Nigerian Custom joins Innoson Motors, GT Holdings suit

Ogunsakin Mustapha
6 Min Read

A new twist has been added to the dispute between the Nigerian indigenous motor manufacturing company, Innoson Nigeria Limited, and one of the foremost Nigerian banks, Guaranty Trust Holding Company Pls as the Supreme Court granted leave to the Board of the Nigerian Customs Service(NCS), extending the time to appeal the judgment of the Court of Appeal in favor Innoson Nigeria Limited.

The apex court granted the leave sequel to the application filed by the Board of Customs through its lawyer Tayo Oyetibo SAN, seeking the order of court to grant extension of time to the Board to appeal the judgment of the Court of Appeal. 

Oyetibo also sought leave of the Supreme Court to adduce new evidence on appeal to show evidence of the payment of the sum of N700,220,000.00 by the Federal Government to Innoson in November 28, 2011. He argued that the judgment of the court of appeal affected the interests of the Nigeria Customs Service Board and therefore it would be in the interest of justice to allow the Board to appeal the judgment of the court of appeal. 

Oyetibo also argued that it was the duty of Innoson to inform the court of appeal that the Federal Government had paid the principal judgment debt in the sum of N700,220,000.00 because the Board was not served with the court of appeal processes and therefore was not present at the proceedings of that court. He further argued that since Innoson failed to inform the court of appeal about the payment which led the court to confirm the order of the Federal High Court, it was in the interest of justice to allow the Board to introduce the new evidence of payment of the money in the Supreme Court.

The genesis of the dispute was a judgment of N700,220,000.00 which was given by the Federal High Court, Ibadan Judicial Division, presided over by Justice J.E. Shakarho on May 18, 2010 with interests at the rate of 22% per annum. After the delivery of the judgment, Innoson took out garnishee proceeding against Guaranty Trust Bank which was alleged to be keeping funds belonging to the Nigerian Customs Service Board. A garnishee order absolute was made by the court on July 29 2011 for the sum of N2,048,737,443.67 to which the principal judgment debt and accrued interest had risen.  

Guaranty Trust Bank then appealed against the garnishee order to the Court of Appeal. While the appeal was pending in the court of appeal, the Federal Government paid Innoson, the principal judgment debt of N700,220,000.00 on November 28, 2011 in full and final settlement of the judgment debt. Despite this payment, the Court of Appeal still confirmed the sum of N2,048,737,443.67 as being owed to Innoson. It was in an attempt to execute this judgment of the appellate court that Innoson had made efforts for some years to seize the assets of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, a move the Bank had resisted so far.

However, the Nigeria Customs Service Board recently intervened by instructing its counsel, Oyetibo, to file the application in the Supreme Court.

Opposing the application, counsel to Innoson, Professor Joseph Mbadugha SAN urged the court to dismiss the application of the Customs Board because, according to the Senior Advocate, the Board was at all material times aware of the Garnishee proceedings as well as the appeal, but it failed to participate in the proceedings. He also said that even after payment of the N700,220,000.00 by the Federal Government, Innoson was still being owed sums of money in excess of N1.6 Billion.  

In a Ruling delivered by the Supreme Court on Friday January 14, 2022, a panel of five Justices of the Supreme Court agreed with the submissions of the Customs board. The Justices are Olukayode Ariwoola, John Inyang Okoro, Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju, Abdu Aboki, and Tijani Abubakar.

In his ruling, Justice Abubakar in agreement with the position of Oyetibo said: “It is the duty of court at all times to ensure fair and just determination of the issues between contending parties and in that regard, the purpose of granting leave for a party to be joined as an interested party on appeal is to enable justice to be done between the parties;

The bottom line as I see it in this application, having perused the depositions on both sides, meticulously and situating them within the provisions of section 233(5) of Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended) and what I see as the justice of the matter is that the applicant has sufficient interest in the appeal which cannot be effectively determined without letting them join as a party”.

Concurring with the lead judgment, Justice Abdu Aboki said that the applicants have shown their financial interest in the matter. “It is therefore a genuine and legally recognizable interest and must be allowed to ventilate its grievances in the interest of justice”, he concluded.

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