By Innocent Anaba, Henry Umoru & Ifeanyi Okolie
LAGOSâ€” For two weeks running, the dust raised in the nationâ€™s banking sector refused to settle with events happening in quick succession.
Only yesterday, the former Managing Directors of Afribank Plc and Fin Bank Plc, Mr Sebastian Adigwe and Mr Okey Nwosu,Â respectively, alsoÂ removed two weeks ago by the CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, were yesterday ordered to be released on bail by the EFCC by the same court, eight days after their arrest.
This is coming as the former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Oceanic Bank Plc, Mrs Cecilia Ibru, who was last Sunday, declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was granted leave by a Lagos State High Court, to enforce her fundamental human rights against the commission.
Meanwhile, the EFCC boss,Â Mrs Farida Waziri, in what she termed â€œan update on the agencyâ€™s investigations in the banking sectorâ€Â said that bank loan defaulters would be arraignedÂ in court as conspirators along with the bank chiefs.
Speaking in Lagos, Waziri said, â€œwe have compiled a comprehensive list of all the defaulters.
In fact, the reason we have not arraigned some of the bank executives in our custody is because we wanted to be sure about the defaulters so that we can arraign them as conspirators alongside the bank chiefs. Our operatives are fully mobilised to ensure that the exercise is successful.â€
In another reaction, the organised labour, through theÂ Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, also warned Mallam Sanusi, yesterdayÂ that if the current house cleaning in the banking sector must be taken very seriously by all, it must not in any way be turned into an instrument for reigning in opponents of the government at the centre.
The NLCâ€™sÂ General Secretary, John Odah in Abuja, said the apex bank must note that no modern economy can survive without industrialists and other sectors of the economy having an unfettered access to loans and credits, adding that it has become imperative for CBN to amplify caution in the wake of the politics of who is and who is not on the bankersâ€™ debtorâ€™s list.
Ibru gets court leave
Ibruâ€™s counsel, Mr Niyi Akintola (SAN), in the suit against the EFCC, the Attorney General of the Federation, Inspector General of Police, Director General of the State Security Service, Governor of CBN and the CBN, is sought to enforce her fundamental human rights.
He had contented that the threat to her clientâ€™s right to movement was a violation of the constitution and that Mrs Ibru was denied the right to fair hearing before the August 14 directive of the CBN Governor, relieving her of her position.
Akintola, argued the two applications filed in court, but the trial judge,Â Justice Bukola Adebiyi, granted some of the prayers, directing that Ibru should serve the AGF, IG, DG SSS through the AGF while EFCC should be served directly with the court processes.
According to the court, â€œleave of the court is granted for the accelerated hearing of the applications. Leave is also granted to the applicant (Ibru) to enforce her fundamental human rights against the respondents.â€
The court further directed that the applicant should not be harassed, intimidated or embarrassed by the respondents, adding that the applicant should not be subjected to any inhuman or degrading treatment that is inconsistent with Section 34 of the 1999 constitution, pointing out, however, it (court) could not restrain or prevent the EFCC from performing its statutory functions.
According to the court, if the commission wants to investigate or arrest the applicant, it should do so within the confine of section 35 of the constitution. as further hearing in the matter was adjourned till September 7, 2009.
Adiwe, Nwosu get bail
For Adigwe and Nwosu, the court ordered their release on bail, following an application by their counsel. The court also restrained the EFCC from engaging in any act that could undermine or jeopardize the rights of the applicants to their freedom as enshrined in the constitution.
The trial judge, Justice Bukola Adebiyi, further directed the processes filed in the matter, to be served on the respondent at its Lagos office not later than seven days.
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), counsel to the Nwosu and Adigwe, had argued that the detention of the two former bank Managing Directors beyond the stipulated period was a violation of their fundamental human rights.
He had further contended that despite the fact that his clients met the conditions of the administrative bail granted them by the EFCC, the commission refused to release them.
