By Innocent Anaba
A FEDERAL High Court sitting in Lagos, yesterday, suspended further proceedings in a suit filled by Ecobank Nigeria Limited seeking to recover an alleged N5.5billion debt from Honeywell Flour Mills Plc.
Trial judge, Justice Mohammed Aikawa in his ruling, held that he would prefer to await the outcome of appeals in the case pending at the Supreme Court.
According to him, it was not advisable to continue with the case since Honeywell was praying the Supreme Court to dismiss it, adding that it will amount to an academic exercise if he goes ahead to hear and determine the case and the Supreme Court ends up dismissing it. Justice Aikawa refused a prayer by the respondent’s counsel, to continue with the case.
He held: “We have to await the outcome of the appeals pending at the Supreme Court even though there is no express order for stay of proceedings, because what is being challenged is the entirety of the suit itself.
“Continuing with a case that is on appeal depends on the nature of the appeal. This appeal touches on the case in its entirety. I’ll exercise my discretion to stay proceedings. If you go on with the matter and the Supreme Court rules otherwise, what you would have done here will be academic and an exercise in futility.
“I don’t want a situation where we’ll create a judicial anarchy. Let me hear what the Supreme Court will say. If you want this court to hear this matter, then go to Supreme Court and withdraw your appeals,” Justice Aikawa said. Justice Aikawa, who was recently transferred to Lagos, took over the case from Justice Jude Dagat, who inherited it from Justice Mohammed Yunusa.Justice Yunusa had granted an ex-parte application by Ecobank’s lawyer Mr Kunle Ogunba, SAN, restraining chairman of Honeywell Group, Dr Oba Otukedo, the company’s directors and subsidiaries from withdrawing their funds from any bank or financial institution.
But Honeywell, through its lawyer Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, sought to discharge the order, contending that it was an abuse of court process.
Justice Yunusa, who was later transferred, refused to discharge the order but held that Honeywell could withdraw up to N60million in a month pending when the suit was heard and determined.
Honeywell appealed against partial freezing of its accounts, and the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and ordered that the case be heard.
While Ecobank appealed to the Supreme Court, Honeywell also appealed to Supreme Court against the Court Appeal’s refusal to dismiss the case in its entirety.
“We have to take a reasonably long date by which time the Supreme Court would have reached a decision,” he said. Justice Aikawa adjourned until June 15 for mention.