Mohammed Yunusa, a Federal High Court judge who is presently entangled in judicial misconduct in a case of alleged bribery of N225,000, which he was said to have collected from a Senior Advocate, Rickey Tarfa, has found himself in another round of trouble as Honeywell Group in a petition sent to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, charged him of other acts of judicial misconduct.
The petition dated 12th February and also copied to the National Judicial Council and the President of the Nigerian Bar Association read:
“We respectfully submit that the various acts of Yunusa. J with respect to the dispute between Honeywell and Ecobank constitute unfair conduct which have had and are still having grave impact on our company and its operations.
“Indeed, our company with an asset base of N68 billion and annual revenue of about N55 billion with over 5,000 employees and several distributors has been subjected to unfair restrictions using the instrumentality of the court.”
The problem between Honeywell Group and Justice Mohammed Yunusa arose In 2012, when Honeywell Group started discussions with Ecobank over the debt owed to Oceanic Bank by the former’s three operating companies – Anchorage Leisures Limited, Siloam Global Services, and Honeywell Flour Mills Plc – before it was acquired by Honeywell.
The negotiations between the two organizations gave rise to an agreement of N3.5 billion to be paid to the bank by the Honeywell Group, a payment which according to the petition, was eventually brought to completion in January 2014.
But there was a turn of events 11 months later, when Ecobank allegedly broke the agreement by refusing to either issue discharge letters to the Honeywell companies or make their accounts up to date on the CBN CRMS portal.
“As a result of Ecobank’s refusal to fulfill its obligations, Honeywell petitioned the Bankers Committee Sub-committee on Ethics and Professionalism for its intervention for a speedy resolution of the matter.
“Following a thorough review of the petition and the positions canvassed by both Parties, a ruling was issued in favor of Honeywell to the effect that the agreement reached between Ecobank and Honeywell for the payment of N3.5 billion as full and final settlement of Honeywell’s indebtedness to Ecobank is valid and should be complied with.
“Despite the decision of the Bankers Committee, Ecobank continued to refuse to fulfill its obligations and insisted that Honeywell was indebted to the Bank,” the Honeywell Group stated in the petition.
In August 2015, the Honeywell Group initiated a suit against Ecobank at the Federal High Court, Lagos, as a result of the bank’s alleged refusal (the matter is still on-going before Justice Mohammed Idris).
One month after the suit, Ecobank, through its counsel, Kunle Ogunba, registered an application before the judge challenging the the official power of the court to make legal decisions and judgments on the case on the basis that the disagreement is supposed to be decided at the State High Court since it was a contract issue, and not a banker/customer relationship.
According to the petition filed before Justice James Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Lagos, in October of the same year, Ecobank made an application for the case to be closed up on the same facts as the case before Justice Idris;
“Surprisingly, the suit is in the same Federal High Court which Ecobank had challenged jurisdiction to hear the matter.”
Along with the law suit, Ecobank also filed a motion exparte seeking “far reaching restraining orders” against Honeywell Flour Mills Plc.
“Tsoho. J. heard the exparte application and refused same because of the pending suit before Idris. J. as well as the fact that the documents attached to the motion showed that the alleged debt was in dispute.
“Ecobank was thereafter directed to put Honeywell Flour Mills Plc on Notice.”
Nevertheless, rather than notify Honeywell Flour Mills Plc as directed by Justice Tsoho, Ecobank filed another wrapping up petition before Justice Mohammed Yunusa “in exactly repetitive terms as the one before Tsoho. J. Ecobank also exhibited the same documents as the ones in the matter before Tsoho. J. in which he had refused to grant the exparte order.”
Mohammed Yunusa on the 18th of November, 2015, granted the exparte orders and adjourned the matter till 24th December, 2015.
The Honeywell Group immediately revealed that it submitted an application for the discharge of the exparte order and dismissal of the suit before Justice Mohammed Yunusa for two reasons – abuse of court process (in view of the suit before Justices Idris and Tsoho on the same facts and between the same parties), and also because exparte orders of injunction were allowed by Justice Yunusa in a winding up petition in which the respondent was not allowed a hearing and for a sum that was being disputed.
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“On 4th of December, 2015, Yunusa. J directed that all other cases coming up on that day be adjourned such that when he eventually sat to read the ruling, the court room was almost empty.
“Yunusa. J disallowed our application for the discharge of exparte orders made by him on the ground that the said exparte orders granted were in the nature of Mareva injunctions.
“He further stated that he did not see any reason why the alleged Mareva injunctions should be discharged. He specifically held that he was exercising what he termed as ‘Mareva jurisdiction’.”
In the petition, it was pointed out that the judge, in his ruling, failed to make any comment on all the issues brought before him, including that of abuse of court process. He also ruled that Honeywell was indebted to Ecobank in large amounts, adding that Honeywell did not deny the indebtedness.
“This we found incomprehensible as Yunusa. J had in his handwritten transcript of the proceedings recorded our counsel as submitting that there was no indebtedness and that the exparte orders granted by him had earlier been refused by Tsoho. J.”
After Justice Mohammed Yunusa’s ruling, the petition said he announced that a copy would be made available for collection on the same day.
“Unfortunately, however, despite repeated demands and subsequent filing of a motion for the release of the ruling, Yunusa. J refused to release the ruling until after a notice of appeal had been filed before the Court of Appeal on the 4th February, 2016 (60 days after the ruling was delivered on the 4th of December, 2015).
“We are aware that Section 24(2)(a) of the Court of Appeal Act allows us only 14 days to file an interlocutory appeal. Though we filed a Notice of Appeal from notes taken by our counsel on 4th December, 2015, Yunusa. J refused to release the ruling and case file in order to enable us completely transmit the records of appeal and also fully exercise our constitutionally guaranteed right of appeal within the time allowed.
“Order 6(b) of the Court of Appeal Practice Directions also mandates that records of appeal are transmitted within 7 days of filing a Notice of Appeal. In all of these, our rights were asphyxiated by Yunusa. J’s conduct.
“Indeed, on 27th January, 2016, when the appeal came up at the Court of Appeal, the ruling of Yunusa. J was yet to be released. We again remind your Lord Justice Sir, that we had earlier written a letter dated 11th December, 2015, to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court which was copied to your goodself and Yunusa. J amongst others complaining that he was yet to release his ruling but same did not make any impression on Yunusa. J.”
The petition by Honeywell Group, called for appropriate disciplinary actions against Justice Mohammed Yunusa for his “acts of misconduct.”