Contempt: Court fixes June 27 for further hearing in GT Bank’s suit against Afex Exchange Directors

Ogunsakin Mustapha
8 Min Read

Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of a Federal High Court, Lagos on Thursday  fixed June 27 for further hearing in an ongoing contempt suit initiated by the Guarantee Trust Bank Limited against the Directors of the Afex Exchange Commodities Limited over alleged N17, 808, 452, 467. 107 billion loan indebtedness.

Justice Aneke fixed the date after hearing the argument and submission of the plaintiff lead counsel, Mr Ade Adedeji (SAN), and the respondent/ defendant counsel, Prof Adewale Olawoyin (SAN) over the Afex Exchange Commodities Directors disobedience to court order.

The plaintiff, the Guarantee Trust Bank Limited has through his counsel, Chief Ajibola Aribisala (SAN) filed a suit marked no FHC/L/CS/911/2024 against the respondent, Afex Exchange Commodities Limited and it’s five Directors over debt.

The directors, the alleged contemnors are; Ayodeji Olaleye Balogun, Jendayi Fraaser, Justin Lee Topilow, Mobolaji Oluwatomi Adeoye, and Koonal Bharat Ghandi.

The court had at the last sitting ordered the contemnors who were not in court to appear and issue form 49 to be served on them via newspaper publication.

However, at the resume proceeding earlier on Thursday, the plaintiff (GTB) lead counsel, Adedeji (SAN) told court that there are two contempt proceeding pending before the court. He said one is ripe for hearing while the other is not.

He said the first one is the contempt against the respondent five directors (Afex Exchange Commodities Limited directors) which is ripe for hearing while the second one which is the contempt against the Directors of various parties, that is banks and their directors is not ripe for hearing .

The listed 27 banks includes: Access Bank Plc, Citibank Nigeria Limited,
Ecobank Plc, Globus Bank Limited, Jaiz Bank Plc, Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, First Bank of Nigeria Plc and First City Monument Bank Plc.

Other banks are: Guarantee Trust Bank Plc, Heritage Bank Limited, Keystone Bank Limited, Lotus Bank Limited, Parallex Bank, Polaris Bank Limited,
Premium Trust Bank Limited, Providus Bank Limited, Signature Bank Limited, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria Plc, Sterling Bank Plc, Sun Trust Bank Nigeria Limited, TAJ Bank Limited, Titan Trust Bank, United Bank For Africa Plc, Wema Bank Plc and Unity Bank Plc as first to 27 respondents respectively.

However, the banks were all represented by their lawyers. While Prof Olawoyin SAN represented Afex Exchange Commodities Limited and it’s five Directors.

Adedeji therefore told court that that when a specific order is been made by the court, it must be obeyed. He argued that non of the respondent directors (Afex Exchange Commodities Limited) were in court in disobedience to court order.

He said, “My lord, the parties in contempt are not in court. The contemnor cannot sit in their comfort home and be sending lawyer to court in contempt proceeding. The law is trite that they must appear before the court.”

Adedeji buttressing his argument said that the company directors invoked the contempt proceeding, and further responded to the submission by Olawoyin that the issue of jurisdiction be treated first.

He cited the case of Ebodaghe v. FRN 2004 18 NWLR Pt 905 page 470. The plaintiff lawyer said Supreme Court decision on the issue is clear, that that contempt must be given priority. The counsel didn’t not apologize to court why the contemnor was not in court. “They are trying to avoid coming to court. The integrity of the court matters a lot.”

But Prof Olawoyin in his response said he was briefed on Tuesday about that matter. He said he was not aware of what transpired earlier in the case that he got to know of some fact upon enquiry.

” When I inquired of about the whereabouts of the contemnor was the reason I filed the application before the court. The people listed as directors in the suit are no longer with the company. There are only three Directors in the company now and one of them is in court, Mr Akinyinka. And the other one went for Umrah (Hajj) with due respect. I will never be a party to disrespecting the court. I need extra facts. I prayed the court to give us opportunity and grant us adjournment.”

He urged the court to give him opportunity to be heard and deal with the matter appropriately.

Meanwhile,  the lawyer that represented Citibank prayed the court to discharge her client (Citibank) but Justice Aneke said she have to come back on the next adjourn date and also Mr Olajide who represented Sterling bank, the 21st respondent that filed an application to be joined in the suit. Olajide said he filed application to show cause. But Adedeji responded that is not ripe for hearing.

Justice Aneke subsequently adjourned further hearing in the suit to June 27,2024.

It would be recalled that at the last adjourned date, Chief Aribisala told court that the contempt proceedings is sui generis (of its own kind) and takes precedence above any other applications before the court. He submitted that every person to whom an order of court is directed has an unqualified obligation to obey the order until it is discharged or set aside on appeal. Chief Aribisala argued that the alleged contemnors were still liable to show cause as to why they should not be punished for contempt.

On May 27, Justice Aneke granted an interim Global Standing Instruction (GSI) injunctive relief, following an application by Chief Aribisala on behalf of GTB. GSI was created as a last resort for banks and financial institutions to recover outstanding loans from chronic debtors.

The court also granted a “Pre-judgment interest on the N15,766,475,417.06 at the prevailing rediscounted rate of 28 per cent yearly, as approved by the CBN from April 18, 2024, when the Plaintiff’s letter of demand dated April 17, 2024 was delivered to the defendant, until judgment is delivered in this suit. “Post-judgment interest on the said sum of N15,766,475,417.06 and cost of recovery and incidental expenses in the sum of N2,041,977,050.047.”

The court further granted a mandatory injunction commanding the defendant/respondent to allow the plaintiff to appoint its appointed agent to take over the commodities/produce stored by the defendant in the 16 warehouses across the seven states.

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