A judge in the Osun State judiciary, Justice S.O Falola, is presently in the eye of the storm over allegations of judicial misconduct, alleged conspiracy and involvement in a fraudulent scheme against Polaris Bank Limited, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
Details of the alleged “fraudulent scheme” emerged in a counter-affidavit deposed to by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Olanrewaju Ogunlesi, seen by PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Ogunlesi is the counsel to Polaris Bank in the lingering case, a brief he took over from Bandele Aiku, SAN.
The lawyer alleged that the judge, Mr Falola, gave judgement over the Polaris Bank case based on precedent that did not exist, conspired with some lawyers and other court officials to execute a garnishee order without appropriate recourse to the law, and allegedly shared over N16 million carted away from Polaris bank branches in Osun state with others.
The lawyer also alleged that when he established the fact that the judgement was fraudulent and contacted Mr Falola through another lawyer, the judge travelled down to Lagos to beg him in his office, allegedly confessed that he was a party to the fraudulent scheme, and promised to refund his own share of the over N16 million carted away from Polaris Bank.
Subsequently, Mr Ogunlesi said in the counter-affidavit dated September 16 that Mr Falola, a judge, prostrated flatly before the lawyer and pleaded that his matter should not be made known to the National Judicial Council (NJC). The lawyer said he had never seen a judge prostrate before a counsel in his years at the bar.
Mr Falola did not reply PREMIUM TIMES message nor did he pick his calls when contacted by telephone.
PREMIUM TIMES investigations revealed that the controversy began when three individuals – Quadri Lateef, Hamzat Oladimeji and Rafiu Oladimeji – allegedly obtained a court injunction in Kwara State High Court Ilorin, mandating a certain Gabriel Omeka to pay them the sum of N283, 174, 000 over an alleged business deal involving a company, AMD Global Concept Investment. The deal, it was gathered, eventually went wrong between the trio and Mr Omeka. The Kwara State judgement was purportedly delivered by Justice Afolayan of the Kwara State High Court, Ilorin, on December 4, 2015.
Mr Omeka, on his part, has links with the company, AMD Global Concept Limited, and operates two separate accounts with Polaris Bank Limited: Gabriel Omeka Omeka, with account number 2130049662; and Gabe Angel Oil and Gas, with account number 2130049662.
On December 27, 2018, Messrs Lateef and Oladimeji approached an Osun State High Court in Ikirun with a Motion Exparte directing Mr Omeka and his bank, Polaris, to show cause why an order of court should not be made against them over the payment of the N283, 174, 000 being owed them by Mr Omeka.
When the motion was first heard on January 9, 2019, it was granted based on the submission of the lawyer to the applicants that the Kwara State High Court Order had been registered in Osun State as required by law.
Subsequently, in a July ruling by Mr Falola of the Ikirun court, a garnishee order was issued against Polaris Bank. The judge directed the bank to pay the sum held in Mr Omeka’s account to the claimants – Messrs Lateef and others – as would satisfy the debt due to them under the judgement of Justice Afolayan of the Kwara State High Court, Ilorin.
In the ruling delivered on July 12, seen by this newspaper, the judge stated that “The bank draft shall be deposited by the 3rd garnishee (Polaris Bank) with the registrar of the High Court of Justice, Ikirun, within three working days from today.”
The judge, Mr Falola, further noted that by way of ancillary order, “the bank draft in respect of the sum adjudged shall be made in the name of the counsel to the judgement Creditor/Applicant, Omoyeni Odusola.”
This decision to have the money paid into the applicant’s lawyer’s account, insiders at Polaris told this newspaper, raised red flags about the nature of the judgement.
Controversial Account Balance
Meanwhile, details of Mr Falola’s judgement seen by PREMIUM TIMES showed that the balance in the accounts operated by Mr Omeka has been a subject of controversy between him and the bank during the hearing of the case.
According to the bank, Mr Omeka’s account balance was fraudulently inflated to $1,199,968.50 when the bank experienced system breach between December 2 and 3, 2018. The actual balance in his account, the bank said, was $23.50.
The bank’s claim of system breach was confirmed in an acknowledgement letter dated April 18th, 2019, signed by the Deputy Commissioner of Police at the Police Special Fraud Unit (SFU), Ikoyi, Ibrahim Zango. The letter, seen by PREMIUM TIMES, acknowledged the receipt of an earlier letter sent to the Police by Polaris Bank, requesting investigations of the conspiracy and fraudulent withdrawals by some account holders of the bank.
The Police in the letter confirmed the arrest of some accounts holders of the bank, that there was system breach in the bank, and that some accounts were increased into millions.
