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Account Freezing: EFCC, First Bank Accused of Violating Court Order – EPCICS

by Achadu Gabriel, Kaduna

Shareholders of Eleme Petrochemical Co-operatives Investment and Credit Society Limited (EPCICS) have accused the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of violating court order granted them to access their account with First Bank of Nigeria (FBN) Ltd.

The Society in a document obtained, also accused EFCC of harassment, intimidation and infringement on the rights of the members of the society by denying them access to their funds that have been trapped in FBN, describing the commission’s action as contrary to the subsisting court order.

Justice Evelyn Maha of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had on January 15, 2021, ordered that the restriction placed on the account of the co-operatives society with First Bank be lifted, but the bank refused to obey the court order, citing counter-directive from the EFCC.

Instead, the bank is demanding that the society signs an indemnity against claims by the EFCC before honouring its own obligations to the co-operatives society, a demand that is contrary to the contract between a bank and its customer and against all extant rules of banking.

The co-operatives society said it had written the First Bank seeking explanation on whether there was any superior court order served on the bank by the EFCC, restricting it from honouring its obligations to the co-operatives society.

According to the society, the bank has not produced any such order but was only referring to a counter-directive and alleged mere harassment from EFCC, with impunity.

The society also alleged that EFCC had sought to pervert the course of justice from the beginning, having supported by joining the co-operatives society in a suit to enforce the fundamental rights of the shareholders of the group.

“But EFCC surreptitiously went behind to another court of co-ordinate jurisdiction to obtain an order freezing the account of the society, an attempt that however failed, as the court granted an order lifting the interim restriction on the said account after it discovered that EFCC obtained the order in error.”

According to the society, the First Bank’s continuous ignominy is in flagrant disregard to the court order, as EFCC had filed an appeal against the order lifting the restriction placed on the shareholders’ bank account even without an order on stay of execution granted EFCC.

EFCC noted from reports and judgments that the court confirmed that the initial members of staff of Indoroma Eleme Petrochemicals Ltd, Port Harcourt, Rivers State before its privatization are the members of the co-operatives society.

Recall that in 2009, the Federal Government through the National Council on Privatization had approved the sale of 10% of its equity shares in Indoroma Eleme Petrochemicals Ltd to the host community and interested staff of the company.

“The 10% equity shares was shared as 7.5% allotted to the host community, while the remaining 2.5% was allotted to the staff of Indoroma Eleme Petrochemicals, who came together under Eleme Petrochemical Co-operatives Society in compliance with the federal government’s directive that a special purpose vehicle be formed, where all members will belong, to enable them buy the shares at the time.

“Problem started in 2013 when 10 members of staff, who initially subscribed to the purchase of the 2.5% equity shares, had their jobs terminated from the employment of the company.

“Indoroma Petrochemicals since then began a legal battle as to whether the laid-off staff can continue to enjoy dividends since they are no longer staff in the company and, in so doing, sought to replace the laid-off staff with new recruited staff.

“When the shareholding claims became an issue, the laid-off staff approached the Rivers State Ministry of Commerce and Industry to arbitrate between them and the company, and the ministry gave an arbitral award in favour of the former members of staff and, consequently, the exited staff of the co-operatives society approached the Federal High Court to enforce the arbitral award and, as required by law, it was granted and the award became a judgment of the court.

“But, the newly recruited staff being allegedly instigated by the company, approached the National Industrial Court, stating that the arbitral award was illegally procured, but the industrial court in striking out the case stated that it cannot sit on an appeal over a matter that has been decided by a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction.

“But, according to court documents, the EFCC, despite the subsisting judgment of the Federal High Court Abuja, which affirmed the shareholding of the exited staff, has continued to freeze the account in contravention of an earlier order of Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo of the Federal High Court Abuja, in suit: FHC/ABJ/SC/1222/2020, granting an order stopping the EFCC from arresting, inviting, detaining and prosecuting or inquiring into the acquisition of shares of Indoroma Petrochemicals Ltd,” it stated.

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