill, it can sue and maintain an action in Court, but no action or proceeding can be brought against it except with the leave of the Court. In CCB (Nig) Ltd v. Onwuchekwa (2000) 3 NWLR (Pt. 647) page 65 at 75 the Court of Appeal said: “A company under winding up proceedings has not died. It is still alive but perhaps sick.”

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INCORPORATED LTD. LIABILITY COMPANY IS DISTINCT FROM HER SHAREHOLDERS/DIRECTORS

In NEW NIGERIAN NEWSPAPERS LTD. V. AGBOMABINI (2013) LPELR-20741(CA) held that: “An incorporated limited liability company is always regarded as a separate and distinct entity from its shareholders and directors. The consequence of recognizing the separate personality of a company is to draw the veil of incorporation over the company. No one is entitled to go behind the veil. This corporate shell shall however be cracked in the interest of justice” Per ABIRU, J.C.A. (Pp. 40-41, Paras. F-E).

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