NIGERIA: N1b Imo debt: CBN, 14 Banks Deny Overseeing State’s Account

ABUJA (THE NATION) -- The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and 14 other banks of the 17 ordered by an FCT High Court to show cause why plea for garnishee of alleged accounts operated by the Imo State government should not be made absolute have denied overseeing the state’s accounts.

The denials were contained in the respondents briefs filed by the concerned banks yesterday in Abuja, and shared by lawyer for the Judgment Creditors, Mr. Anthony Agbonlahor.

The judgment creditors – E.F. Network Nig. Ltd and Mr. Gideon Egbuchulam – on April 17, approached the court with an ex parte motion, praying it to compel 17 banks allegedly overseeing the Imo state government accounts to effect the payment.

Justice Bello Kawu granted the prayer by directing the listed banks to show cause why the order should not made absolute.

The banks are Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Access Bank Plc, Zenith Bank Plc, Jaiz Bank, Union Bank Plc, United Bank for Africa (UBA), First Bank Plc, Ecobank Plc, Keystone Bank Plc, and Diamond Bank Plc.

Others are Fidelity Bank Plc, Polaris Bank Plc, GTBank Plc, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Unity Bank Plc, Heritage Bank Plc, and FCMB Bank Plc.

The Supreme Court in March affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Owerri, which ordered the defendants to pay the N1 billion contract debt owed the judgment creditors.

The apex court held that the appeal by the government and Governor Rochas Okorocha, challenging the judgment of the lower court, was not meritorious.

However, going by the respondents brief filed by the 17 banks, 14 of them denied overseeing any Imo government accounts.

The CBN said it was not in the position to effect the order since it had only administrative supervisory powers over banks.

Its lawyer Ahmed Abdullahi said the bank did not maintain accounts in the name of the judgment debtor.

He further said the bank had such powers to track funds due to the government in the consolidate revenue fund of Imo state. Abdullahi also argued that the bank did not partake in the actual sharing of funds to from the Federation Account. He added that CBN, as a public officer, required the consent of the Attorney-General of the Federation to act on legal matters and the processes served on the bank did indicate consent was sought.

Abdullahi, therefore, prayed the court to vacate the order and discharge the bank in the interest of justice.

However, the respondent’s brief filed by Zenith Bank Plc indicated that the government maintained an account with it, but the account was used to obtain a N10 billion loan from the bank in 2016 and spread across 240 months.

Similarly, Access Bank, in its response, agreed to oversee a number of the judgment debtor’s account, but that the balances in those accounts were abysmally negligible and there were no recent transactions on the accounts.

But Agbonlahor said Access Bank’s testimony was incorrect.

The Imo State Attorney-General, Chief M.O Nlemedim (SAN), also filed a Motion on Notice seeking the termination of the garnishee proceedings for want of competence.

He is asking the court for an order restraining the judgment creditors, agents, representatives or the garnishee banks from relying on the said garnishee order pending the determination of the motion.

The state is also seeking the setting aside of the April 17 garnishee order for allegedly being an abuse of court process.

Justice Bello Kawu fixed June 25 for continuation of hearing.