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Contempt judgement: FirstBank to challenge court decision

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First Bank of Nigeria Limited has said it will challenge the decision of Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court at the Court of Appeal.

The bank said in a statement that it had ordered its counsel to take all constitutional steps to challenge the decision in order to set the records straight.

According to the bank, the motion granted on June 6, 2018 committing its chairman and managing director, is a persistent and unprovoked use of judicial processes to intimidate, harass and threaten its operations.

The bank said the contempt case originally involving Chief Isaac Agbara and Shell Petroleum Development Limited, Shell International Petroleum Limited, and Shell International Exploration and Production BV, involved it because Shell was its customer.

It explained that Shell approached it to issue a bank guarantee to satisfy Shell’s compliance with Justice Buba’s order on August 5, 2010, and it did with a disclaimer.

The statement said the guarantee was concluded, adding, “This guarantee shall be governed by and subject to all the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and shall not be construed to fetter or limit the constitutional rights of parties, including their right of appeal.”

 

READ FULL STATEMENT BELOW:

FirstBank of Nigeria Limited (FirstBank) was not a party to the suit and earlier order of Honourable Justice I.N Buba dated 14th June 2010 in respect of which His Lordship has now committed the Board Members of FirstBank for contempt. In view of the fact that FirstBank and its Board members were not parties to the earlier orders of Honourable Justice Buba, over which he subsequently assumed jurisdiction in respect of contempt outside the face of the court, and His Lordship’s earlier orders did not direct either FirstBank or its Board members to perform any obligation, neither did it impose any task on FirstBank, suffice to say that FirstBank did not and could not have disobeyed any order made by Honourable Justice I.N Buba in Suit No: FHC/PH/CS/231/2001 Chief Isaac Osaro Agbara & 9 Ors. V. Shell Petroleum Development Ltd, Shell International Petroleum Ltd and Shell International Exploration and Production BV (Shell) made on 14th June 2010, since there was no order made against it.

2. It is pertinent to note that Shell that was the party and defendant to Honourable Justice Buba’s earlier judgment and Orders has not been held to be in contempt.

3. On 5th August 2010, Honourable Justice Buba, in Suit No: Suit No: FHC/PH/CS/231/2001 Chief Isaac Osaro Agbara & 9 Ors. V. Shell Petroleum Development Ltd, Shell International Petroleum Ltd and Shell International Exploration and Production BV (Shell), directed Shell to provide a Bank Guarantee in respect of the judgment sum which His Lordship had earlier made in the same suit on 14th June 2010, comprising both special and general damages (in the judgment sum) in the following sum as follows:

I Special Damages in the sum of N1,772,460,585.00 (One Billion, Seven Hundred and Seventy Two Thousand, Four Hundred and Sixty Million, Five Hundred and Eighty Five Thousand) – Allowing for the interest for delayed Payment for 5 years from 1996 at a modest Mean Central Bank of Nigeria deregulated Rate for that volume at 25% per annum amounting to a total of N5, 407, 777,246.00 (Five Billion,
Four Hundred and Seven Million, Seven Hundred and Seven Thousand, Two Hundred and Forty Six Thousand).

ii. Award of Plaintiffs’ Claim of 25% of the said sum till the date of Judgement and thereafter 10% of the Judgment debt till payment

iii. Award of Plantiffs’ Claim against the Defendant in punitive terms of General Damages in the sum of N10, 000,000,000.00. (Ten Billion) TOTAL: N17,180,237,831.00 (Seventeen Billion, One Hundred and Eighty Million, Two Hundred and Thirty-Seven Thousand, Eight
Hundred and Thirty-One Naira),

4. Shell, as FirstBank’s customer, approached it to issue a Bank Guarantee to satisfy Shell’s Compliance with the Order of Honourable Justice I.N. Buba of 5th August 2010, and FirstBank obliged Shell’s request by issuing the Guarantee. Specifically, the Guarantee concluded as follows:

This Guarantee shall be governed by and subject to all the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and shall not be construed to fetter or limit the constitutional rights of parties, including their right of appeal

5. Shell appealed the decision of Honourable Justice I.N Buba awarding various monetary claims against it to the Court of Appeal in Appeal No: CA/PH/396/2012 and on 23rd October 2013, the Court of Appeal struck out the said appeal on the ground that Shell did not pay sufficient filing fees. Shell immediately appealed the decision
of the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court in SC. 693/2013.

