Monday, February 17, 2020 2:36 pm
By Akin Kuponiyi
There is no reprieve yet for the Wema Bank Plc and its seven officials cited for contempt, as a Federal high court sitting in Lagos south west Nigeria has reinforced its order compelling the said officials to appear before it on Tuesday to explain why committal to prison order should not be made against them.
On Monday, 17 February when the matter was mentioned, only the company secretary of the bank, Johnson Lebile, was present. Lebile told the court that the chairman of the bank, Babatunde Kasali, travelled abroad, while other Directors ordered to appear before the court today by the court are not available. He explained to the court that the bank refused to obey the order of the court to pay the judgment sum because the bank has filed an appeal against the ruling of the court and also filed stay of execution of the judgment of the court.
However, the lawyer to the bank officials cited for contempt, Mr. Wemimo Ogunde, suggested to the court that he could advise Wema to pay the judgment sum into the account of the Chief Registrar of the court, since there is appeal against the judgment of the court and application for stay of execution of the said judgment and other pending application so that the outcome of the appeal would not be made nugatory .
However, the counsel to Heritage Bank, Chief Ajibola Aribisala, SAN, in a counter argument told the court that the business of the day is for the parties cited for contempt to appear before the court to explain why they should not be sent to prison for flagrant disobedience of order of the court. Yet, they were not in court. Nevertheless, he urged the court to issue bench warrant against those officials that were not in court, while the company secretary present in court should be sent to prison to show that the court is not a toothless bulldog
In his reaction Mr. Wemimo Ogunde, while citing certain rules of the court said last Friday the court issued order compelling the officers of Wema bank cited for contempt to appear before it and by virtue of the rule of the court, Sundays and public holidays are not to be counted. In view of this provision the time for them to appear will expire tomorrow.
After listening to the two parties, the presiding Judge Chukwujekwu Aneke reinforced his earlier order for the parties cited for contempt to appear tomorrow Tuesday, 18th of February, 2020.
Last Friday Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke ordered that Wema bank Plc and its six officials cited for contempt for disobeying the order of the court should appear before the court -( today)Monday 17th day of February, 2020 to explain why they should not be sent to prison for flagrant disobedience of the extant positive orders of the court.
The affected officials of the bank are the Managing Director, Ademola Adebise,the Chairman Babatunde Kasali, Deputy Managing Director Moruf Oseni, Executive Director Wole Akinleye Executive Director Folake Sanu and the Company Secretary, Johnson Lebile.
The order of the court was sequel to two different similar garnishee suits filed before the court by a Lagos lawyer, Chief Ajibola Aribisala, SAN, on behalf of Heritage Bank. The first one against Ondo State Government and the Attorney General of the state, and the second one against Idanre Local Government Universal Basic Education Authority, Ondo State Government and Attorney General of Ondo State.
Heritage Bank having obtained judgment against the two parties at an Ondo state high court in the sum of N1billion out of which N600million has been paid, leaving a balance of about N400million, while the judgment against Idanre Local Government Universal Basic Education Authority is in the sum of N405.4 million.
Heritage Bank then initiated garnishee proceedings against the parties in the two suits.
On 6th of December 2019, the court made the order nisi against Wema bank Plc absolute, attaching the principal judgement sum of N134 million. Wema Bank Plc,thereafter deposed to an affidavit that Ondo State Government has N745 million standing to its credit and same has been attached in compliance with the order of the court. However, the bank refused to comply with the order of the court to pay the money despite the demand made by Chief Aribisala on behalf of Heritage Bank.
However, Wema Bank, in its response letter claimed not to comply with the order of the court based on the Noticd of Appeal and Motion for Stay of Execution filed by the Ondo state Government at the Court of Appeal.
Thereafter, Heritage Bank caused the Registrar to issue form 48, notice of consequence of disobedience of order of the court against the officers of the bank. Still, the order of the court was not obeyed,hence the need for the issuance of form 49 asking the parties cited for contempt to show cause why order of committal should not be made against them.
On the 5th day of February, 2020 when the matter came up for hearing, Chief Ajibola Aribisala, SAN, in his argument and submission before the court contended that it is obvious that parties cited for contempt are not in court and that the court must compel their presence. He then urged the court to issue bench warrant against officials of Wema Bank Plc, cited for contempt to compel them to appear.
However, the counsel for the officials of Wema Bank cited for contempt, Mr Wemimo Ogunde, SAN, contended that the form 49 was filed and served on the parties and before then Wema Bank had already filed an application for stay of execution pending appeal and that the record of appeal had already been entered at the Court of Appeal.
Consequently,after listening to the two parties the court adjourned till 14th February 2020, for ruling.
Justice Aneke in his ruling relating to the two suits said: “The said appeal lodge by the parties cited for contempt has nothing to do with the form 49 served on them for their failure to comply with the order of the court in respect to the order made absolute against Wema Bank Plc .Accordingly, the parties cited for contempt are hereby given 72hours from today till Monday 17th of February, 2020 to appear before the court to explain why committal order would not be made against them for flagrant disobedience of the extant positive orders of the court.”