Contempt Proceedings: Appear In Court Or Be Jailed, Judge Tells Wema Bank Officials

Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday reinforced his order mandating seven officials of Wema bank Plc to appear before him or be jailed.

Justice Aneke had last week summoned the bankers, including the chairman of Wema Bank, Babatunde Kasali, to appear before him on Monday to explain why they should not be send to prison for allegedly disobeying an order of the court.

The order of the court was sequel to two different similar garnishee suits filed before the court, by Chief Ajibola Aribisala (SAN) on behalf of Heritage bank.

The first case was against Ondo state Government and the Attorney General of the state, while the second suit was against Idanre local Government Universal Basic Education Authority, Ondo state Government and Attorney General of Ondo state.

Heritage Bank having obtained judgement against the two parties at an Ondo state high court in the sum of N1billion out of which N600 million has been paid leaving balance of about N600million,while the judgement against Idanre local Government Universal basic Education Authority is in the sum of N405,431,460 .98

Heritage bank initiated garnishee proceeding against the parties in the two suits to recover the judgment sum.

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But when the matter came up for hearing on Monday, all the officials were absent in court except the Company Secretary, Johnson Lebile.

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 and Executive Director, Folake Sanu.

Lebile told the court that Kasali had travelled abroad, while other Directors were not available.

He explained to the court that the bank declined to obey the order of the court to pay the judgement sum because the bank has filed an appeal against the ruling of the court and also filed a stay of execution application against the judgement of the court.

However, the lawyer to the bank officials cited for contempt, Wemimo Ogunde (SAN), suggested to the court that he can advise Wema Bank to pay the judgement sum into the account of the Chief Registrar of the court.

He stated that he made the suggestion since there is an appeal against the judgement of the court and application for stay of execution of the said judgement and other pending application so that the outcome of the appeal would not be made nugatory.

However, the counsel to Heritage Bank, Aribisala, 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 the order of the court.

He urged the court to issue a 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.

But Ogunde, while citing certain rules of the court argued that it was on Friday that the court issued the order 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, Justice Aneke reinforced his earlier order for the parties cited for contempt to appear tomorrow Tuesday, 18th of February, 2020.

On 6th of December 2019 the  court made the order nisi against Wema bank Plc absolute attaching the principal judgement sum Of 134,034,175.41,Wema bank Plc, thereafter deposed to affidavit that Ondo state Government has N744,771,993.3 standing to its credit and same has been attached in compliance with the order of the court.

But 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 that it did not to comply with the order of the court based on the notice 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 of the court to issue form 48, Notice of consequence of disobedience of order of the court against the officers of the bank cited for contempt, 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 for flagrantly disobeying the orders of the court.

On February 5, 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 in court, he then urged the court to issue bench warrant against official of Wema bank Plc cited for contempt to compel them to appear in court.

However the counsel for the official 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 has already filed an application for stay of execution pending appeal and that the record of appeal has 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.

“Accordingly, the parties cited for contempt are hereby given 72 hours 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,” the court held.

12th August 2022
Nigerian Pantagraph
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