By Emma Nnadozie,Crime Editor
RecentÂ protest to President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua by FinBank Plc and a receiver manager appointed by it against the Inspector-General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo for allegedly breaching a court order on an oil firm , Aquitane,Â sent shock waves all over the country and beyond.Â
In the report, accusing fingers were pointed at the Police boss for working against the recent reforms in the banking sector and a passionate appeal was made to President Yarâ€™Adua to intervene in the matter of withdrawal of Policemen on guard at the outfit under receivership.
FinBank said, in compliance with the new reforms introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), it made frantic efforts to recover N8.2 billion owed to it by Aquitane Oil and Gas Limited and when this failed, the bank approached a Federal High Court which granted it an ex-parte order to appoint a receiver or/manager to run the company pending the determination of the substantive suit.
According to the bank, it consequently appointed a receiver/manager, Chief Aribisala, which it said could only function under the full protection of the Nigerian police as provided by law.
The bank is protesting that the three mobile policemen posted to the premises of the oil firm were withdrawn on the orders of the IGP soon after the receiver manager took over the management of the company, thereby making it difficult for him to discharge his functions.
Most damaging in their protest was the complaint to the President that the IGPâ€™s action constitutes a stumbling block on the banking sectorâ€™s reforms and loan recovery and a total disregard to on-going rule of law mantra being trumpeted by the present regime.
They went further to conclude that all the reforms already initiated by the CBN and under execution will continue to be faulty if the present posture of the Police boss was not urgently addressed.
On its part, Police authorities swiftly came out with their defence alleging blackmail on the part of the receiver manager whom they noted, as a very senior member of the bar, resorted to â€œcheaply popularizing himself in a matter that is subjudiceâ€, noting that it was wrong to resort to self-help as in the instant case.Â The stand of the Police remains that they had no option in the prevailing circumstance as it relates to the case than toÂ remain neutral.
According to the Police,â€ Chief A.A Aribisala, SAN, was appointed Receiver/Manager of Aquitane Oil and Gas to recover money due to FinBank from Aquitane.Â Â He proceeded to the Federal High Court in two separate Suits and obtained ex-parte orders to take over the properties of Aquitane.Â In the two separate orders, the Inspector-General of Police was ordered to assist Chief A.A. Aribisala, SAN â€œto take such steps as may be necessary to realize the assets of Aquitane Oil and Gas Ltd as well as to assist him in securing the assets, properties and undertakings of Aquitane.
â€œIn furtherance to these orders, some Policemen were deployed at the Farm Tank of Aquitane Oil and Gas Ltd.Â Â However, on 21st October, 2009, a report was made to the IGP complaining that Chief A.A. Aribisala SAN did not disclose to the Police the subsistence of a Suit No. LD/11/2009 in the High Court of Lagos State between FinBank and Aquitane Oil and Gas Ltd.Â Â It then became imperative for the Police to be neutral in view of the existing suits in both the Federal High Courts and High Court of Lagos State.Â Â Hence, the Policemen were withdrawn, so as not to give any undue advantage to either of the parties.â€
Noting that Aribisala SAN had initiated contempt proceedings against the IGP by issuing forms 48 and 49, Police said the proceedings were first heard on 6th November 2009, and adjourned to 27th November, 2009.Â They re-affirmed their total commitment to the full realization of the banking sector reforms, having regard to their effects on the economy and stated that the Nigeria Police Force is a key player in the actualization of President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s vision of positioning Nigeria in the league of prosperous nations by year 2020, and cannot in any way contribute to the truncating of the process.
However, sources at the oil and gas company intimated Crime GuardÂ that the court order in questionÂ was obtained from the Federal High Court in Lagos at which time the receiver Manager, â€œforgotâ€ or neglected to mention the fact that the case was a matter of litigation in another Court under Suit No. LD/11/2009 on the same subject matter for which there was a subsisting order restraining the bank and its agents from interfering with the companyâ€™s assets in whatever shape, guise or form.
Police sources claimed that the orders were served on the police on the 3rd of October, 2009 at which time the facts of the companyâ€™s subsisting court order against FinBank were not mentioned.Â â€œThe police, ostensibly carrying out their constitutional duty, initially granted him the assistance he sought.
However,Â AribisalaÂ did not implement his court order until Friday the 16th of October, a day after two of his orders had lapsedâ€, the source said stating that he did not mention this fact to the Police.Â On the contrary, the company, (Aquitane Oil & Gas) reportedly served the police with its subsisting court orders that were in place prior to the action ofÂ Aribisala , in the overwhelming face of which, the police had little choice but to withdraw their men rather than be seen to be taking sides in what was purely a contentious civil matter.
It was further gathered that theÂ matter of . Aribisala SANâ€™s ex-parte orders are currently being contested in court by the companyâ€™s counsel while,Â indeed, the current adjournment in the case is at the instance ofÂ Aribisala SAN.
It is pertinent to recall that a similar unprecedented â€œappealâ€was made some months ago to the President, also on behalf of another bank by the same receiver manager, wherein he made reference to a â€œcabal of debtorsâ€ from whom the bank should be saved.Â In that appeal, he urged the President to further the cause of the rule of law which the administration preaches.
A source at the oil company told Crime Guard that the way and manner policemen were used to invade the company at the behest of the receiver manager in October 16th, 2009 left much to be desired.Â Â He alleged that on that day, the companyâ€™s premises were invaded in five separate locations by a total of about 40 heavily armed mobile policemen and a CSP of Police from Zone 2 Division. During the occupation of the facilities, the source continued,Â these policemen were relieved on daily shifts by 10 a.m each morning by the same number of policemen adding that no less than 50 mobile policemen were used in that operation.
Feelers from the Bank insisted that the receiver manager did, in fact, petition the IGP seeking an explanation and demanding a reinstatement of the men to which he has gotten no response.Â However, the source could not speak categorically on the issue of contempt proceedings and order for committal to prison through order 48 in the Federal High Court against the same IGP which Police said, was not addressed.
As it stands presently, Nigerians are watching with bated breath, wondering who will blink his eyes first, between the Police who felt totally shocked by the protest against their boss for seemingly choosing to â€˜remain neutralâ€™ in a matter that involves the strictest adherence to the rule of law and the protesting bank with its receiving manager who felt shortchanged by the withdrawal of policemen that would have safeguarded them towards successful implementation of their goal.
A prominent Lagos-based legal practitioner, Chief Theo Nwaigbo, opined that â€œthis is where the wisdom ofÂ the court will definitely prevail for justice, not only to be done, butÂ be seen to be done, without minding whose ox is gored.â€