Indebtedness: Honeywell Chairman, Oba Otudeko, testifies in court

Oba Otudeko [Photo Credit: Punch Newspaper]

The Chairman of Honeywell Group, Oba Otudeko, on Wednesday testified before Mohammed Idris, a judge of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, over the indebtedness of his company to Ecobank Nigeria Ltd.

Mr. Otudeko, who sat in the witness box, said his company paid an agreed N3.5 billion to the bank as “full and final payment for indebtedness” for a N5.5 billion debt owed the bank.

“I can confirm that Honeywell Group paid to the defendant N1 billion at a meeting in December 2013,” Mr. Otudeko told the court.

“I can also confirm that within the agreed time, Honeywell had paid the defendant the agreed N3.5 billion.”

Mr. Otudeko had been subpoenaed to appear before the court in the suit between Honeywell Flour Mills Plc and its sister company, Anchorage Leisures Ltd, against Ecobank Nigeria Ltd.

His appearance on Wednesday was devoid of the spectacle, last week, when, after responding to the court’s subpoena, the billionaire businessman and his aides barricaded themselves within the court’s premises as they plotted a way to evade reporters’ cameras.

But there was a mild drama inside the courtroom where O.A Divine, the lawyer representing Ecobank Nigeria Ltd, forced the judge to deliver four rulings in a court session that lasted over two hours.

Last week, Mr. Divine forced the court to adjourn to this week for ruling after he objected to the plaintiff’s lawyer’s “line of questioning ” of the witness.

When the court resumed proceedings on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Otudeko arrived with four Senior Advocates of Nigeria led by a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Wole Olanipekun.

Mr. Divine informed the judge that although the court adjourned for ruling, he had filed an application for stay of proceedings at the Court of Appeal.

“Our prayer before your Lordship this afternoon is that your Lordship graciously adjourns this matter to enable the Court of Appeal determine the application for stay of proceedings,” the defendant’s lawyer said.

Mr. Olanipekun objected to the prayer, describing it as an abuse of court process and urged the judge to proceed with the business of the day – to deliver its ruling.

“A subpoena for Dr. Otudeko to come and give evidence, at a point he applied for a bench warrant and the witness abandoned everything he was doing to be here,” Mr. Olanipekun said.

“When you get to a point of no return, you can’t try to halt proceedings.”

The judge refused the defendant’s application for adjournment.

When Mr. Olanipekun began questioning Mr. Otudeko about whether the managing director of Ecobank Nigeria Ltd was present during their negotiations for settlement, Mr. Divine raised another objection.

According to the defendant’s lawyer, the plaintiff had no right to cross-examine the witness since he did not adopt his testimony.

“The testimony of the witness is his deposition on oath, and in evidence-in-chief the party calling the witness is enjoined in law to lead that witness to adopt the testimony,” said Mr. Divine.

“Only then can the witness be said to have been examined in chief thereby opening the road for any possible cross-examination.

“We submit that when the witness was not led to adopt his deposition on oath, the witness will not be said to have given evidence-in-chief.”

Again, Mr. Olanipekun described the objection as an abuse of court process, insisting that once a witness goes into the witness box and is sworn, he’s liable to cross-examination.

“There is nothing sacrosanct about asking the witness to adopt his statement, counsel has no say in it at all.

“The only exception in the entirety of the Evidence Act is a person summoned to produce a document, he’s not a witness and cannot be cross-examined.

“Again, there is a subpoena signed by your Lordship at the instance of the defendant. The press is awash of his coming to court, both the print, electronic and social media. There is no retreat now.

“Your Lordship does not have the jurisdiction to deny us the right to cross-examine the witness.”

The judge overruled the defendant’s objection, noting that he had the opportunity to lead his witness to adopt his deposition but for reasons best known to him chose not to.

The judge also overruled the defendant lawyer’s objection to the presentation of the witness’s statement to Mr. Otudeko – Mr. Divine argued that it was not among the exhibits before the court.

He also overruled Mr. Divine’s objection that the plaintiff’s lawyer’s questions were akin to him playing “the role of the plaintiff as well as that of the defendant.”

In overruling the defendant’s lawyer, Mr. Idris noted that cross-examination could be limited only when the questions are irrelevant or offensive.

After Mr. Otudeko’s cross-examination, the defendant’s lawyer declined to re-examine him on the grounds that he did not conduct the examination-in-chief.

Mr. Divine said he had one more witness who is currently on leave and, as a result, the judge adjourned till March 12 and 16 for the witness to appear.


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