The Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday barred the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris and the Commissioner of Police in Lagos Edgar Imohimi from arresting Managing Director of Ecobank Nigeria Limited Mr Charles Kie.
Justice Muslim Hassan ordered that status quo be maintained until Kie’s motion on notice for an order of perpetual injunction stopping his arrest is heard and determined.
Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) Panti Mr Bolaji Salami and Managing Director of Emirates Fuel Exploration and Production Limited are the other respondents.
The judge ruled on an ex-parte application by Kie and Ecobank argued on their behalf by Mr A. I. Olawoye of the firm of Punuka Attorneys and Solicitors.
The lawyer alleged that armed policemen invaded Ecobank’s head office in a bid to arrest Kie.
“They were there with a large battalion of officers, scaring customers away. The Managing Director is now scared of moving around freely,” he said.
The lawyer said it was due to the bank’s refusal to transfer $10.5million (about N3.7billion) from the account of a customer, INT Towers Limited, to that of Emirates Fuel Exploration and Production, as ordered by a Lagos Magistrate, Mr W.B. Balogun.
Justice Hassan held: “I have carefully read the application, the affidavit in support, the exhibits attached and the written address of learned counsel.
“I am of the view that the interest of justice will be better served if the respondents are put on notice.
“Meanwhile, status quo ante bellum should be maintained pending the determination of the motion of notice.”
The applicants sought an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents or their agents “from harassing, oppressing, detaining, arresting and/or intimidating the applicants or their officers.”
They also prayed the court to restrain the police from “interfering in any way with the personal liberty of the applicants or the smooth running of their business in any manner whatsoever that will breach the fundamental rights of the applicants pending the hearing of the originating motion”
Olawoye said the application was based on the grounds that the police stormed Ecobank’s headquarters on September 28 to arrest Kie.
“His movement has been constrained for fear of being arrested. It has affected his functions as Managing Director of the bank. He cannot move around with his security personnel who are policemen and thus he has been exposed to great security risk considering his position.
“The respondents have continued to harass, oppress and intimidate the applicants by continuous threats to forcefully arrest and detain the first applicant (Kie) in further breach of the applicants’ fundamental rights.
“The actions of the respondents are instigated by malice and bad faith and their actions are ultra vires and without due process,” the lawyer said.
In an affidavit in support of the ex-parte motion, deposed to by a Litigating Officer in Ecobank’s Legal and Regulatory Unit, Adetoro Ojelabi, the bank said it received letters from the IGP requesting for information on an account being investigated for armed robbery, fraudulent act, obtaining money by false pretence and stealing.
The bank said it was surprised when it received another letter of August 25 authored by DCP Salami asking it to transfer $10,500,000 from an account belonging to INT Towers to Emirates Fuel based on an order by a Magistrate’s Court.
Ecobank said it was never served with court processes in the proceedings before the Magistrate Court, adding that the holder of the account was not made a party, even as the amount was far above the magistrate court’s jurisdiction, which is limited to N10million.
Besides, the bank said the letter from the police which instructed it to transfer the money predates the Magistrate’s order, and that none of its officers was ever invited to clarify the claims.
Ecobank claimed that the order “was secretly obtained against them” and that nobody was charged or convicted for any criminal allegation before the order was obtained.
The bank said it filed an application seeking to set aside the order, a stay of execution and a motion for leave to appeal against the order.
“To the total dismay of the applicants, officers of the respondents stormed the corporate headquarters of the bank to arrest the first applicant on the ground that he refused to comply with their instruction to illegally transfer the sum of $10,500,000 from a customer’s account to a third party account.
“The policemen acting on the strict instruction of the respondents created a damaging scene at the corporate headquarters of the applicants and disrupted its business,” the deponent said.
The applicants said the action of the police caused serious damage to the bank’s reputation, and that if not restrained, they would continue to violate their rights.
Justice Hassan adjourned till November 9 for the hearing of the motion on notice.