Ecobank charged with abuse of court process

Ecobank CEO, Jubril Aku

Honeywell Flour Mills Plc has initiated contempt proceedings against Ecobank Nigeria Limited at the Federal High Court in Lagos.

The company accused the bank of disobeying an earlier directive by Justice Mohammed Idris that all parties should maintain status quo.

Ecobank had challenged the court’s jurisdiction to hear the suit filed by Honeywell and its sister companies – Anchorage Leisures Limited and Siloam Global Services Limited.

Dismissing the preliminary objection, Justice Idris held that a cursory glance at the statement of claim shows that the plaintiffs’ claim arose from banking transactions.

This, he said, places the suit within the court’s jurisdiction as provided in Section 251 (1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution.

“The plaintiffs’ claim arose from a banker-customer relationship, as such this court has jurisdiction to entertain the matter,” the judge said.

He held that Ecobank’s preliminary objection lacked merit and awarded N10,000 cost in the plaintiffs’ favour.

Justice Idris adjourned to Monday for hearing of the contempt proceedings.

In a related case before Justice Okon Abang of the same court, Ecobank had, on October 16, filed a motion exparte, praying for an orders restraining Siloam Global Services Limited and chairman of Honeywell Group, Dr. Oba Otudeko, from operating or dealing with funds in any bank or financial institution pending the determination of the motion on notice for the appointment of a provisional liquidator or interim receiver.

The bank also sought an order directing and compelling all the banks and financial institutions in which Siloam Global Services and Otudeko have accounts, to furnish Ecobank with their details.

It also prayed the court to restraining Siloam Global Services and Otudeko from removing its funds, investments in all banks and financial institutions or alienating/ disposing their fixed and moveable assets within Nigeria.

Justice Abang, however, did not grant the prayers. Rather, he directed Ecobank to put Siloam Global Services and Otudeko on notice.

Meanwhile, Otudeko’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), filed a December 7 motion on notice praying the court to strike out the petition and discontinue proceedings in deference to arbitration.

Olanipekun argued that the court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter.

Ecobank’s counsel, Mr. Kunle Ogunba (SAN), argued that the court ought to determine Ecobank’s exparte application of October 16 first.

But Olanipekun argued that his clients had given valid reasons to compel the court to determine the challenge to its jurisdiction before determining the bank’s motion exparte.

Ruling, Justice Abang held there was the need for the court to first determine if it has jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter before proceeding hearing Ecobank’s application.

He adjourned till January 13 for the hearing Siloam Global Services and Otudeko’s application challenging the court’s jurisdiction.

The Bankers’ Committee, an umbrella body comprising the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), deposit money banks and discount houses in Nigeria, has also waded into the dispute.

From the records available to it, the Bankers’ Committee ruled that Honeywell Group has fully discharged its obligation with regard to the settlement of the facility granted it by Ecobank.

Its position was contained in a ruling by its Sub-Committee on Ethics and Professionalism, which was mandated to investigate the issue.

It ruled that the agreement between Honeywell Group and Ecobank to the effect that Honeywell Group pays N3.5 billion as full and final payment of the borrowers’ indebtedness was valid, binding and should be complied with.

Honeywell on its part has fulfilled its obligations and is asking Ecobank to likewise fulfil its own obligations.

This is also the position before Justice Idris J., in which Honeywell has prayed the court to uphold the ruling of the Bankers’ Committee in its favour.

A further review of the processes before the court also shows that the sub-committee ruled: “Based on the legal opinion and clarification sought from the Banking Supervision Department of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Chairman of Honeywell Group was not a ‘related party’ to the transactions as he was not a member of the board of Directors of Oceanic Bank at the time the transactions were consummated.”

In addition, it stated: “As at the time Ecobank Nigeria acquired Oceanic Bank and by implication the Honeywell Group’s loan facility, and commencement of discussions with Ecobank, the chairman, Dr. Oba Otudeko, CFR, had left the Board of Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI) as a Director.”

The agreement reached by the parties was consummated by the Ecobank’s Management and is valid and should be complied with, the committee ruled further.