6.Despite the pendency of Shell’s appeal to the Supreme Court, an Undefended List suit and garnishee proceedings were commenced against FirstBank in Suit No. BHC/208/2013 and FHC/PH/CS/432/2013. FirstBank responded to these suits by,
maintaining that, in the light of Shell’s pending appeal to the
Supreme Court in SC. 693/2013, the Guarantee had not yet crystallised, whilst Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors., insisted that payment was due on the guarantee. While Suit No.
FHC/PH/CS/432/2013 was struck out, judgment was given on the Guarantee dated 12th December 2012, by the High Court of Rivers State on 17th January 2014 enforcing the Guarantee given in respect of the cumulative sum of N80,344,284,716.89 (Eighty Billion, Three Hundred and Forty-Four Million, Two Hundred and Eighty-Four Thousand, Seven Hundred and Sixteen Naira, Eighty-Nine Kobo). Whilst judgment was given in the suit against FirstBank , sued thereat as ‘FirstBank PLC’, the Court of Appeal struck out the appeal filed by FirstBank for the reason that it appealed in the name
of FirstBank PLC, the name by which it was sued and judgment given against it at the trial court but it did not have a right to appeal in the name of FirstBank PLC, since FirstBank PLC is not a juristic person. FirstBank has filed a subsequent appeal against that decision to the Supreme Court in SC. 511/2017.

7. Meanwhile, Shell’s appeal against the Court of Appeal decision which activated the Undefended List Suit in BHC/208/2013 and the Court of Appeal decision in CA/PH/29M/2014 succeeded and the Supreme Court set aside the Court of Appeal’s decision in CA/PH/396/2012. In the face of that decision, Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors., now contend that the decisions given in their favour enforcing the guarantee in BHC/208/2013 and CA/PH/29M/2014 are now academic and of no use. Their current position thus validates
the position of FirstBank that the Bank Guarantee cannot crystallise with the pendency of an appeal against a decision by Shell for the simple reason that if the appeal becomes successful, in the same way, Appeal No.: SC/693/2017 succeeded, the monetary judgment will no longer exist, and the basis of the Guarantee will have become eroded.

8. In allowing Shell’s appeal in SC. 693/2013, the Supreme Court directed the Court of Appeal to re-hear the appeal. The appeal was re-heard and on 6th June, 2017, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on the ground of an alleged
irregularity in the time Shell filed its brief of argument despite the fact that the same Court of Appeal had, on the day the appeal was heard, deemed the briefs of argument of Shell and the respondents as having been properly filed and served. In effect, Shell’s appeal against the judgment of Buba J., dated 14th June 2010, has neither been heard or dismissed on its merits. Shell subsequently filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in SC. 731/2017 and same has been scheduled to come up at the Supreme Court on 16th October 2018.

9. Despite the pendency of Shell’s appeal, Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors., on 8th June, 2017, commenced another Undefended List suit against FirstBank on the basis of the second decision of the Court of Appeal in the Rivers State High Court in Suit No: PHC/1583/2017, now alleging entitlement to the sum of N122,533,403,392.12 (One Hundred and Twenty-two Billion, Five Hundred and Thirty-three Million, Four Hundred and Three Thousand, Three Hundred and Ninety-two Naira, Sixteen Kobo) on the Guarantee issued in the cumulative sum of N17,180,237,831.00 (Seventeen Billion, One Hundred and Eighty Million, Two Hundred and Thirty Seven Thousand, Eight Hundred and Thirty One Naira).

