The Honeywell Group has petitioned the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, over alleged acts of judicial misconduct against Mohammed Yunusa, a judge of the Federal High Court.
In a petition addressed to the Nigerian Judicial Commission, the Honeywell Group accused Justice Yunusa of endorsing several abuses of court processes by a senior lawyer.
“We respectfully submit that the various acts of Yunusa. J with respect to the dispute between Honeywell and Ecobank constitute unfair conduct which have had and are still having grave impact on our company and its operations,” read the petition dated February 12th and also copied to the National Judicial Council and the President of the Nigerian Bar Association.
“Indeed, our company with an asset base of N68 billion and annual revenue of about N55 billion with over 5,000 employees and several distributors has been subjected to unfair restrictions using the instrumentality of the court.”
The petition came amidst claims that the judge received a N225,000 ‘bribe’ from Rickey Tarfa, another senior lawyer who is currently facing prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Honeywell Group vs Ecobank
In 2012, Honeywell Group began discussions with Ecobank over the indebtedness of the former’s three operating companies – Anchorage Leisures Limited, Siloam Global Services, and Honeywell Flour Mills Plc – to Oceanic Bank before it was acquired by the latter.
The negotiations between the two organizations resulted in an agreement of N3.5 billion to be paid to the bank by the Honeywell Group, a payment which was completed in January 2014, according to the petition.
But 11 months later, Ecobank allegedly reneged on the agreement and refused to issue letters of discharge to the Honeywell companies or update their accounts accordingly on the CBN CRMS portal.
“As a result of Ecobank’s refusal to fulfil its obligations, Honeywell petitioned the Bankers Committee Sub-committee on Ethics and Professionalism for its intervention for a speedy resolution of the matter,” the Honeywell Group stated in the petition.
“Following a thorough review of the petition and the positions canvassed by both Parties, a ruling was issued in favour of Honeywell to the effect that the agreement reached between Ecobank and Honeywell for the payment of N3.5 billion as full and final settlement of Honeywell’s indebtedness to Ecobank is valid and should be complied with.
“Despite the decision of the Bankers Committee, Ecobank continued to refuse to fulfil its obligations and insisted that Honeywell was indebted to the Bank.”
As a result of the bank’s alleged refusal, the Honeywell Group in August last year instituted a suit against Ecobank at the Federal High Court, Lagos, a matter still pending before Justice Mohammed Idris.
In September last year, Ecobank, through its counsel, Kunle Ogunba, filed an application before the judge challenging the jurisdiction of the court on the basis that the dispute ought to be decided at the State High Court since it was a contract issue, and not a banker/customer relationship.
One month later, according to the petition, Ecobank filed a winding up petition before Justice James Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Lagos, on the same facts as the case before Justice Idris.
“Surprisingly, the suit is in the same Federal High Court which Ecobank had challenged jurisdiction to hear the matter,” the petition stated.
Along with the suit, Ecobank further filed a motion exparte seeking “far reaching restraining orders” against Honeywell Flour Mills Plc.
“Tsoho. J. heard the exparte application and refused same because of the pending suit before Idris. J. as well as the fact that the documents attached to the motion showed that the alleged debt was in dispute.
“Ecobank was thereafter directed to put Honeywell Flour Mills Plc on Notice.”
The Yunusa connection
However, instead of putting Honeywell Flour Mills Plc on Notice as directed by Justice Tsoho, Ecobank filed another winding up petition before Justice Mohammed Yunusa “in exactly repetitive terms as the one before Tsoho. J. Ecobank also exhibited the same documents as the ones in the matter before Tsoho. J. in which he had refused to grant the exparte order.”
On 18th November, 2015, Justice Yunusa granted the exparte orders and adjourned the matter till 24th December, 2015.
The Honeywell Group stated it immediately filed an application for the discharge of the exparte order and dismissal of the suit before Justice Yunusa on two grounds – abuse of court process (in view of the suit before Justices Idris and Tsoho on the same facts and between the same parties), and the fact that exparte orders of injunction were granted by Justice Yunusa in a winding up petition in which the respondent was not allowed a hearing and for a sum that was being disputed.
“On 4th of December, 2015, Yunusa. J directed that all other cases coming up on that day be adjourned such that when he eventually sat to read the ruling, the court room was almost empty.
“Yunusa. J disallowed our application for the discharge of exparte orders made by him on the ground that the said exparte orders granted were in the nature of Mareva injunctions.
“He further stated that he did not see any reason why the alleged Mareva injunctions should be discharged. He specifically held that he was exercising what he termed as ‘Mareva jurisdiction.'”
The petition stated that the judge, in the ruling, refused to comment on all the issues raised before him, including that of abuse of court process.
He also ruled that Honeywell was heavily indebted to Ecobank, adding that the former did not deny the indebtedness.
“This we found incomprehensible as Yunusa. J had in his handwritten transcript of the proceedings recorded our counsel as submitting that there was no indebtedness and that the exparte orders granted by him had earlier been refused by Tsoho. J.”
After his ruling, the petition said the judge announced that a copy would be made available for collection on the same day.
“Unfortunately, however, despite repeated demands and subsequent filing of a motion for the release of the ruling, Yunusa. J refused to release the ruling until after a notice of appeal had been filed before the Court of Appeal on the 4th February, 2016 (60 days after the ruling was delivered on the 4th of December, 2015).
“We are aware that Section 24(2)(a) of the Court of Appeal Act allows us only 14 days to file an interlocutory appeal. Though we filed a Notice of Appeal from notes taken by our counsel on 4th December, 2015, Yunusa. J refused to release the ruling and case file in order to enable us completely transmit the records of appeal and also fully exercise our constitutionally guaranteed right of appeal within the time allowed.
“Order 6(b) of the Court of Appeal Practice Directions also mandates that records of appeal are transmitted within 7 days of filing a Notice of Appeal. In all of these, our rights were asphyxiated by Yunusa. J’s conduct.
“Indeed, on 27th January, 2016, when the appeal came up at the Court of Appeal, the ruling of Yunusa. J was yet to be released. We again remind your Lord Justice Sir, that we had earlier written a letter dated 11th December, 2015, to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court which was copied to your goodself and Yunusa. J amongst others complaining that he was yet to release his ruling but same did not make any impression on Yunusa. J.”
The petition called for appropriate disciplinary actions against Justice Yunusa for his “acts of misconduct.”
Justice Yunusa could not be reached to comment for this story.