August 16, 2022

Reporters’ Diary

Factual Reportage

Unlawful Freezing Of Account: First Bank Losses Bid To Stop N50m Suit

Efforts by First Bank Plc to stop an impending judgment of N50 million in a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed against it by a Senior lawyer and human rights activist, Johnson Odion Esezoobo, came to nulity on Thursday, as Justice Daniel Osiagor of a Lagos Federal High Court, dismissed the bank’s preliminary objection to the suit for lacking in merit.

Justice Osiagor dismissed First Bank Plc and Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) preliminary objections to the suit, after listening to the arguments canvased by their lawyer, C. Z. Ketung, who also held the brief of I. B. Ahmed, Counsel to FIRS.

Barrister Johnson Odion Esezoobo, The Applicant
In urging the court to dismiss the suit, Ketung claimed that the applicant (Esezoobo) failed to follow court’s direction in instituting the suit; and there was pre-action notice before the suit was filed and that the applicant did not have palpable cause of action to institute the suit.

The submissions, which the applicant vehemently opposed.
Delivering ruling on the made on First Bank Plc and FIRS’s preliminary objections, Justice Osiagor while cited plethora of authority, held that “the preliminary objections lack in merit and it’s hereby dismissed”.

Justice Osiagor thereafter fixed September 23, for judgment in the substantive suit.

The senior lawyer had dragged both first bank Plc and FIRS before the court for frezeing his law firm’s account with the bank, without a court order.

First Bank had claimed in its response to the suit that it acted on the directive of FIRS. While FIRS alleged that the Law firm was in default of tax payment to the tune of N54, 639,286.48 million.

But the Senior lawyer, in a fundamental suit marked FHC/L/CS/1736/19, asked the court to order both First Bank Plc and FIRS to defreeze and release forthwith the restriction placed on his law firm’s bank account domiciled in Shomolu branch of the bank.

Barrister Esezoobo claimed that FIRS illegally froze the Law Chambers’ account on allegation of tax default in the sum of N54, 639,286.48 million, which were never communicated to him and without due process of law.

He is therefore asked the court for order a declaration that the FIRS and First Bank’s actions and continuous freezing of his Firm’s current account No. 2005033924 of J. Odion Esezoobo & Co., Destiny Chambers and domociled in Shomolu branch of the First Bank by placing a lien on the said account without notice upon an allegation of tax default in the sum of N54, 639,286.48, which was never communicated to him is an unlawful deprivation of the applicants fundamental right to his private property guaranteed by Section 44 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

He also wants the court to set aside FIRS’s claim of N54, 639, 286. 48 million and the purported penalty of N100,000 together with additional penalty of N5,000 for six years as unconstitutional illegal null and void

Barrister Esezoobo also asked the court for “an order of paymemt of N50 million, being exemplary damages against the FIRS and First Bank Plc, jointly and severally for unlawful deprivation of his fundamental rights.

In a 19 paragraph Affidavit attached to the motion on notice, Esezoobo stated that both FIRS and First Bank Plc side-stepped the provisions of law in all respect and raised a tax liability against the applicant without due process of law therefore embarrassed him.

He stated that First Bank owes a duty to keep his account confidential, as well as the money therein from any interference whatsoever by anybody, including the State or State functionaries except as authorized by law after observance of due process of a trial court of competent jurisdiction.

“Unless the FIRS complied with the provision of law more particularly Section 26 & 28 of the FIRS Act in conjunction with the VAT Act as well as Sections 6(6)(b) and 36 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, the 2nd respondent is not obliged to allow any interference with applicant’s account”, he averred.