CONTEMPT: COURT VACATES ORDER SENTENCING MD, COMPANY SECRETARY OF FIDELITY BANK TO SIX WEEKS IN PRISON
Lagos, Nigeria, February 18, 2023: A Chief Magistrate Court sitting in Ikeja , Lagos has vacated its ruling that convicted and sentenced the Managing Director and Company Secretary of Fidelity Bank Plc to six weeks in prison or a fine of Four Hundred Thousand Naira respectively for contempt.
The Chief Magistrate, Mr. Lateef Owolabi vacated the order in a Suit No: MIK/4726/22 between Justin Ahmed, (judgement creditor), Prince Enabulele Osazee, (judgement debtor) and Fidelity Bank Plc, (1st Garnishee/Applicant).
The court in an earlier ruling delivered on February 6, 2023, held that the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank, Nneka Chinwe Onyeali-Ikpe and the Company Secretary, Mrs. Unuigboje Ezinwa should be committed to six weeks’ imprisonment over alleged disobedience of a garnishee order of the court restraining the bank from allowing a judgement debtor access to his account.
However, at the resumed proceedings on the matter on Feb 15, 2023, the court vacated the committal order on the premise of facts presented before the court that the alleged acts of contempt were not deliberate but arose out of communication gap between the said parties and the erstwhile counsel. The court in its ruling also stated that the error or sin of the counsel should not be visited on a party or litigants. The court also noted that the monies which was the subject matter and fulcrum of the contempt proceedings has since been paid to the judgment creditor.
“From the materials presented before this court by the applicant, this application falls within the classic rule where the error or sin of the counsel should not be visited on a party or litigants. Moreover, the applicant has averred that the monies subject matter, the fulcrum of the contempt proceedings had since been paid to the judgment creditor. Having fully discharged this payment to the satisfaction of the judgment creditor, this court should not be seen to cry more than the bereaved”, Mr Lateef Owolabi held.
The solicitor to the bank explained that Fidelity Bank, being a law abiding institution that will never or under any circumstance, directly or indirectly denigrate the integrity of the nation’s judiciary, had upon receipt of the garnishee order nisi on December 22, 2022, conducted a search immediately, and the result showed several accounts bearing similar names to the Judgment Debtor’s (Prince Enabulele Osazee). To prevent the bank from erroneously restricting the wrong account, the bank filed an affidavit requesting additional account details to enable it ascertain the correct account(s) to restrict.
He further stated that, on January 16, 2023, the bank received the Judgment Creditor’s affidavit showing the account number of the Judgment Debtor. Armed with the correct account number, the bank immediately identified and placed a lien on the Judgment Debtor’s account. Unfortunately, during the intervening period, the judgement debtor had carried on depositing and withdrawing from his account.In vacating the order on February 15,2023, the Chief Magistrate held that based on the materials before the court, the applicant has been able to tether the law to the facts to warrant the grant of the relief sought on their own strength and not based on lack of opposition.