10. During the pendency of the Undefended List action before Honourable Justice S.O. Iragunima, of the Rivers State High Court, Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors., on 7th September, 2017, commenced a Winding Up Petition against FirstBank at the Federal High Court in Abuja to enforce the Guarantee against FirstBank , claiming entitlement to the sum of N122,533,403,392.12 (One Hundred and Twenty-two Billion, Five Hundred and Thirty-three Million, Four Hundred and Three Thousand, Three Hundred and Ninety-two Naira, Sixteen Kobo) arising from the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Appeal No.CA/PH/29M/2014 which is on appeal to the Supreme Court in SC. 511/2017. Parties joined issues in this petition and on 13th December 2017, the Honurable Justice Tsoho, in a well-informed decision, dismissed the petition and awarded costs of N500,000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) in favour of FirstBank and against Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors.

Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors did not appeal and have not appealed the decision of Tsoho J. dismissing their winding up petition on the enforcement of the same judgment of Buba J, and on which Buba J. has now convicted officials of FirstBank for contempt outside the face of the court.

11. Despite the foregoing, Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors. filed another winding up Petition against FirstBank in the Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division, before Honurable Justice Aikawa on 14th December 2017, repeating verbatim the pleadings and content of their dismissed winding up petition by Tsoho J., arising from the same judgments of Buba J. earlier mentioned. This Winding Up petition became the third in the series of cases filed and lined-up by the same judgment creditors against FirstBank, in respect of the enforcement of the Bank Guarantee earlier mentioned.

12. Not done yet, the same judgment creditors, Chief Isaac Agbara & ors., during the pendency of their winding up Petition before Aikawa J., in the Lagos Judicial Division of the Federal High Court, commenced garnishee proceedings before Alagoa J on 5th January 2018, of the Owerri Judicial Division of the Federal High Court, in respect of thesame Guarantee, asking the court to enforce same in satisfaction of the judgment of Buba J. given on 14th June 2010. The said garnishee proceedings was later transferred to the Lagos Judicial Division and is also pending before Buba J.While the said garnishee proceedings was pending, the same judgment

creditors (Chief Isaac Agbara & Co.) commenced contempt proceedings against the Chairman and Managing Director of FirstBank of Nigeria Ltd in Suit No. FHC/L/NRJ/1/2018 on 19th March, 2018 before Buba J; by respectively filing Forms 48 and 49 dated 26thFebruary, 2018 and 2nd
March, 2018 respectively. FirstBank of Nigeria joined issues with the judgment creditors, both in the form of a preliminary objection and on the substantive subject of the contempt proceedings.

13. While the Bank respects the institution of the judiciary, however, it states with much respect, that:

a. No liability is due from it to Chief Isaac Agbara & ors. from the Bank Guarantee issued and dated 17th December 2012.

b. Further to (a) above, no law criminalises breach of an undertaking, how much more criminal liability for imprisonment upon such alleged breach.

The Bank further states that in respect of the same contempt proceedings in which the Honourable Justice Buba has convicted its officials, garnishee proceedings for the enforcement of the same judgment are pending before the same Buba J., which he has adjourned to 19th June 2018.

In effect, before the same Buba J., the Bank is subjected to two proceedings, one penal and one civil, for the enforcement of the judgment of the same Buba J. It is worthy of note that no court has awarded any monetary liability against FirstBank and in favour of Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors.

Contrariwise, the same Federal High Court which has now convicted the officials of FirstBank, had earlier dismissed all the claims of the same Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors. in the Winding Up Petition filed against FirstBank, on the same guarantee and in respect of the same sum and judgment of Buba J.

