First Bank has released a comprehensive and extensive statement four days after Honourable Justice I.N Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division, granted a motion in SUIT NO: FHC/L/NRJ/1/2018 committing the Chairman and Managing Director of FirstBank of Nigeria Ltd. for contempt Ex Facie Curiae.
First Bank’s Chairman and CEO were committed for contempt with respect to an order given by the same Honourable Justice I.N Buba on 14th June, 2010, 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.
The bank, in its statement, said “We are constrained to issue the following statement to set the records straight and correct the erroneous reporting contained in some media publications.”
Explaining in copious detail the origin of the suit and how it affects First Bank, the statement noted that “FirstBank of Nigeria Limited (FirstBank) was not a party to the suit” before going ahead to show that “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.”
The statement, therefore, averred that the bank and officers could not “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.”
First bank sought to explain further, through its statement, that it is not a direct party to the suit and is only connected because it obliged Shell’s request for it to provide a bank gurantee. “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.”
First Bank found it pertinent to note that Shell, which is the concerned party in the suit, was not held to being contempt. According to their statement “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.”
Going further, the statement noted that there is a “garnishee proceeding” pending before the same judge. According to First bank “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.”
What this then means, according to First Bank is that, it is facing two proceedings before the same judge. “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. Also, 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.”
Restating its bonafides as a law abiding corporate entity, First bank concluded by stating that it will remain, calm steadfast and law abiding despite harassment and intimidation. “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 judgements or obligations.”