A Chief Magistrate Court, sitting in Ikeja, Lagos, has vacated its ruling that convicted and sentenced two Fidelity Bank’s officials – Nneka Chinwe Onyeali-Ikpe, who is the Managing Director, and Mrs. Unuigboje Ezinwa, who happens to be the Company Secretary – to six weeks in prison or a fine of Four Hundred Thousand Naira for contempt.
Chief Magistrate, Lateef Owolabi, vacated the order in a Suit No: MIK/4726/22 between Justin Ahmed, (judgement creditor); Prince Enabulele Osazee, (judgement debtor) and Fidelity Bank Plc, (1st Garnishee/Applicant).
The Court had in a ruling delivered on February 6, 2023 held that the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank, Nneka Chinwe Onyeali-Ikpe, and the Company Secretary, Mrs. Unuigboje Ezinwa should be committed to six weeks’ imprisonment, over alleged disobedience to a garnishee order of the Court, restraining the bank from allowing a judgement debtor access to his account.
However, at the resumed proceedings on the matter on February 15, 2023, the Court vacated the committal order on the premise of facts presented before it that the alleged acts of contempt were not deliberate, but arose out of communication gap between the said parties and the erstwhile counsel.
The Court, in its ruling, also stated that the error or sin of the counsel should not be visited on a party or litigants, adding that the monies, which were the subject matter and fulcrum of the contempt proceedings, had since been paid to the judgment creditor.
“From the materials presented before this court by the applicant, this application falls within the classic rule where the error or sin of the counsel should not be visited on a party or litigants. Moreover, the applicant has averred that the monies subject matter, the fulcrum of the contempt proceedings had since been paid to the judgment creditor. Having fully discharged this payment to the satisfaction of the judgment creditor, this court should not be seen to cry more than the bereaved”, Lateef Owolabi held.
The solicitor to the bank explained that Fidelity Bank, being a law abiding institution that will never or under any circumstance, directly or indirectly denigrate the integrity of the nation’s judiciary, had upon receipt of the garnishee order on December 22, 2022, conducted a search immediately, and the result showed several accounts bearing similar names to the Judgment Debtor’s (Prince Enabulele Osazee).
He noted that to prevent the bank from erroneously restricting the wrong account, the bank filed an affidavit requesting additional account details to enable it ascertain the correct account(s) to restrict.
He further stated that, on January 16, 2023, the bank received the Judgment Creditor’s affidavit showing the account number of the Judgment Debtor. Armed with the correct account number, the bank immediately identified and placed a lien on the Judgment Debtor’s account. Unfortunately, during the intervening period, the judgement debtor had carried on depositing and withdrawing from his account.
In vacating the order on February 15, 2023, the Chief Magistrate held that based on the materials before the Court, the applicant has been able to tether the law to the facts to warrant the grant of the relief sought on their own strength and not based on lack of opposition.