By Paul Ladi, Lagos
The chairman of a Custom License Agency and Agro Allied Farming company, Dr. Henry Omorodion, alongside his company, Hensmor Nigeria Limited, and one of its Director, Barrister Patricia Okereke, have instituted one billion Naira suit before a Lagos Federal High Court, against the immediate past Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, (NIMASA), Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, over their unlawful arrest and detention by the police allegedly to have been instigated by the former Director General of NIMASA.
Joined as co-respondents in the suit are; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety, (NIMASA), Lagos state Commissioner of Police, Deputy Commissioner of Police, and Officer-in-Charge of Legal Department of Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, as first, third, fourth and fifth respondents respectively.
Dr. Henry Omorodion, Patricia Okeke and their company, Hensmor Nigeria Limited, in an originating summon filed before the court by their lawyer Mr jide Zaid , are demanding for the sum of N1 billion, from the respondents jointly and severally in respect of their alleged unlawful arrest and detention.
The applicants in an affidavit in support of the originating summon sworn to by Patricia Okereke and filed before a Federal high court in Lagos south west Nigeria by Mr. Zaid averred that their company, Hensmor Nigeria Limited as a plaintiff in a suit filed before a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos obtained a judgment against NIMASA for cumulative damages in the sum of N6.8 billion, arising from Hensmor’s ship named M.T. Agbonmein on March 14, 2006, against NIMASA adding that in the company’s attempt to legitimate the enforcement of the said judgment, their company, Hensmor filed an application dated December 12, 2011, for garnishee order nisi before the court but the application was not heard owing to NIMASA’s application for stay of the execution of the said judgment.
Okereke averred further that on February 3, 2012, the Federal High Court, had granted NIMASA’s stay of execution of the judgement on the condition that the said judgment sum of N6.8 billion should be deposited in an interest yielding account in the name of Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court, within 14 days. However, NIMASA allegedly snubbed the said conditional stay and refused to obey the order, and filed an appeal before Lagos Division of Court of Appeal, for a stay of execution of the judgment of the lower court which was later struck out.
Upon the disposal of the NIMASA’s motion for stay of execution of lower court order by the Appeal Court, their company, Hensmor Nigeria Limited filed an application for garnishee order inisi was taken and granted by the Federal High Court and NIMASA’s fund in the custody of its banker, First City Monument Bank, (FCMB) Plc., was attached thereafter another application filed before the Appeal Court of Lagos by NIMASA was dismissed with cost Okereke averred further that upon the disposal of all pending applications filed by NIMASA for stay of execution of the judgment both the Federal High Court and Appeal Court, Federal high court granted the garnishee order absolute dated July 2, 2012, against NIMASA’s banker, FCMB Plc in the sum of N6.8 billion.
In spite the consent of NIMASA’s banker, FCMB, to comply with and implement the terms of the garnishee order absolute dated July 2, 2012, the bank however treated the said order with levity and contempt by refusing to comply with the order, consequently, in the light of the disobedience of the said order, Hensmor Nigeria Limited, obtained the leave of the court on September 25, 2012, to commence contempt proceedings against the principal officers of the bank.
She added that all steps taken by Hensmor Nigeria Limited and its Directors to enforce the judgment obtained in the suit against NIMASA were done in total compliance with the subsisting order of the court and due process of law.
However the event took another dimension when the Lagos State Deputy Commissioner of Police, acting on the order of the Commissioner of Police, invited Dr. Omorodion and other Directors of Hensmor Nigeria Limited for an interview with the Officer-in-Charge of the Legal Department of the Police, through an invitation letter dated November 8, 2012. She stated that the said police invitation was informed following a petition titled ” Sustained threats to our bankers and funds of the Federal Government of Nigeria in our custody by a company known as Hensmor Nigeria Limited” written by Mr. Akpobolokemi, the immediate past Director General of NIMASA, accusing them of engaging in the acts of self-help and conduct likely to cause breach of public peace by threatened his life and his bankers in order to forcefully collect the sum of N6.8 billion, property of the Federal Government of Nigeria despite the pendency of their appeal against the judgment.
Okereke also stated further that Akpobolokemi was boasting in the media and other public fora that he will use all the machineries of the state power at his disposal, including the police and armed forces to deal with her and other applicants by frustrating them from enforcing the judgment obtained by their company.
And that in furtherance to the Akpobolokemi’s instigation, she was arrested, cautioned and temporarily detained by the men of State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti-Yaba, Lagos state and was released on bail bond on self recognition.
Consequently, the applicants while claiming the sum of N1Billion against NIMASA and Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi jointly and severally for unlawful arrest and detention are also seeking a declaration that their company, Hensmor’s legitimate attempt to enforce the judgment it obtained at the Federal High Court Lagos on December 2, 2011, in suit number FHC/CS/L/909/2010, by way of garnishee proceedings against NIMASA cannot amount to or give rise to any criminal offence which could warrant the calling on them by the Nigerian Police to be interviewed.
A declaration that the Nigerian Police has no power or jurisdiction to prevent the applicants from enforcing the judgment of court dated December 2, 2011, which they obtained against NIMASA.
And a declaration that both NIMASA and Akpobolokemi’s petition dated September 27, 2012, to the police during the pendency of a civil litigation at the federal high court and Court of Appeal, amounts to self-help and reckless abuse of executive powers which are calculated attempt to ridicule the courts and harass, intimidate, oppress, and suppress their company’s fair hearing in the court of law.
They are also seeking an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents, and their agents or servants or any other person whosoever from arresting or detaining any director, officer or agent of the Hensmor company in respect of any matter relating or pertaining to the pending civil litigation at the federal high court or Court of Appeal.
However, NIMASA and Akpobolokemi while urging the court to discountenance the applicants’ motion on notice denied almost all the applicants’ averment in the affidavit in support of their suit.
NIMASA and its former Director General in their counter-affidavit sworn to legal officer of NIMASA, Albert Nakpodia, and filed before the court states that both NIMASA and Akpobolokemi were not parties to the garnishee proceedings before the Federal High Court in Lagos and that Hensmor has no valid licenses/permit to operate the businesses it claimed to be engaged in.
Nakpodia also stated that NIMASA and its Managing Director then never disobeyed any court order but exercised their constitutional rights to challenge the order at the Court of Appeal, adding that Court of Appeal has since stayed all proceedings in the high court on the subject matter.
They, however, admitted that their application was struck out for failure to ‘seek a variation from the conditional stay of execution of the order of the court, and that on May 17, 2012, NIMASA has re-filed the struck out application seeking for ‘extension of time to reply for a variation order of the conditional stay of execution granted by the trial court and an accelerated hearing of the substantive appeal.
Both NIMASA and Akpoblokemi also stated that Okereke was not known to them, neither was any petition or report written against her by them adding that the second applicant, Dr. Omorodion was never invited by the police.
They therefore urged the court to dismiss the applicants suit with
substantial cost award against them.
Meanwhile, the case file may be re-assigned to another judged after the court vacation as NIMASA in a letter written to the chief judge has requested that the case should be reassigned to another judge.