Justice Peter Lifu of a Lagos Federal High Court has declared that the Independent Corrupt Practice Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) do not have the right or power to place a lien or Post No Debit on any bank account without a valid court order.
Justice Lifu stated this in a judgment delivered in a suit filed by a construction firm, Efoba Construction and Engineering Services Limited against ICPC and a bank.
Efoba Construction and Engineering Services Limited through its counsel, Mr. Emeka Opara (SAN), had dragged ICPC and the bank before the court in a suit numbered FHC L/CS/1796/2020, for placing a lien on its bank account without a valid court order.
The engineering company consequently asked the court for several declarations and reliefs against ICPC and the bank.
Some of the declarations read: “a declaration that the purported, compulsory taking possession of/forfeiture, purported compulsory acquisition of his right over or interest in monies vested in his Bank Account maintained with the second respondent with Account No: 1011301207 including but not limited to placing a lien, freezing or placing restrictions on the Applicant’s Bank Account aforementioned thereby denying the Applicants access and right over or interest in moveable property vested in the Applicant without any extant order of court constitutes a gross and brazen violation of Applicant’s Fundamental Right to own, acquire and possess moveable property as provided for in Section 44 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Article 14 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
“A declaration that the first respondent cannot take possession of compulsorily/compulsorily acquire applicant’s right over or interest in monies vested in the applicant and kept in the applicant’s Bank Account maintained with the second respondent with Account No: 1011301207 including but not limited to placing a lien, freezing or placing restrictions Post No Debit (PND) on the Applicant’s Bank Account save in accordance with the law.
An order of prohibitive perpetual injunction restraining the first respondent whether by itself, its servants, agents, privies’ or howsoever called from compulsorily acquiring/compulsorily taking over possession of freezing and placing restrictions on monies vested in the Applicant and deposited with the law.
An order setting aside the purported compulsory acquisition/purported compulsory taking over possession of monies vested in the Applicant and deposited with the 2nd Respondent in Account No: 1011301207 by the 1st Respondent.
“An order directing the first respondent to de-acquire the monies in the applicant’s Bank Account maintained with the secondnd respondent with Account No: 1011301207 compulsorily acquired; by defreezing, lifting/removing all restrictions placed on the first applicant’s account maintained with the second respondent.
An order directing the Respondents to severally and or jointly pay the applicant, the sum of N150 million, being damages for unlawful, unjustified and unconstitutional compulsory acquisition/compulsory taking over possession of monies vested in the applicant and deposited with the second respondent in Account No: 1011301207 which occasioned psychological trauma, mental anguish and reputational damage to the applicant.
The engineering firm supported it’s claim with 49 paragraph affidavit deposed to by it’s Managing Director, Engineer Gbenga Asonibare.
However both ICPC and the bank in their counter-affidavits had urged the court to dismiss the firm’s suit against them.
ICPC in a 21-paragraph counter-affidavit deposed by Douglas Oditan, stated that the applicant is being investigated on alleged diversion of the sum of N118, 453, 513, 95m being funds meant for the construction of solar powered boreholes in various locations in Lagos State by contract awarded by Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority since 15th November, 2010.
ICPC stated that in the course of investigation, it was discovered that only 10 of the 15 boreholes were constructed without adherence to the specification in the bill of engineering measurements and use of low quality materials as a result of which the 10 boreholes were not operational.
The anti-graft agency averred that officials of the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority indicated that the full payment for the construction had been made to the applicant and could not explain why the applicant failed to deliver on the project in accordance with specifications.
That all efforts to get the applicant to explain their side of the story failed as they refused to honour several invitations extended to them through the Ogun Osun River Basin Developrnent Authority who awarded the contract.
It urged the court to dismiss the suit, as its action was based on Section 45(1) of the Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences. It therefore urged the court to strike out for want of jurisdiction.
The bank in its 18-paragraph counter-affidavit deposed to by Eyituoyo Prosper Mogbeyi, and filed and argued by it’s lawyer, Ademola Obayomi, informed the court that it only acted on ICPC’s directives.
Delivering judgment in the suit, Justice Lifu held that: “After hearing Victor Opara, counsel to the applicant move in terms of the Originating Summons and other processes filed and William-Mbata, counsel to the first respondent adopt his counter-affidavit and A. Obayomi, counsel to the second respondent adopt his counter affidavit and having carefully considered the application and submission of counsel, I hereby ordered as follows: “It is hereby declared that the Post No Debit restriction placed on applicant’s Account No: 1011301207 by the second respondent on the instruction of the first respondent without a valid court order from a court of competent jurisdiction duly sought and obtained, is a violation of the fundamental right of the applicant guaranteed by Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) on the right to own and possess property.
“The restriction placed on Account No: 1011301207 belonging to the applicant by the second respondent sequel to the ‘orders’ of the 1st respondent as contained in a letter dated 7th of October 2019 is hereby set aside forthwith.
“The second respondent is hereby restrained from further placing any restrictions in whatever manner on the applicant’s accounts domiciled with it except by the direct and express order of a Court of competent jurisdiction specifically made for that purpose.
“Considering all the disappointments, denials of access to account and monies legitimately owned by the applicant coupled with the psychological and physical trauma associated or occasioned by such brazen recklessness of the second respondent bank, a punitive damages of N5 million, is hereby awarded against the respondents severally and jointly but in favour of the applicant.
“A cost of N50, 000. is hereby awarded as cost of this action against the respondents”.