A Federal High Court in Abuja an application by ECOBANK Nigeria Limited to restrain the Federal Government from forcing the bank to refund N800 million arising from loss suffered due to the multiple payments made to beneficiaries of the Amnesty Programme.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a ruling, ordered Isaac Oguche, counsel that appeared for the commercial bank, to put the respondents on notice within seven days of the order.
Justice Ekwo also directed Oguche to serve on all the respondents in the suit the processes filed and adjourned the matter until May 31 for the bank to show cause.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Federal Government had established a Niger Delta Amnesty Programme for the disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation or reintegration of the militants and development in the oil producing region.
The key component of the programme was the payment of monthly stipends to qualified beneficiaries through their accounts maintained with various banks in Nigeria.
ECOBANK had, in an ex-parte motion marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/469/2023, sued the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Federal Government through the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme as 1st to 3rd respondents respectively.
In the motion dated April 5, the bank’s lawyer, Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN, sought for an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents or cohorts from arresting its directors, staff or agents or taking steps to disrupt its business without following due process of law pending the hearing and determination of originating motion.
It also sought an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents either by themselves or agents from taking further steps “to further harass the applicant, directors and staff.
In the affidavit in support of the motion deposed to by Oladipupo Raji, Regional Operations Head of the bank in FCT, he averred that since inception of the programme to January 2023, there had been no allegation against ECOBANK for fraud in relation to monies paid to its customers by the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme.
He said on Jan. 19, commercial banks, including ECOBANK, were summoned to a meeting by the NSA to the President, retired Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno ), in respect of the Amnesty Programme.
“That the NSA at the meeting which I attended informed the banks representatives that some of the beneficiaries of the Amnesty Scheme have been receiving double payments from the Federal Government of Nigeria by opening multiple accounts in several banks and that the 3rd respondent has also been paying funds to unknown individuals.
“That the NSA thereafter sought for the support of the banks in tackling the challenges in sanitising the system and ensuring the leakages are blocked,” Raji said.
He said to their surprise, the Permanent Secretary, Mr Aliyu Mohammed, informed all the banks that the Federal Government had purportedly lost the sum of N13 billion through the leakages and thereafter stated emphatically that the sum of N849,408,000 must be refunded by ECOBANK within 2 weeks.
“That the banks shocked by the demand and the threat of arrest requested for time for them to audit their books to verify the claims for multiple payments in line with the payment instructions given by the 3rd respondent,” he said.
Raji said that ECOBANK was not involved in the processing of payments, approval of payments or verification of the list of the beneficiaries of the scheme.
The worker, who refuted the allegations in the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme lawyers’ letter dated Feb. 23, denied liability for the payment of the sum of N319,830,000 million.
He insisted that the bank did not engage in any fraudulent activities in relation to the funds paid its customers either before or after the opening of account.
According to him, the applicant (ECOBANK) is not appointed as a financial adviser on the amnesty payment programme and is not given any responsibility of verifying payments to the beneficiaries of the programme under any contract.
The Bank is not aware of the criteria used in picking/selecting the beneficiaries of the Amnesty stipends.
Raji, who urged the court to grant their reliefs, said the motion was filed in the interest of justice.