By Ise-Oluwa Ige
ABUJAâ€”A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, has issued an interim injunction stopping the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from arresting, detaining, prosecuting or embarrassing the immediate past Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili over a N189m debt owed Finbank Plc.
Finbank is one of the five major banks in the country whose Managing Directors and Executive Directors were sacked by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, over alleged reckless granting of loan facilities, failure to ensure correctness of returns to CBN and shares manipulations.
The high court presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole also issued a separate interim order, barring the anti-graft agency from auctioning or trespassing, in any manner, with Odiliâ€™s property for the purposes of realizing any security for his indebtedness to the bank.
The trial high court judge who granted the orders exparte yesterday said that the former governor was a legitimate Nigerian who took a legitimate loan from a legitimate Nigerian bank.
But the orders are to lapse, naturally, after 14 days except they are renewed since they were granted exparte (without hearing the other party)
Justice KolawoleÂ is a vacation judge, sitting on very important exparte applications like the instant one.
He had also granted a similar interim order stopping APGA from holding its convention but the order could not be complied with as the founding National Chairman of the party claimed he was not served the court order.
As if the judge was preempting the defendants in the instant case, Justice Kolawole yesterday directed the EFCC, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Finbank Plc to appear before him on September 17, to show cause why the interim orders must be vacated if the injunctions aggrieved them as granted.
But the judge said even if they would apply for vacation of the interim orders, he said all the defendants including the EFCC, CBN and Finbank must not act against the former governor upon being served with the originating summons in the pending suit brought against them by Odili for protection of his fundamental rights.
The judge who suspected that the defendants could move against Odili on the ground that they were yet to be served court orders said ordinarily, the principle of lis pendens ought to apply in the case.
The principle provides that once the court is seized of the facts of a case, parties ought not to take any action on the subject-matter to preserve the res.
The judge consequently held that even in the absence of a written order from the court for now, none of the defendants upon receiving originating summons from the plaintiff must take any step or act in any manner that would prejudice on the issue already brought before the court.
Odili, through his counsel, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) had sued the EFCC, CBN and Finbank praying for an order restraining the three defendants from apprehending him or interfering with his banking operations and the relationship between him and his bank.
He also urged the court to stop the defendants from trespassing on any of his property for the purpose of security for his indebtedness.
In the motions, Odili admitted being a customer to Finbank and that indebtedness arose in the normal course of banking business.
While moving the motion, Adedipe (SAN) submitted that as at the time the CBN and EFCC dabbled into his relationship with the bank, there has been no court order for the recovery of the debt or any order of forfeiture obtained against the ex-governor.
The counsel argued that under EFCC Act 2004, there was no provision for the commission to act as debt collector in the matter between the plaintiff and the bank.
In his ruling, Justice Kolawole held that his Court has to intervene because of the nature of the suit which he said bordered on fundamental human rights of the plaintiff.