A former Managing Director of the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc, Erastus Akingbola, on Thursday challenged the jurisdiction of a Lagos High Court to register a judgment against him by a London court.
The High Court of Justice, Queens Bench, London, had on August 1, 2012, ordered Mr. Akingbola to pay Access Bank £654 million (N212.2 billion) for some fraudulent practices committed when he was in charge of the defunct bank.
Access Bank acquired Intercontinental Bank Plc on January 31, 2012.
In order to enforce the judgment in Nigeria, Access Bank filed an ex-parte application before Justice A.A Oyebanji of a Lagos High Court.
It sought registration of the judgment and the accompanying order of Justice Michael Burton, dated September 13, 2012.
In her ruling, Justice Oyebanji ordered Mr. Akingbola to pay Access Bank N212.2 billion (the judgment sum).
However, in an application dated September 27, 2013 and filed by his lawyer, Wole Olanipekun before Justice Babajide Candide-Johnson, Mr. Akingbola prayed the court to quash the registration of the judgment for lack of jurisdiction.
Arguing the application, Mr. Olanipekun said that the judgment creditor (Access bank) failed to comply with condition precedent before the registration could be completed. He submitted that Section 251 of the Constitution vested the jurisdiction on Federal High Court and not on State High Court.
The lawyer said that the suit filed in London by Access Bank was before a Commercial Division of the court, which is equivalent of the Federal High Court in Nigeria.
Mr. Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, also argued that the judgment was not certified in compliance with the rules of the London court. He argued that this rendered it invalid.
He further argued that the judgment debtor (Mr. Akingbola) was not put on notice before the registration of the foreign judgment in Nigeria.
Citing plethora of legal authorities, Mr. Akingbola’s counsel prayed the court to allow the application and set aside the ex-parte order.
The Counsel to Access Bank, Olaniwun Ajayi, in a counter-affidavit dated October 10, 2013, said that efforts by the court bailiff to serve Mr. Akingbola before the registration of the judgment proved abortive.
According to him, the former bank chief evaded service.
On the issue of jurisdiction, Mr. Ajayi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, submitted that the proposition that only the Federal High Court had jurisdiction to register foreign judgments should be discountenanced.
He submitted that the State High Courts had unlimited power to look into the matter.
According to him, the Registration and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments, Cap 175 of 1958, and Section 272 of the Constitution empower the State High Courts to adjudicate on the matter.
On the issue of certification of judgment, Mr. Ajayi submitted that it would be against public interest if the court refused to enforce a “money judgment’’
He further informed the court that Mr. Akingbola appealed against the judgment in London and that his appeal was refused.
Mr. Ajayi urged the court to dismiss the application and allow the registration of the judgment.
The judge adjourned the case to February 18 for ruling.