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July 25, 2024

Court okays issuance of contempt notice on CBN Gov, over unpaid judgment

The Federal High Court in Abuja has authorised the issuance of notices of contempt proceeding against the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Olayemi Cardoso and the Director of Legal Services Department, Salam-Alada Kofo over their alleged failure to obey an order of the court.

They were said to have failed to comply with a February 22 garnishee order absolute made in a ruling by Justice Inyang Ekwo, directing the Central Bank to pay a judgment debt of N63.7 million and $10000 awarded against the federal government for the unlawful arrest and detention of a German, Martin Gegenheimer by men of the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS.

The notices, Form 49, requiring Cardoso and Kofo to show cause why the order of committal should not be made against them, endorsed by a Registrar of the court, are specifically addressed to Cardoso and Kofo.

In the notice, the two CBN senior officials are directed to attend court on a date to be communicated to them.

Part of the notice reads: “This court, having delivered its ruling, made the order nisi dated 14th February 2023 order absolute against the garnishee (CBN) on 22nd day of February 2024.

“Take notice that you are hereby required to attend the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja on the first mentioned day to show cause why an order for your committal should not be made after due services upon you of the orders and the notice of the consequence of the disobedient to the order of this honourable court.”

In the notice of the consequence of the disobedience to the order, Form 48,) earlier issued to the two CBN officials, they were reminded of what could happen to them should they persist in disregarding the order.

The earlier notice reads in part: “The garnishee (CBN) deliberately failed, refused and or neglected to obey the order of this honourable court made against her more than 44 days after the order.

“This is far more than the timeline allowed by the Garnishee Charter for service to the public wherein: all issues of law touching and concerning the Garnishee ought to be resolved and or responded to within 10 days. The judgment creditor is yet to enjoy this provision.

“Unless you: Mr Olayemi Cardoso and Mr Salam-Alada Sirajuddin Kofo, the Governor and the Director Legal Services, CBN (the alter egos of the garnishee), obey, the order absolute made against the garnishee, (the CBN) on the 22nd day of February 2024, both of you will be in contempt of the Federal High Court order made against the garnishee, which you both control and direct its activities and you both will be liable to be committed to prison at the correctional centre of Nigeria.”

The order absolute was made in a garnishee proceeding, marked: FHC/ABJ/NJR/M3/2022 initiated by Gegenheimer (through his lawyer, Daniel Makolo) to enforce the judgment of the ECOWAS Community Court delivered on March 4, 2021, in which the N63.7 million and $10000 were awarded in his favour.

In the February 22 ruling Justice Ekwo ordered the CBN to deduct the judgment sum from the federal government’s funds in its custody to settle the judgment debt.

Justice Ekwo rejected CBN’s claim that the Fed Govt’s foreign exchange accounts were currently in deficit thereby making it impossible to pay the entire judgment sum.

Justice Ekwo agreed with Makolo that, as against the contention by the CBN, the ECOWAS Court’s judgments do not qualify as foreign judgment in the strict sense of it and could be enforced by Nigerian courts.

The judge said: “Upon a keen perusal of the provisions of the Foreign Judgments Reciprocal Enforcement (FJRE) Act 2004 it cannot be said that the judgement sought to be enforced in this case, is stricto sensu (in the strict sense) a foreign judgement.

“I agree with the learned counsel for the judgement creditor (Makolo) that, by Article 15 of the Reviewed Treaty of ECOWAS, and Article 24 of the 2005 Supplementary Protocol (which amended the 1991 Protocol), the judgement of ECOWAS Court can be registered and enforced in Nigeria by this court without referring to it as a foreign judgement, in the same manner that the judgement of any other court in Nigeria can be registered and enforced in this court,” the judge said.

Justice Ekwo proceeded to make absolute, the garnishee order nisi he earlier issued against the CBN.

The German said he visited Nigeria on a business trip but while returning to Kenya on 23rd February 2020, he was stopped by men of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) at the boarding gate of the Kenya Airways aircraft after all necessary departure formalities were completed.

Gegenheimer said the NIS officials arrested him, seized his passport and detained him in a jam-packed detention cell between February 23, 2020, and March 4, 2020, despite the COVID protocol and without acceptable food as well as medical care.

He subsequently challenged his arrest and detention before the ECOWAS Court, in a suit marked: ECW/CCJ/APP/23/2020.

In the March 4, 2021 judgment a three-member panel of the sub-regional court, presided over by the court’s president, Justice Edward Amoako Asante, declared Gegenheimer’s arrest and detention illegal.

Th ordered the Nigerian government to pay him N53,650,925 as special damages for various losses suffered and costs incurred while under unlawful arrest and detention by the NIS.

The costs, the court said, relate mainly to hotel expenses incurred by the German while under forced detention by agents of the Nigerian government.

The court further ordered the Nigerian government to pay him another N10m in general damages as reparation for all violations and moral prejudice suffered for the violation of his rights, and an additional $10,000 being the expenditure incurred by the applicant to secure his bail.

The ECOWAS court equally ordered the Nigerian government to remove the German from its watch list and to immediately and unconditionally release his German passport, which was “arbitrarily and unlawfully,” seized by agents of the Nigerian government.

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