It is interesting to note that, the decision of Buba J in respect of
contempt was given in the most recent of the various (5) suits
filed by Chief Isaac Agbara & ors to enforce the Bank Guarantee. Some of the suits filed before same are still pending, including one before the same Buba J. This is also without prejudice to the appeals pending at the Supreme Court in respect of the same subject, and which appeals are borne out of the Constitutional right of appeal donated by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). We are compelled in total deference to the Supreme Court as the apex adjudicatory body in Nigeria to pose the following questions:

I. If Shell’s appeal to the Supreme Court in SC. 731/2017 succeeds, will there still be any rights inuring in favour of Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors.

ii. Arising from (i.) above, could the court have rightly condemned and convicted officials of FirstBank during the pendency of the appeals to the Supreme Court

iii. Assuming Chief Isaac Agbara & Ors had obtained payment under the Bank Guarantee after the initial judgment of the Court of Appeal in CA/PH/396/2012, as they attempted to do through the use of the same type of court actions which they have now instituted, will irreversible damage and injustice not have occurred to both the Nigerian Judicial and financial system after the Supreme Court decision in SC. 731/2017.

14. FirstBank of Nigeria Ltd has been in business since 1894, (124 years ago); and since then, it has demonstrated to all and sundry that it is a leading corporate citizen in Nigeria, and a foremost provider of financial services. The Bank states humbly that it has been a partner to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and all Nigerians in the task of development and nation building. Its positive footprints are seen all over the country. As a law abiding corporate citizen of Nigeria, the Bank respects the judiciary; as such, it has instructed its counsel to take all the constitutional steps with immediate effect to challenge the decision of Buba J. to the Court of Appeal.

15. Finally, in the face of constant, persistent and unprovoked
use of judicial processes to intimidate, harass and threaten the
Bank, it has decided to remain calm, steadfast and unflinching in its resolve to continue to provide first-class services to its teeming customers within and outside the country. FirstBank further asserts that it will always defend its interests within the ambit of the law and seek redress for any temporary injustice done to it. The Bank is not aware and has not been advised as to the provision of any law in Nigeria which allows the use of criminal contempt to enforce monetary judgement or obligations.

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BUSINESS

FG will soon start sourcing Forex from Dangote Group – Emefiele

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The Federal Government will soon start sourcing foreign exchange (forex) from Dangote Group, as soon as the latter’s refinery, petrochemicals and fertilizer projects come on stream.

This potential reversal of roles was disclosed by the Central Bank Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, after he spent over four hours touring the ongoing Dangote Refinery, Petrochemicals, Fertilizer projects and Dangote deep-water jetty at the weekend.

Emefiele toured the project sites in the company of the President/CE of the Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote; Deputy Governor of the CBN, Aishah Ahmad; Group Managing Director, Dangote Industries Limited, Mr. Olakunle Alake; Group Executive Director of Dangote Industries, Mr. Devakumar Edwin; and the Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank, Mr. Segun Agbaje.

The CBN governor premised his comment on the huge forex earnings that are expected to accrue from the export of the petrochemical and fertilizer products from the Dangote refinery and fertilizer plants by the time the fertilizer plant begins operations in May this year, and the refinery takes off as planned in 2020.

Mr. Emefiele, who commended Aliko Dangote for the volume of work done on the Dangote projects since his last visit over two years ago, also enthused that the refinery and fertilizer projects would help Nigeria to create thousands of Jobs and check importation of fuel by the federal government; thereby saving government huge amounts of forex currently being spent on fuel import.

He added that about 55 to 60 per cent of Nigeria’s spending on foreign exchange for the importation of petroleum products and food items would be saved when the Dangote Refinery come on stream. Emefiele said one third of Nigeria’s spending on forex will also be retained when the Dangote Refinery is completed.

Emefiele described the Dangote Refinery as transformational project for Nigeria, which totally keys into the objectives of President Muhammadu Buhari on self-sufficiency in petroleum products, conservation of forex and diversification of the economy. “I am sure by that time, the CBN will be begging Dangote to sell its dollars to the bank,” he said.

He noted that the completion of the refinery would make Nigeria self-sufficient in the production of refined products and also make the country to be among the league of exporters of petroleum products.

