A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, on Friday, struck out a contempt charge filed against Ecobank Nigeria Limited by Honeywell Flour Mills Plc.
Justice Ibrahim Idris held that the Form 48 and Form 49 (with which contempt proceedings are initiated) were not properly served on the alleged contemnors.
The judge declined jurisdiction, but however directed parties to maintain status quo until the order is set aside by the Court of Appeal.
The judge said any party seeking to jail another for disobeying a court order was duty bound to ensure that processes in contempt proceedings were duly served.
Breach of such proper service, he said, “will wrought consequences on the proceedings.”
Honeywell and its subsidiaries including Anchorage Leisures Limited and Siloam Global Services Limited, had accused Ecobank of disobeying an earlier directive by the judge that all parties should maintain status quo ante-bellum.
They sued Ecobank over disagreements regarding an alleged debt owed the bank by the group.
Justice Idris had last August 10 made an order of interim injunction restraining the bank from publishing the plaintiffs’ name as debtors. The judge also ordered parties to maintain the status quo pending hearing of the plaintiffs’ suit against Ecobank.
But while the suit was pending, Ecobank filed other suits before other judges in a bid to recover its debt from Honeywell Group and its chairman Oba Otudeko.
Honeywell, through its lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), filed the Form 48 and Form 49, urging the court to hold the bank in contempt.
Declining jurisdiction, Justice Idris held: “What I can see from a close examination of form 48 is that the form is stamped; the wordings are however illegible. I can see that the stamp has the date of 19th November 2015. The same applies to Form 49.
“A valid proof of service of the same forms must have endorsed therein the following, as stated by the Court of Appeal: (1) particulars of the person serving; (2) date of service; (3) time and place of service and (4) the person that accepted the service.
“I’m afraid that it appears that the Form 48 and 49 were not properly endorsed with the particulars of service. In effect, there is no reliable or authentic information before the court as to the service of the Form 48 and 49 on the defendants herein. This issue goes to the issue of the jurisdiction of the court. This court must act with caution. I decline jurisdiction.”
He adjourned till February 26 for hearing of Ecobank’s motion for stay of proceedings.
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