The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and 14 other banks out of the 17 ordered by an FCT High Court to show cause why plea for garnishee of alleged accounts operated by Imo Government should not be made absolute, had denied overseeing the state’s accounts.
The denials were contained in the respondents briefs filed by the concerns banks and made available to newsmen on Sunday in Abuja, by Mr Anthony Agbonlahor, Counsel for the Judgment Creditors.
A garnishee order is a common form of enforcing a judgment debt against a debtor to recover money.
The court enforces the payment of such debt through a third party who holds funds belonging to the judgment debtor.
The judgment creditors, E.F. Network Nig Ltd and Mr Gideon Egbuchulam on April 17 approached the court with an exparte motion praying it to compel 17 banks allegedly overseeing Imo government accounts to effect the payment.
Justice Bello Kawu, went ahead to grant the prayer by directing the listed banks to show cause why the order should not made absolute.
The banks were: Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Access Bank Plc, Zenith Bank Plc, Jaiz Bank, Union Bank Plc, United Bank for Africa (UBA), First Bank Plc, Ecobank Plc, Keystone Bank Plc, and Diamond Bank Plc.
The rest were: Fidelity Bank Plc, Polaris Bank Plc, GTBank Plc, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Unity Bank Plc, Heritage Bank Plc, and FCMB Bank Plc.
The Supreme Court had on March affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal Owerri which ordered the state defendants to pay the N1 billion contract debt owed the judgment creditors.
The apex court held that the appeal filed by the Imo state government and Gov. Rochas Okorocha challenging the judgment of the lower court was not meritorious.
However, going by the respondents brief filed by the 17 banks, 14 of them denied overseeing any Imo government accounts.
Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) said it was not in the position to effect the order of the court since it only had only administrative supervisory powers over banks.
Mr Ahmed Abdullahi, Counsel for the CBN in this respondent brief said that the apex bank did not maintain accounts in the name of the judgment debtor.
He further said the bank had such powers to track funds due to the state government in the consolidated revenue fund of Imo state. Abdullahi also argued that the bank did not part take in the actual sharing of funds to state from the Federation Account.
He further said the CBN as a public officer required the consent of the Attorney-General of the Federation to act on legal matters, adding that processes served on the bank did indicate consent was sought.
Abdullahi therefore, prayed the court to vacate the order and discharge the bank in the interest of justice.
However, the respondent’s brief filed by the Zenith Bank Plc indicated the state government maintained an account with it, but that the account was used to obtain N10 billion loan from the bank 2016 and spread across 240 months.
Similarly, Access Bank Nig, Plc in its response, agreed to oversee a number of the judgment debtor’s account but that the balances in those account abysmally negligible, adding that they were no recent transactions on the accounts.
Agbonlahor, while speaking on the responses filed by the Access bank, said the bank’s testimony was incorrect.
“Access Bank today filed a return denying the existence of the account numbers we had tracked belonged to the judgment debtors.
“This denial goes contrary to the letter of the prayers that contained specific account numbers maintained by the judgment debtors with the bank.
“The act of concealing of existing accounts on the part of the bank is a despicable action capable of making it incur liabilities of the judgment debtors.
“We have evidence that one of the account numbers we mentioned had been used to pay salaries of workers in Imo state last month through the intervention of the EFCC.
“It is therefore an embarrassment to the bank for it to deny the existence of any accounts belonging to Imo state government.
“Whether this will be the beginning of charges bordering on perjury against the deponent, only time will tell,’’ Agbonlahor said.
However, Chief M.O Nlemedim (SAN), Imo State, Attorney-General filed a Motion on Notice seeking the termination of the garnishee proceedings for want of competence.
He is asking the court for an order restraining the judgment creditors, agents, representatives or the garnishee banks from relying on the said garnishee order pending the determination of the motion.
The state is also seeking the setting aside of the garnishee order made April 17 in a motion mark: FCT/HC/5309/2019, for allegedly being an abuse of court process.
The other judgment debtors include the Environmental Transformation Committee (Imo Entraco) and The Ministry of Environment.
Justice Bello Kawu has fixed June 25 for continuation of hearing on the matter.