Emefiele declared the CBN’s support to any company or individuals who are ready to invest in the transformation of the Nigeria economy. “We are ready to support in Naira and also ready to provide foreign exchange for any investor who is ready to support Nigeria’s transformational agenda.

“I use this opportunity to repeat that we are ready to support any individual like Aliko Dangote who is willing to invest in this country. We will continue to support companies that display the determination to support the CBN. I feel so delighted and I am happy this is happening in my own life-time and I am sure you are all so happy.”

Speaking also, President, Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, said the project would definitely transform the Nigerian economy. “We have a couple of projects at hand and we will continue with these transformative projects. The biggest problem we have in Nigeria is that we currently import more than we produce like any other African countries. But, by the time we finish our fertilizer plant, Nigeria will be the largest exporter of fertilizer in Africa. We will also be the largest exporter of petrochemicals and the largest exporter of petroleum products in the whole of Africa. This is a major transformation.”

He said the 3billion Standard Cubic Feet gas pipeline and other Dangote Projects are geared towards Nigeria’s economic transformation.

Dangote commended CBN for its moral support to the refinery project. “There are lots going on in Nigeria. We want the CBN to support us like what it did in cement sector, which made Nigeria not only self-sufficient in the production of cement, but it became an exporter of the product. Today, Nigeria will not even import cement because we no longer have capacity for importation of cement,” he added.

In a presentation made to the CBN governor, Group Executive Director at Dangote Industries Limited, Devakumar Edwin, disclosed that the company’s target is for a significant portion of Nigeria’s crude oil production to be refined domestically, rather than imported, thereby creating jobs within Nigeria, and bringing a halt to the current importation of refined petroleum product.

Edwin said the refinery is going to provide over 100,000 indirect employment through retail outlets. He said the refinery is designed to meet Euro V grade, which is the highest standard in the world, hence products can be exported to any part of the world.

“It will be well diversified and able to process Nigerian crude, African crude and crude from other parts of the world. In terms of evacuation routes, two crude oil single point mooring (SPM) buoys and three multi-product SPMs will be located within the Atlantic Ocean to transfer crude oil to a calling tanker.

“The 2-Line Dangote Fertilizer Complex, consisting of Ammonia and Urea plants, is conceived to be one of the world’s largest fertilizer plants with a total capacity of 3 Million Tonnes per Annum of Urea fertilizer. Therefore, the Dangote Fertilizer is positioned to bridge the gap between local demand and national capacity. Dangote Fertilizer Plants will produce Urea that will assist farmers boost their crop yields through easy access to fertilizer,” he added.

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Transcorp Hotels Plc appoints Owen Omogiafo as MD/CEO

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Transcorp Hotels 1: l-r: Executive Director, Transcorp Plc, Chris Ezeafulukwe; President/CEO of Transcorp Plc, Valentine Ozigbo; Managing Director/CEO, Transcorp Hotels Plc, Owen Omogiafo; and Chairman, Transcorp Hotels Plc, Emmanuel Nnorom during the farewell dinner held for immediate MD/CEO of Transcorp Hotels Plc, Valentine Ozigbo and welcome party for Owen Omogiafo,the new MD/CEO in Abuja on Saturday

Transcorp Hotels Plc, the hospitality subsidiary of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp) and owners of the award-winning Transcorp Hilton Abuja and the iconic Transcorp Hotels Calabar hosted a farewell/welcome dinner in honour of its immediate past Managing Director/CEO, Valentine Ozigbo who has been elevated to the role of the President/CEO of Transcorp Plc and Owen Omogiafo the current MD/CEO of Transcorp Hotels Plc.

