Patrick Akinwuntan, CEO, Ecobank Nigeria


The long dispute between Ecobank Nigeria Plc and Honeywell Group Plc over the debt of N3.5 billion that got a Federal High Court judgment last Friday may not be the end of the matter as Ecobank had signified its resolve to appeal the judgment. Both Ecobank and Honeywell had dragged the matter for over five years through the Federal High Court, Appeal and up to the Supreme Court for one reason or the other and Honeywell had recorded victory in most of the cases against Ecobank.-

In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld decision of the Court of Appeal, which dismissed the asset-freezing ex-parte order filed by Ecobank Plc against Honeywell Group at the Federal High Court in Lagos. The apex court had said the ex-parte order was unduly obtained and a clear breach of the provisions of the winding up rules.

Following the decision of the Supreme Court, Honeywell filed a suit claiming the sum of N72 billion in damages against Ecobank for reputational losses suffered as a result of the asset-freezing ex-parte order. Also, according to information disclosed to BusinessHallmark, efforts to resolve the dispute by Honeywell through the intervention of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria’s (CIBN) Sub-Committee on Ethics and Professionalism (Bankers’ Committee), being the industry accepted dispute resolution mechanism for resolving disputes between bankers and their customers also failed.

The Bankers’ Committee is an organ made up of representatives of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), CIBN, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) and Managing Directors of Banks. It is charged with

the responsibility of sanitising the practice of banking in Nigeria and the promotion of discipline among practitioners, with part of its duties being the resolution of issues emanating from normal banker-customer relationships.

At the end of the review of the argument of both Honeywell and Ecobank, the Bankers’ Committee ruled in Honeywell’s favour by resolving that the payment of N3.5 billion by Honeywell was indeed full and final settlement of its obligations to Ecobank and Honeywell was not indebted to Ecobank.

Not satisfied with this judgment, Ecobank asserted, through correspondence with the company, that the company was still indebted to the bank and also maintained the company’s name in the CBN’s CRMS

portal for non-performing loan accounts.

Honeywell Group, therefore, sought the intervention of the courts to give effect to the decision reached at the Bankers’ Committee. It would be recalled that the legal battle between Honeywell and Ecobank actually started in 2015, when Honeywell subsidiaries, Anchorage Leisures Ltd, Honeywell Flour Mills Plc and Siloam Global Limited in August 2015, instituted a suit before the Federal High Court, Lagos seeking the determination of whether or not the companies are truly indebted to the bank following the payment of N3.5 billion between 2013 and 2014 as full and final settlement of their obligation to Ecobank based on a mutual agreement between the two parties.

On its position, Honeywell claimed that it had settled its outstanding debt to Ecobank having fulfilled its part of an agreement with the bank to pay the sum of N3.5 billion as full and final payment of the company’s obligation to the bank.

But Ecobank had claimed that this agreement was not binding on the bank as its Board of Directors had not ratified the agreement, which was communicated to Honeywell by the Managing Director of the bank.

The bank also claimed that the payment was not made within the stipulated timeline.

Rather than allowing the case to go to trial, Ecobank, through its lawyers sought an ex-parte order from the same Federal High Court.

The bank, through its lawyer, went on to institute several suits against Honeywell before multiple judges of the same Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division with all primarily being in respect of the same subject matter, seeking an order to freeze all the accounts of the company and deny the company access to all its funds with banks in Nigeria.

Asides from Justice Mohammed Yunusa, who eventually granted the order, all the courts approached, requested the bank to put Honeywell on notice regarding the ex-parte order, which was applied for.

However, Justice Yunusa eventually granted the ex-parte injunction against Honeywell.

Following an appeal by Honeywell Group seeking a discharge of the order granted by Justice Yunusa, the Court of Appeal, based on Honeywell’s application dismissed the ex-parte injunction and even described the decision as “exercise of discretion too extreme and injudicious to be allowed to subsist.”