Nwosu and Adigwe are meanwhile seeking N50 million damages each against the EFCC and a public apology for the violation of their fundamental human rights.
They are praying the court to declare their arrest and detention as unlawful and a violation of Sections 34 and 35 of the constitution and Article four and five of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
They also want the court to declare that â€œthe acts of the respondent founded on the highly publicized and injuring purported order of removal issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria on the basis of the conclusions/recommendations of a purported Special Examination report of the apex bank which the applicants were never availed the opportunity to rebut and particularly the arrest and detention were unlawful, unconstitutional and a gross breach of the doctrine of fair hearing as enshrined in the constitution.
EFCC to charge bank debtors as conspirators
Meanwhile, following the expiration of the seven-day ultimate given to individuals and corporate bodies that are indebted to the five banks to liquidate their debts yesterday, Mrs Waziri yesterday said those who failed to do so should be prepared to face the consequences.
She added that information available to the commission indicated that some of the debtors were holding secret meetings and strategising to escape arrest and prosecutionÂ while others were preparing to go to court to seek protection against arrest and prosecution.
Warizi argued that while it was within the right of every Nigerian to seek redress against perceived wrong, the judiciary should guide against frivolous interlocutory application from bank debtors at this time.
Insisting that the country was goingÂ through a critical time in the banking sector, the EFCC chair said what some of the individuals and organisations have done was economic sabotage, which any reasonable person should not support and let them get away with, even as she appealed to all stakeholders to co-operate with the commission in the effort to recover the loans, beginning from today.
She disclosed that her commission had compiled a comprehensive list of all the defaulters, noting that the reason the commission had not arraigned some of the bank executives in its custody was because it wanted to be sure about the defaulters, so that it can arraign them as conspirators along with the bank chiefs.
â€œWe have compiled a comprehensive list of all the defaulters. In fact the reason we have not arraigned some of the bank executives in our custody is because we wanted to be sure about the defaulters so that we can arraign them as conspirators alongside the bank chiefs. Our operatives are fully mobilised to ensure that the exercise is successfulâ€, she added.
NLC meanwhile in a statement in Abuja, said â€œit is our hope and prayer that the CBN Governor and his team will resist the pressure, to turn an otherwise patriotic and professional. Act into a horse Whip, for whipping political dissent into line, as was perceived to be the case of the EFCC in the dying days of the Obasanjo Administration.
â€œThe present contestations whether some loans were performing or not would have been avoided if more measured processes were adopted. Such obvious openings are the ways in which the hawks in our politics would want to begin horse trading and we must not allow this. Any attempt to use this exercise to exert undue pressure on legitimate bank creditors, in order to leverage any political divide, will be most dishonourable and costly to our democracy.
â€œIn our last press statement on the â€˜The Shake-up in the Banking Sectorâ€ in the country issued on the 17th August 2009, we expressed our support for the bold move of the CBN governor to sanitize and stabilize the banking sector.
This in effect meant that the culprits indicted have to be identified and made to face the sanctions prescribed by law. We also in that statement pointed out that the sanitization and sanctioning of individuals, groups and corporate organizations must be done within the circumference of the law of the land.”
â€œWe noted that â€œthe so-called bad loans in the books of the banks need to be recovered. Too often, well connected and highly placed individuals deliberately seek to rip off the system. All legal means must be employed to recover all loans.
While noting Mr. Presidentâ€™s order to the nationâ€™s security agencies to help the banks in recovering the loans, we wish to caution that this must be done within the orbit of existing laws. This was our position and it has not changed.
â€œAs the Managers of our apex bank are fully aware, no modern economy can survive without industrialists and other sectors of the economy having an unfettered access to loansâ€™ and credits. The CBN and its leadership must ensure that its otherwise laudable patriotic and professional initiative does not get enmeshed in unwholesome political intrigues.
The current house cleaning in the banking sector must not be allowed to be turned into an instrument for reigning in opponents of the government at the centre. We will watch this process closely to ensure that this process does not degenerate.â€