The Black-tie event held at the Congress Hall of the prestigious Transcorp Hilton Abuja was indeed a night of farewells and welcomes as the outgoing and incoming General Managers of Transcorp Hilton Abuja, Etienne Gailliez and Kevin Brett were also celebrated. The glamorous event featured different presentations from Classical music, award presentations, and vote of confidence speeches from notable personalities who were present to honour these icons including Professor Charles Soludo, former Governor and Chairman of the board of directors of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Jan Van Der Putten, Vice President Operations, Africa and Indian Ocean, Hilton Worldwide, Professor Osita and Dr. Ogugua Ogbu, Alhaji Dikwa, Chief Collins Chikeluba, Former Director, Central Bank of Nigeria,  Mr. Anslem Tabansi, Sabi Bar-Noy, Chairman of Nairda, Iheanyi Nzekwe, Chairman, Teknokleen Group, dignitaries from the Diplomatic Communities and several CEOs and Captains of the industry.

Valentine Ozigbo in his appreciation speech alluded his excellence and success as the MD/CEO of Transcorp hotels Plc to his background and great mentors whom he served under their tutelage, according the highest accolades to the Chairman of Transcorp Plc, Tony O. Elumelu for years of mentorship. Speaking about his successor, Owen Omogiafo, Valentine said: “I couldn’t have found a better person to succeed me and I am confident that she will do better, I have seen her strong execution skills and I can attest that she will do even better than me.”

The Chairman of Transcorp Hotels Plc, Emmanuel Nnorom in his remarks appreciated Valentine for maintaining and deploying high-level of corporate governance and for driving positive transformation in Transcorp Hilton Abuja and Transcorp Hotels Calabar. He further charged him on the new responsibilities at Transcorp Plc and admonished him to carry on the good works. Speaking about Owen, he stressed her affinity with the vision and mandate of the Transcorp Plc group and expressed his confidence in her ability to take the company to enviable heights.

Owen Omogiafo in her remarks appreciated the immediate past MD/CEO, Valentine Ozigbo and the Hilton management team for leaving behind a solid foundation for her to build on.  “I am well aware that I am stepping into big shoes, but they are solid shoes and they have a strong foundation, I am also aware of the company’s responsibilities to all its key stakeholders and I’ll be working with the team members to execute them excellently.”

The event ended on a high-note as all present were serenaded with high-life tunes from one of Nigeria’s best musicians, Flavour.

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Microsoft 4Afrika partners FirstBank to support SMEs  

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On 18 January 2019, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, together with Microsoft 4Afrika, will host a free-to-attend event for SMEs in Nigeria, designed to promote technology adoption and skills development.

The event will serve as an official launch of the new partnership between Microsoft 4Afrika and FirstBank, following a memorandum of understanding signed earlier in June 2018. The partnership seeks to build the capacity of local SMEs andaccelerate their digital transformation, by providing them with exclusive and tailored non-financial solutions. Participants will be exposed to skills development resources, access to business networks and an educational platform.

According to Taiwo Shonekan, Head Customer Experience and Value Management, First Bank of Nigeria Limited: “This partnership with Microsoft enables us to deliver a portfolio of non-financial solutions to our SME customers. We have over the last 125 years supported SMEs in building their business, whilst contributing to the national economy. This partnership is a landmark step in our quest to leverage the influence of technology in businesses, especially in today’s digital age.”

“With this partnership, FirstBank customers can buy Microsoft products at discounted rates in the local currency – the naira – as this seamlessly aids technology adoption, skills and capacity development among SMEs in Nigeria,” she adds.

Amrote Abdella, Regional Director of the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative and the keynote speaker for the event says: “For SMEs, integrating technology into their operations is no longer an option, but a necessity for future growth and success. We’re looking forward to engaging in discussions that explore how technology can extend reach to new markets and improve productivity, which results in better customer service, more competitive offerings and the ability to act with agility.”

Across the continent, Microsoft 4Afrika is forging partnerships with several players in the SME ecosystem – from banks to telcos – to enhance SME offerings and reach a broader audience.

“Technology and the relevant digital skills today play such an integral role in business success. We’re working with organisations to extend this support to as many SMEs as possible, ensuring not only their success, but the growth and competiveness of our continent in an increasingly digital world.”

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