March 21, 2023

Court strikes out N70trn suit against 29 accounts in 17 banks

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By Innocent Anaba

Justice Peter Lifu of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has struck out the Federal Government’s suit seeking to recover and forfeit the sum of N70trillion it alleged was stashed in 29 bank accounts by looters.
JusticeLifu held that the Federal Government’s lawyers and the private lawyers which it subsequently gave a fiat, did not diligently prosecute the case.
The court said the plaintiffs/applicants’ counsel from Mohammed Ndarani, SAN, to a private counsel “suddenly developed cold feet over this alleged public interest case.”
The 19 defendants/respondents include 17 banks, Nigerian Agip Oil Company Ltd.
FG in the suit through an ex-parte motion of August 5, 2021, before Justice Tijani Ringim during the court’s annual vacation, had secured an interim order freezing the accounts on August 6, 2021.
Upon resumption from annual recess, the case was re-assigned to Justice Lifu on September 22, 2021.
The new judge began hearing the matter on November 24, 2021, and on May 27, 2022, vacated the ex-parte order following the plaintiffs/applicants’ failure to comply with the ex-parte order after over nine months.
Delivering judgment on the substantive suit, the judge criticised the Federal Government for not diligently prosecuting the suit.
Justice Lifu held that since the vacation of the interim order “It has been back and forth, with various excuses, applications for adjournment at the instance of the plaintiffs/applicants counsel, Mohammed Ndarani, SAN.
“From all indications, the instant case has clearly lost its stance as the plaintiffs/applicants seem not to be interested in the matter any longer having failed consistently to be present in court since December 9, 2021.
“The Chambers of Femi Falana SAN that just filed notice of change of counsel on the last adjourned date has suddenly withdrawn appearance today.
“Going through the originating process filed by Mohammed Ndarani, SAN, which is no longer extant as the ex-parte order was set aside on May 27, 2022, there is nothing left again for this court to adjudicate upon.
“It is amazing that the plaintiffs/applicants counsel from Ndarani, SAN to Falana, SAN have suddenly developed cold feet over this alleged public interest case which has generated, so much public interest on the issue of an alleged N70trillion hidden in some accounts, allegedly belonging to some public officers.
“In the circumstances of this case, therefore, the application of the learned counsel for NNPC, M. T. Danzaki, and new generation bank, I. S. Etefia, succeeds.
“This case is hereby, struck out for want of diligent prosecution and I make no order as to cost.”