This position was further re-emphasised by the Supreme Court in the final judgment, stating that the grant of the asset freezing order was a clear breach of the provisions of the extant laws.

Honeywell now claiming damages based on the losses it suffered as a result of the ex-parte order, which the Supreme Court has now ruled was wrongly obtained by Ecobank. Honeywell’s claim is that the order granted by Justice Yunusa to the bank was designed primarily to injure its business and cause significant embarrassment to principals and officials of the company.

The company has also put forward evidence to the court to support its application for damages it suffered as a result of the, now proven, wrong order, which was in place for nearly six months until it was lifted by the Court of Appeal.

Also, in March 2018, the matter took another dimension when the Court of Appeal in Lagos ordered Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos to suspend further hearing of the same case that Ecobank stated the disputed amount to N5.5billion.

Ecobank had accused the judge of bias, saying it had no faith in him to do justice in the case and the bank had written the court’s Chief Judge asking that the case be re-assigned to another judge.

The bank also prayed Justice Idris to recues himself from adjudicating on the case in which Ecobank claimed  it had several reasons to believe that it would not get justice.

It clarified that the application to transfer the case from him was not an attack on the judge’s integrity. But, the judge refused to recues himself. He held that he would hear the case.  Therefore, Ecobank, dissatisfied with the position of the judge appealed to the Court of Appeal. It also asked the Court of Appeal to order a stay of proceedings at the lower court.

When the matter resumed in January 2019, the suit has to resume afresh due to the elevation of former trial judge, Justice Mohammed to the Court of Appeal. And at the resumed hearing of the matter, both parties agreed to adopt all exhibits and statements on oath earlier tendered in the matter before the trial judge, Justice Idris and the court consequently consented to the agreement.

Upon the consent of both parties, the first plaintiff’s witness, Oluwakemi Olanrewaju Owasonoye, Head of Treasury/Finance of Honeywell Group of Companies, who was led in evidence by Honeywell’s lawyer, Mr.

Olabode Olanipekun (SAN), was subsequently asked to enter the witness box so as to adopt her earlier statements on oath, which she did.

Following the plaintiff’s witness adoption of her statements on oath, lawyer to Ecobank Plc, Mr. Divine Agbua informed the court of a pending motion to call additional witness dated March 7, 2018, this

was moved and subsequently granted by the trial judge.

However, the latest judgment by the court last Friday 31 of May 2019, the court ruled that, Honeywell payment of the sum of N3.5 billion between 2013 and 2014 constitutes the full and final settlement of its

indebtedness to Ecobank Nigeria Limited.

The judgment, which was delivered by Justice Olayinka Faji, also affirmed the fact that a valid agreement was reached at various meetings between representatives of disputed parties on the 22 of July, 2013 and in line with the agreement reached, Honeywell made the payment to the bank in order to settle its indebtedness, but same could not be said of Ecobank which rather than keep to the terms of agreement, sought to introduce new terms.

The court held that all through the course of the installment payments being made by Honeywell, Ecobank did not at any time raise any objections to the payments. The court held that the amount now

being claimed by the bank was not at any time mentioned in the meetings or series of correspondence with Honeywell.

Meanwhile, Ecobank has said it will appeal the judgment of the court, saying it strongly disagrees with the decision of the court.  It will be recalled that Anchorage Leisures Ltd, Honeywell Flour Mills Plc., and Siloam Global Limited (all members of the Honeywell Group), in August 2015, instituted a suit before the court in Lagos seeking the determination of whether or not the companies are truly indebted to the bank following the payment of the sum of N3.5 billion as full and final settlement of their obligations to Ecobank, based on a mutual agreement between Honeywell and Ecobank.

Confirming the judgment, counsel to Honeywell Group, Mr. Olabode Olanipekun (SAN), told Business Hallmark that, “the judgment of a court takes immediate effect”, which implies that Honeywell is no more indebted to Ecobank in any way.




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