A Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday refused an application for the issuance of a bench warrant to compel the former Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, and four others to appear in court following their alleged refusal to honour the court’s summons.
Justice Abdulkadir Abdulkafarati in a ruling yesterday, held that it was necessary for the court to tread cautiously because the liberty of individuals was involved and that they were also challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
The ruling was on an oral application by Ajibola Oluyede, lawyer to politician and promoter of Capital Oil and Gas Industries Limited (COGIL), Mr. Ifeanyi Ubah, at the resumed hearing of a contempt proceeding initiated against Aig-Imoukhuede and four others for allegedly disobeying an earlier judgment by the court.
The others include the Chairman, Coscharis Group of Companies, Cosmas Maduka; the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Abubakar; Commissioner of Police, Special Fraud Unit (SFU), Lagos, Ayotunde Ogunsakin and Peter Gana, a Deputy Inspector General of Police attached to D’ Department. Oluyede noted that despite the court’s order made on April 9 directing the alleged contemnors to appear physically in court upon being served with court processes, the five alleged contemnors had refused to attend court.
He argued that a notice of preliminary objection by the alleged contemnors was not sufficient to shield them from appearing in court as ordered by the court.
Oluyede further argued that the application filed by the alleged contemnors was that contemplated under Order 12 Rule 12 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules.
He said: “Despite this application, I still will apply for the arrest of the alleged contemnors. By its own representation, the application is a notice of preliminary objection. It is not an excuse to prevent them from obeying the court’s order directing them to appear in court this morning. “It is in this circumstance that I apply that the court takes the necessary steps to coerce their (the alleged contemnors’) appearance to answer to the contempt charge against them.”
However, defendants’ lawyer, Ogunmuyiwa Balogun, argued that his client’s application was not just a notice of objection, but that which sought the setting aside of the order for their physical appearance.
He said the application also prayed the court to strike out the substantive application for committal proceedings.
Balogun submitted that his clients, having applied for the setting aside of the April 9 order pending the hearing of their application, “the alleged contemnors are excused from complying with the order.”
He faulted Oluyede’s argument in relation to the relevance of his application and urged the court to refuse the prayer for his clients’ arrest. In his ruling Justice Abdulkafarati held that although his court ordered the alleged contemnors to appear physically in court, in view of the application they filed, it was pertinent that the court exercise caution because “the liberty of individuals is involved and that the application is brought pursuant to the Constitution.”
He refused to order the arrest of the alleged contemnors, but elected to hear the objection with the substantive application for committal. The judge directed the alleged contemnors to respond to the substantive application before the next date and adjourned to June 4 for hearing.
Ubah is seeking to commit the five alleged contemnors “to prison for a term of one year or as the court may otherwise determine for reasons of the criminal contempt committed by the alleged contemnors.”
He alleged that Aig-Imoukhuede and others willfully aided and abetted ‘the defiance and violation of the orders contained in a judgment of the court on June 21 last year and another by the Lagos division of the court delivered on February 18, 2013 by Justice C. J. Aneke.
Ubah stated that, as against the orders contained in the judgments, the alleged contemnors have allegedly continued to instigate the police “to persecute, harass, intimidate, threaten to arrest and detain” him over the petroleum products importation transactions which resulted in his alleged indebtedness to Access Bank.
Ubah is also seeking an order of injunction restraining the IG, Ogunsakin , Gana and their agents from inviting, arresting, detaining or declaring him wanted in relation to the petroleum products importation transactions, which the court had settled by virtue of both subsisting judgments.
He hinged his prayers on the grounds that the dispute relating to his company’s alleged indebtedness, over which Maduka and Aig-Imoukhuede were now allegedly instigating the police to threaten him with arrest, detention, or being declared wanted, have been resolved in both judgments.