Appeal Court Suspends Proceedings in Suit Challenging Payment of N5.4bn to Eaton Acquisitions

Appeal Court Suspends Proceedings in Suit Challenging Payment of N5.4bn to Eaton Acquisitions

Wale Igbintade

The Court of Appeal Lagos Division has stayed further proceedings regarding a suit challenging payment of N5,444,496,500.00 to Eaton Acquisitions Ltd, (suing for itself and on behalf of Promoters of Our Bank Ltd. (in formation), pending the hearing and determination of an appeal before the Supreme Court filed by an interested party, SunTrust Bank Nigeria.

The Appellate Court in a ruling delivered by Justice Onyekachi Aja Otisi, held that the appeal pending before the Supreme Court would be rendered nugatory if the application for stay of further proceedings filed by SunTrust Bank Nigeria Limited was not granted.

Sun Trust Bank had on March 23, 2022, through its lawyer, Mr. Abayomi Adeniran, filed a motion on notice praying the Court for extension of time within which to seek leave to appeal as an interested party against the judgment of the Federal High Court delivered on February 17, 2021 in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/115/2021 between Eaton Acquisition Ltd against the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.

The lower court had in its judgement ordered payment of N25 billion in favour of the Judgment Creditor, (Eaton Acquisitions Ltd).

However, the sum of N19, 555,503,500.00 was paid to the Judgment Creditor/Respondent while the balance sum of N5, 444,496,500.00 was kept in the custody of the Deputy Chief Registrar (the DCR) of the Federal High Court, Lagos Division pending the determination of another related matter, in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/1237/2020.

But, before the Motion of March 23, 2022, could be heard, the interested party filed another Motion dated December 8, 2022 seeking for an order of court staying further proceedings in respect of its Motion filed on 23rd March, 2022. It prayed the court for extension of time within which to seek leave to appeal as an interested party against the judgment delivered by the lower court on 17/2/2021 in Suit No. FHC/A/CS/115/2021.

SunTrust Bank Nigeria Limited was of the view that it would be better to allow the supreme court determine the appeal against the dismissal of the applicant’s earlier application before proceeding with the hearing of the present application, lest the application be regarded as an abuse of court process and also dismissed.

The interested party/applicant being dissatisfied with the aforesaid ruling dismissing its earlier application filed a Notice of appeal on 3rd August, 2022 to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

It argued that the present application was imperative to forestall the hearing and eventual dismissal of the Interested Party’s/Applicant’s application in Appeal No. CA/LG/CV/ROA/239M/2022 on the basis that a similar application had already been dismissed by the court.

In response, Eaton Acquisitions Ltd in its counter affidavit filed by Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, contended that the applicant was not entitled to the reliefs sought, submitting that an application for stay of proceedings pending appeal can only be granted where special and exceptional circumstances exist, and that it was a matter of law and facts.

He stated that the grant was subject to a judicial and judicious exercise of the discretion of the court having regard to all materials placed before it and in the interest of justice.

However, the appellate court in a unanimous ruling held that there were merits in the application filed by interested party seeking for stay of further proceedings.

Justice Otisi in his lead ruling, which was aligned with by other members of the panel, Justice Obietonbara Daniel-Kalio (Presiding), and Justice Muhammad Ibrahim Sirajo dismissed the counter affidavit filed by the Judgment Creditor (Eaton Acquisitions), and held that there is merit in the application filed by the interested party.

The judge held: “I am of the firm view that the said appeal may be rendered nugatory if the instant application is granted at this stage. It is therefore in the interest of justice to refuse this application filed by the Judgment Creditor/Applicant.

“The judgment sum in issue is presently in an interest yielding account domiciled in the name of the Deputy Chief Registrar of the lower Court. The said order has not been vacated. Upon determination of the appeal pending before the Supreme Court in SC/CV/999/2022: SunTrust Bank Nigeria Ltd v. Eaton Acquisitions Ltd (Suing for itself and on behalf of Promoters of Our Bank Ltd (in formation)) & Anor, and the determination one way or the other of the Interested Party/Respondent’s application of 23/3/2022 seeking, inter alia, leave to appeal as an interested party, the picture would be clearer as to the merits of the instant application filed by the Judgment Creditor/Applicant.”

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