Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos, last week convicted First Bank Plc, its chairperson, Ms Ibukun Awolaja, and the managing director, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, over their refusal to honour the payment of N122 billion bond guaranteed by the bank. The conviction of the trio was as a result of the N122 billion judgement debt against Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in an oil spill suit filed by Ejama community in Ogoniland, Rivers State.
After convicting the contemnors, Justice Buba refused to make pronouncement on their serving term but suspended it for three months to enable the bank and its officials purge themselves of the contempt.
The judge stated that, if by September 6 the convicts failed to purge themselves of the contempt proceedings, they would immediately go to prison. Before convicting the bank and its officials, Justice Buba had dismissed all the applications filed by their counsel Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, describing contempt proceedings as abuse of court process.
Ten indigenes of Ejama community, in the substantive suit, had sued Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Netherlands, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, United Kingdom, and SPDC, over alleged oil spills that occurred when Shell operated in the community, at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt. Justice Buba had, in his judgement in 2010, awarded N17 billion to the representatives of the Ogoni people.
The court equally granted the Ejema chiefs 25 per cent interest charge on the principal sum of about N17 billion.
SPDC had appealed against the judgement and applied for a stay of execution, pending the appeal. As a condition for granting the stay of execution, the court required Shell’s bankers, First Bank Plc, to provide a guarantee of the judgement sum. This condition was complied with. But Shell’s appeal failed at the Court of Appeal on technical grounds, ostensibly because it filed its processes out of time and without regularising them.
Consequent upon the failure of the appeal of SPDC and the refusal of First Bank to honour the payment of the judgement debt, which the bank had earlier guaranteed through a bond, the applicants, through their lawyers, Chief Lucius Nwosu, SAN, A.A. Lawal-Rabana, SAN, and Ken C. Njemanze, SAN, filed Form 48 and Form 49 (committal to prison) against the bank, its chairman and managing director.
However, ruling could not be delivered in the contempt proceedings until yesterday, due to several applications that were filed by the contemnors, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which sought to join as party in the suit, and SPDC.
Meanwhile, Justice Buba, has adjourned ruling till June 19, in another application seeking to dismiss the entire application.
We’ll seek redress over this injustice, says First Bank on contempt order
The N122 billion bond is in respect of a June 2010 lawsuit against SPDC in an oil spill suit launched by Ejama community in Ogoniland, Rivers state.
But in a statement on Sunday, the bank said the order could “not hold water” because it was not a party to the suit.
“FirstBank of Nigeria Limited (FirstBank) was not a party to the suit and earlier order of Honourable Justice I.N Buba dated 14th June 2010 in respect of which His Lordship has now committed the Board Members of FirstBank for contempt,” the statement read.
“In view of the fact that FirstBank and its board members were not parties to the earlier orders of Honourable Justice Buba, over which he subsequently assumed jurisdiction in respect of contempt outside the face of the court, and His Lordship’s earlier orders did not direct either FirstBank or its board members to perform any obligation, neither did it impose any task on FirstBank, suffice to say that FirstBank did not and could not have disobeyed any order made by Honourable Justice I.N Buba in Suit No: FHC/PH/CS/231/2001 Chief Isaac Osaro Agbara & 9 Ors. V. Shell Petroleum Development Ltd, Shell International Petroleum Ltd and Shell International Exploration and Production BV (Shell) made on 14th June 2010, since there was no order made against it.”
The bank assured its customers of its resolve to continue providing “first-class service”.
“In the face of constant, persistent and unprovoked use of judicial processes to intimidate, harass and threaten the bank, it has decided to remain calm, steadfast and unflinching in its resolve to continue to provide first-class services to its teeming customers within and outside the country,” the statement read.
“FirstBank further asserts that it will always defend its interests within the ambit of the law and seek redress for any temporary injustice done to it.
“The bank is not aware and has not been advised as to the provision of any law in Nigeria which allows the use of criminal contempt to enforce monetary judgements or obligations.”
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