By Henry Ojelu
THE Court of Appeal, Lagos Division has nullified the conviction of the Chairman of First Bank Nigeria Plc, Pastor Ibukun Awosika and Managing Director, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos over contempt charge.
Justice Ibrahim Buba had found Awosika and Adeduntan guilty for the refusal of First Bank to release the sum of N17 billion which it allegedly guaranteed to pay the
Ejama-Ebubu community of Ogoni in Rivers State, on behalf of Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, Nigeria Limited in respect of a judgment debt against SPDC in an oil spill suit filed by the community.
The judge, in his judgment of June 6, 2018, sentenced them to three months imprisonment but suspended the sentencing till September 6, 2018 to enable the bank and its officials to purge themselves of the contempt
Justice Buba had in his substantive judgment ordered First Bank to pay Ejama-Ebubu community the sum of N17 billion bond guaranteed by the bank on behalf of SPDC.
But First Bank Plc refused to obey the order of the court forcing the court to commit the two principal officers of the bank to jail for contempt.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the court, the bank chiefs through their lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) filed an appeal.
In the appeal, the duo contended that the lower court erred in law and reached a perverse decision when it granted the respondents’ motion on notice for committal of the appellants for contempt in respect of the Order of Court dated August 5, 2010 in suit No: FHC/PH/CS231/2001.
They further contended that they were never parties to the suit in which the order was made and neither did the lower court order mandated them to perform any act.
The Appellants also submitted that the learned trial judge erred in law and acted without jurisdiction when he heard and determined the Contempt application dated March 19, 2018, adding that the judge lacked the jurisdiction to commit the appellants for alleged Ex-Facie Contempt of the Order he had made.
The Appellants also contended that the lower court erred in law and reached a perverse decision when it convicted the appellants for contempt of court and imposed a prison sentence without taking oral evidence of witnesses.
The Appellants submitted that the Respondents as complainants before the lower court did not call oral evidence; the lower court did not hear any oral evidence and the criminal allegation of contempt of court was not proved beyond reasonable doubt before proceeding to commit the appellants for contempt and imposing a sentence.
The appellants therefore asked the court to dismiss, strike out the Respondents’ motion dated March 19, 2018, strike out the Suit No: FHC/L/NRJ/1/2018 and make an order discharging and acquitting the appellants from the committal and sentence imposed by the lower court in its decision of June 6, 2018.
The Court of Appeal in a lead judgment by Hon Justice J.Y Tukur upheld their prayers and set aside Justice Buba’s decision, which convicted the bank chiefs.