“Explicit Police Investigations into this case is still in progress,” Mr Zango said in his letter. He added, however, that “…so far, it is revealed that: (i) there was a system breach between 2nd and 3rd of December 2018; (ii) That the account holders’ accounts were fraudulently increased into millions; (iii) that the account holders made attempt to withdraw the money before their arrest…” among other revelations. Between Wednesday and Friday, the SFU could not be reached by this newspaper as a known telephone number of the unit failed to connect.
The facts presented by the Police SFU division were contested at the Ikirun court presided over by Mr Falola but Mr Omeka, through his counsel, argued that he had deposited the said amount through transfer before the breach of account occurred at the bank. The bank however claimed that the account balance inflation was done to reflect the said amount, as there are no evidences in the bank showing any such deposit or transfer. It also laid down the procedures involved in fund transfer and how it could not trace any such transfer by Mr Omeka.
But Mr Falola ruled based on Mr Omeka’s submission, arguing that he already produced evidence of the transfer of the funds.
“What I find curious is that the 3rd garnishee (Polaris) appears to be playing to the gallery by stating step by step procedure of how transfer of fund is done in the Banking system through the final address of counsel,” the judge ruled. “The court can only act on the facts and the law properly placed before it. It is not my duty to fish for evidence or conduct investigation to verify facts contained in the Address of Counsel.”
When Mr Falola delivered judgement on Friday, July 12, and ordered compliance within three working days, Polaris Bank said it immediately filed an appeal in Akure on Tuesday, July 16th and it was served at Ikirun judicial division.
But details seen by this newspaper showed that the judge signed a warrant of execution (of the garnishee order) on the same Tuesday, 24 hours before the expiration of the three days stated in his ruling. This, Mr Ogunlesi said, was a breach of the laws governing garnishee order.
On July 19, despite the notice of appeal filed by the bank, and consequent upon Mr Falola’s order, execution was levied on two branches of the bank in Osogbo.
Again, on July 22, two other branches in Ife and Ilesa were also raided, the bank said, with no explanation on the return made to the court on the value of the assets taken away in the first exercise of July 19.
In a letter addressed to the Chief Registrar of the Osun State High Court on July 23, Polaris bank said that in addition to movable items taken away, its property was vandalized while cash (later estimated as N16,445,720) was also carted away. “It should be noted that the execution is against the well-established principle of law that when a notice of appeal has been filed with the application for stay or injunction pending appeal, parties are expected to maintain status quo pending the determination of the motion in order not to force a fait accompli on the court.”
On August 28, the bank eventually got an injunction by Justice Ayoola setting aside Mr Falola’s judgement enforcing the garnishee order.
Meanwhile, when the issue escalated and the Polaris legal brief was transferred from Mr Aiku to Mr Ogunlesi (SAN), the new lawyer began investigations and unravelled shocking details about Mr Falola’s alleged misconduct.
First, according to his counter-affidavit, Mr Ogunlesi conducted a search and affirmed that “there was no judgement of the Kwara State High Court which the Hon. Justice Falola acted upon.”
Similarly, he established that: “(ii) the alleged judgement given since December 2015 was not registered in Osun State as was required under the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. It was also not executed in Kwara State which is bigger and more cosmopolitan than Osun State. (iii) The Hon. Mr. Justice S.O Falola signed the Warrant of Execution before the expiration of the 3 days he stated in his Ruling. (iv) The judgement debtors are not resident in the state.”
He stated further that during the execution of the garnishee order, various assets of the bank and a total sum of N16,445,720 were taken by officials of the court from the ATM of the bank. But curiously, while the computers, television, and teller box machines were brought to the court, “there was no trace of the total cash taken from the Counters, Vaults and ATM machines of the 4th Respondent (Bank) in the Court.” Sources at the bank also confirmed this claim to PREMIUM TIMES, saying they have video footage to show as evidence.
The practice, Mr Ogunlesi said, is strange and contrary to the law and practice, a decision that prompted him to consider petitioning the NJC.
Falola’s alleged Confession
Mr Ogunlesi said that when he found out that there was indeed judicial misconduct on the part of Justice Falola, he informed one Lukman Ogunsetan, an Osun-born lawyer and associate of Mr Falola who pleaded with him not to destroy Mr Falola’s career by petitioning the NJC.
The lawyer then informed the judge, Mr Falola, who promptly sent a WhatsApp message to Mr Ogunlesi through Mr Ogunsetan, informing him of a planned visit to his Chambers in Lagos.
