By Davidson Iriekpen
A Federal High Court in Lagos Tuesday dismissed a suit filed by some aggrieved shareholders of Afribank, Spring Bank and Bank PHP challenging the forceful take-over of their banks by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).
The court, presided by Justice Charles Archibong, took the decision despite a motion by the applicants asking him to disqualify himself from hearing the case on the ground that he was bias.
The judge hinged his decision on the ground that the suit was unsustainable in accordance with Section 53 of Banks and other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA).
The shareholders, Boniface Okezie, Adeyemi Kehinde, Adebowale Bolanle and Cole Alexander, had filed the suit on behalf of themselves and all the shareholders of the three defunct banks to challenge the action of CBN and AMCON in purporting to transfer the assets, businesses and operations of their banks to Mainstreet, Keystone and Enterprise banks respectively.
Other defendants in the matter included Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) and the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela.
But the shareholders had petition the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, asking him to investigate the conduct of Justice Archibong in the matter.
Their lawyer, Chuks Nwachuku, had in the petition, a copy of which was also copied the Chief Justice of the Federation and Chairman of National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Dahiru Musdpha, stressed that Justice Archibong had conducted himself in a manner that threatens all that is noble in the administration of justice.
The petition was informed by the decision of Justice Archibong in another matter filed by the directors of Bank PHB to challenge the liquidation of the bank by the CBN without recourse to them. Justice Archibong was said to have touched on the suit involving the shareholders while ruling on the directors’ suit.
He had said: “The promoters of the plaintiff (Bank PHB) and its shareholders may have issues, but they are best directed to the National Assembly who may well decided to fine tune and/or codify in greater detail the process by which CBN exercise its powers. That is not the business of the court.”
But in the petition, Nwachuku berated Justice Achibong, saying it was a shock that the judge made far-reaching decisions while ruling on the preliminary objection in the Bank PHB’s directors case.
“It is a shock that such became the occasion for the judge to make conclusions that not only were final in that case but indeed transcended it to other matters pending before him including the suit of my clients and the winding up proceedings instituted by NDIC against each of the three banks in question.
“That the judge seems not to have realised the damage he has done makes it all more expedient for an enquiry to be conducted into his conduct. My sincere but humble view of the entire matter is that the commitment of the learned Justice Charles Archibong to the building and sustenance of public confidence in the administration of justice in the Federal High Court in the extant instance is zero,” Nwachuku stressed.