Nigeria: $418 Judgment Debt - Court Okays Service of Contempt Charge Against 5 SANs

27 April 2022

A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Wednesday ordered that a contempt charge motion against five Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) involved in the 418 million dollars judgment debt suit be served on them through courier services.

Justice Inyang Ekwo issued the order for substituted service following an ex-parte motion by Emeka Okoro, counsel for the applicants, who are 15th and 16th respondents in the suit.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Panic Alert Security Systems Limited and Dr George Uboh, two out of the consultants engaged in the 418 million dollars debt in relation to Paris Club Refund, are 15th and 16th respondents respectively.

Okoro had complained, shortly after the matter was called, that the five senior lawyers allegedly evaded being served with the charge despite all efforts made by the bailiff as required by law.

The affected SANs are Sunday Ameh, Jibrin Okutepa, Dr Garba Tetengi, Ahmed Raji and Aare Olumuyiwa Akinboro.

The applicants had, through their lawyer in the contempt charge, urged the court to commit the five SAN to prison custody for alleged contempt of court in the 418 million dollars judgment debt suit.

They also prayed the court to ensure that the five SANs are reported to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) of the Body of Benchers.

They described the attitude of the senior lawyers against the March 25 judgment delivered by Justice Ekwo as "infamous conduct unbecoming of a legal practitioner."

NAN reports that Ekwo had, on March 25, dismissed the suit filed by the 36 states attorneys-general against the Federal Government and others for lacking in merit.

The judge held that the states' AG, who were plaintiffs in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1313/2021, lacked the legal right to institute the matter without their governors' consent.

But in a motion on notice dated and filed on March 28 before Justice Ekwo, the applicants sought for order restraining the Federal Government from approving the deduction of money accruing to them from the Federation Account for the payment of the judgment debt.

The 36 states' AGs, who listed 26 grounds why the court should grant their reliefs, said the lower court's decision had been challenged at the Court of Appeal.

Meanwhile, in the contempt charge, the senior advocates were alleged to have placed "Caveat Emptor" on the judgment of the Federal High Court.

The court granted permission to President Muhammadu Buhari to deduct the 418 million dollars from the financial allocations of the 36 state governments as payments for debt they incurred during the Paris Club refund contract.

The five SANs were alleged to have placed the notice, warning all the banks in Nigeria and abroad against dealing with the respondents who the March 25 judgment was given in their favour with respect to promissory notes.

The notes were issued by the Federal Government and intended to be discounted and given value from funds due to the states of the federation from the federation account in respect of judgment debts in connection with Paris Club refund contracts pending the hearing and determination of the appeal.

The implications of the "Caveat Emptor," according to the two applicants, was to impede the execution of the $418m judgment debt against the 36 states as their clients.

The aggrieved applicants asked the court for an order to serve the contempt charge on the lawyers through a nominated courier company and by pasting the same in their respective offices.

Justice Ekwo, in a brief ruling on the ex-parte application, ordered that the motion for contempt charge be served on the senior lawyers within seven days and fixed May 26 for the hearing of the motion.

Earlier, one of the senior lawyers, Sunday Ameh, who was in court, made frantic efforts to stop hearing of the ex-parte application on grounds that an appeal against the judgment debt itself had been entered at the Court of Appeal and that the Federal High Court no longer have jurisdiction in respect of it.

Ameh, who informed that he had planned to withdraw the motion on notice seeking an order of interim injunction against the Federal Government presently before Ekwo, said an affidavit of facts in respect of the appeal had already been filed before the court.

He sought to withdraw the motion but Justice Ekwo, who wondered why the application was filed in the first instance, proceeded with the ex-parte application and granted the requests of the two applicants.

NAN reports that the 36 AGs had sued the president, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Accountant-General of the Federation, Ministry of Finance and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Others are Debt Management Office , Federation Account Allocation Committee, Incorporated Trustees of Association of Local Government of Nigeria, Dr Chris Asoluka, Linas International Limited, among others.

According to the motion, 43 defendants were sued in the matter.

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