On August 30, Mr Falola arrived Lagos, lodged at the Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja. The next day, he was brought in a black Toyota Corolla car to Mr Ogunlesi’s Chambers in Borno Way, Alagomeji, Yaba, by Mr Ogunsetan and their entrance was captured on CCTV.
Upon entering the Chambers, Mr Ogunlesi said he accused Mr Falola of not having a good reputation in Osun, a charge the judge deflected and said it was because judges in the state do not like him because of his stance on the appointment of the state Chief Judge.
However, Mr Ogunlesi added that the judge admitted to him in his office that contrary to what he did, he later realized during a conversation on a WhatsApp page operated by judges in Osun that garnishee proceedings could not be commenced outside the state where the judgement debtor resides. Polaris Bank has its head office in Lagos and not Osun.
Similarly, the judge allegedly “was very apologetic, begged and said he was aware that the whole thing was a scam, a 419 played on him by his Registrar and the Messrs O.O. Odusola Esq and J.P Jones Esq to make money.” Mr Ogunlesi added that the judge said he did not know what came upon him when the file was brought to him, “pleaded for mercy and said that he would change.”
Mr Ogunlesi continued said, thrice, he put it to the judge, Mr Falola, that the N16,445,720 carted away from Polaris Bank was shared at the judge’s house but “regrettably, he (Falola) had no answer. He was just looking at me.” The lawyer added that the judge also confirmed to him that his Registrar just bought a car.
Earlier, Mr Ogunlesi said that he had spoken to one of the lawyers, J.P Jones, about the fraudulent nature of the judgement and the young lawyer “only muttered how the money would be paid.”
Again, in the heat of discussion inside Mr Ogunlesi’s office, when the lawyer raised the issue of the N16,445,720 money carted away from branches of Polaris, Mr Falola admitted and confessed that he would “personally source for and pay the money” by Wednesday, September 4.
Mr Ogunlesi added that after their discussion in his office, Mr Falola gave an undertaking to “personally return the money”. Shockingly, he said the judge “prostrated and thanked me (Ogunlesi) profusely for my assurance not to petition the NJC.” He lamented that he had never seen a judge prostrate for a counsel in a matter he had dealt with.
Meanwhile, when Polaris Bank got its injunction setting aside Mr Falola’s judgement in August, O. O. Odusola, lawyer to the claimants, was also mandated by the court to pay the sum of N1 million for allegedly misleading Justice Falola that there was indeed a judgement registered in Osun.
Days after Mr Falola allegedly visited Mr Ogunlesi’s office, the money was not paid and Mr Ogunsetan pleaded with the Senior Advocate of Nigeria to extend the period Mr Falola would “personally” refund the money. “He later passed on the telephone to the Hon. Mr. Justice Falola who was with him, to talk to me,” Mr Ogunlesi said.
But on September 9, contrary to Mr Falola’s promise, a notice of appeal and Motion of Notice on Stay of Execution were filed against the judgement of Justice Ayoola J., which set aside the ruling of Mr Falola on the garnishee order. Mr Ogunlesi said that when he contacted Mr Falola, the judge allegedly reneged on the promise to pay and said that he would rather wait for the result of the new appeal.
In the counter-affidavit deposed to against the appeal, Mr Ogunlesi argued that the execution of the ruling of Justice Ayoola on August 28 can no longer be stayed since the bank has evacuated her properties from the court premises.
“That as regard the sum of N16, 445,720 collected by J.P Jones Esq from the points of execution by the Bailiffs/Sheriffs of the High Court, the monies have been shared out by the persons involved in the scam and they have only brought this application because one of them have bought a car and the others have not been able to return their share of the money. I also reasonably believe that the Honourable Mr Justice Falola who gave an undertaking to pay the money personally by Friday 13th September 2019, will not be able to fulfil the promise hence this application,” he added.
Mr Ogunlesi also challenged Justice Falola and all the people mentioned in the alleged scam to deny the facts, threatening that he would have no option but to “release more information that will destroy careers.”
Mr Ogunsetan, who accompanied Mr Falola to Mr Ogunlesi’s Lagos chamber, vehemently declined PREMIUM TIMES’ request to hear his side of the story in a telephone interview on Thursday. “I am not saying anything about it,” he said.
Mr Falola too did not reply messages sent by this reporter to his known telephone number.
Mr Ogunlesi, in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, confirmed the details of the counter-affidavit but said that he would not want to comment on the case at the moment.
A source at the NJC also hinted that a petition may have been sent to the Commission on the alleged scam but that it would take a while before the position of the commission would be made known to the public.
Officials who sought anonymity at Polaris Bank told PREMIUM TIMES that the bank now awaits the hearing of the appeal as well as the NJC’s position on the matter.