Wema Bank Chairman, MD, others risk jail over contempt charge
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday insisted that Wema Bank Plc. and six of its top officials should appear before it on Tuesday (Feb. 18) to explain why they should not be committed to prison for contempt.
The court order was sequel to two separate garnishee suits filed by Chief Ajibola Aribisala (SAN) on behalf of Heritage Bank Plc.
The six officials of the bank are: its Chairman, Babatunde Kasali; Managing Director, Ademola Adebise; Deputy Managing Director, Moruf Oseni; Executive Directors – Wole Akinleye and Folake Sanu – and Company Secretary, Johnson Lebile.
The first suit is against the Ondo State Government and the attorney-general of the state, while the second suit is against Idanre Local Government Universal Basic Education Authority, Ondo State Government and attorney-general of Ondo State.
Heritage Bank had sought and obtained judgment against the two parties before an Ondo State High Court in the sum of N1 billion out of which N600 million was paid.
The judgment against Idanre Local Government Universal Basic Education Authority was in the sum of N405 million.
For alleged failure to offset the judgment debt, Heritage Bank then initiated a garnishee proceeding against the parties before the Federal High Court.
On Dec. 6, 2019, the court made an order absolute against Wema Bank, attaching the principal judgment sum.
Ondo State Government is a customer of Wema Bank.
The bank, however, failed to comply with the order of the court to offset the judgment debt.
Consequently, the judgment creditor caused to be issued on Wema Bank and its officials, form 48, which is a notice of consequence of disobedience to order of the court.
Again, following alleged failure of the bank to comply, form 49 was issued, asking the parties cited for contempt to appear and show why an order of committal to prison should not be made against them.
On Feb. 5, counsel to the parties made arguments before the court.
Aribisala urged the court to issue a bench warrant against the bank and its officials to compel them to appear before it. On his part, counsel to Wema Bank, Mr Wemimo Ogunde (SAN), argued that Wema Bank had already filed an application for stay of execution of the judgment pending appeal.
He noted that the record of appeal had been entered at the Court of Appeal.
However, in his ruling at the last adjourned date, on Feb. 14, Aneke gave the alleged contemnors 72 hours to appear before the court and explain why a committal order should not be made against them for disobedience.
When the case was called on Monday, the parties were represented by their counsel.
Mr Johnson Lebile announced his name as the Company Secretary and Legal Adviser to Wema Bank.
He explained that he got a phone call from their counsel, informing him of the court order.
He submitted: “Wema Bank does not have any intention to disregard the orders of this court.”
He told the court that the other officials were not available.
He said that as one of the alleged contemnors and the company secretary, he was in court to explain why the order of the court was not complied with.
He told the court that he was served with a notice of appeal by Ondo State as well as a motion for stay of execution of the judgment.
He added that the bank filed an injunction restraining execution by parties.
In the same vein, counsel to Wema Bank (Ogunde) submitted that in compliance with the court order, the judgment sum could be deposited with the chief registrar of the court, while the appeal would be subsisting.
He, however, prayed that the appeal against the judgment should not be rendered nugatory after depositing the sum.
He noted that the parties were still within the 72-hour window ordered by court.
However, Aribisala disagreed with the submission, saying that Ogunde had no right to decide where the judgment sum should be deposited.
He urged the court to issue a bench warrant on the alleged contemnors, claiming that they had long been served the order of the court.
The court held that since the order had not elapsed, it would stand the matter down until Feb. 18, for the alleged contemnors to appear before it.
It adjourned the case until Feb. 18, for the alleged contemnors to appear before it and explain why they should not be committed to prison for contempt. (NAN)