Paris Club Refund: Court threatens to issue arrest warrant against detained Emefiele
The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Wednesday, threatened to issue a warrant of arrest against suspended Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, over his failure to appear in court to explain circumstances surrounding the $53 million judgement debt arising from the Pars Club refund.
The judge, Inyang Ekwo, who renewed his order for Mr Emefiele to appear at the next hearing date, said he would exercise some restraints to allow Mr Emefiele to explain himself.
Mr Ekwo came to the decision after Mr Emefiele’s counsel, Audu Anuga, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), appealed for another opportunity for his client to appear in court.
He said Mr Emefiele’s absence was because they had been unable to reach him since the last order directing him to appear in court.
The court’s insistence on Mr Emefiele’s appearance in court is despite his ongoing detention by the State Security Service (SSS) since 10 June.
Mr Anuga brought the development to the attention of the judge, saying all efforts to reach him to communicate the directive of the court to him were unsuccessful.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Mr Ekwo had, on 20 October 2022, ordered the CBN governor to appear in court on 18 January over his alleged refusal to obey the order of the court for the payment of the judgement debt in favour of a lawyer Joe Agi, a SAN.
Mr Agi had sued Linas International Ltd, Minister of Finance, CBN and Mr Emefiele as judgement debtors, following an application for garnishee made by him as judgement creditor in the case.
However, on 18 January, proceedings could not go on as scheduled when the matter was called, prompting the court to adjourn the case until 20 March before it was rescheduled to 6 June.
NAN reports that the judge, on 6 June, ordered Mr Emefiele to appear before it on 19 July (today).
But three days after the court’s order, President Bola Tinubu, on 9 June, suspended him as CBN governor, and he was directed to transfer his responsibilities to the deputy governor, operations directorate.
No sooner had the president suspended Mr Emefiele than the SSS arrested him on June 10, the day after his suspension.
The SSS charged him with illegally possessing firearms and ammunition on 13 July, the same day a judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, gave the agency a one-week ultimatum to either charge him in court or release him.
But days after he has been charged, the SSS has yet to release him or arraign him in court.
At Wednesday’s proceedings, Ayodele Arotiowa, who appeared for Mr Agi, was about to make a submission when Mr Ekwo asked Mr Emefiele’s lawyer if he had complied with the order.
“We made an effort to see how we can communicate with the 4th respondent (Emefiele), but the 3rd respondent (CBN) was unable to communicate with the 4th respondent.
“We rely only on public communication that the 4th respondent is incarcerated and have been unable to communicate with him,” Mr Anuga responded.
He said there was another development now as to whether Mr Emefiele could act on behalf of the CBN.
But the judge quickly corrected the lawyer by saying the matter was not just about CBN as Mr Emefiele was sued in his personal capacity in the case.
In response, Mr Anuga said: “But the public information now is that he has been suspended. An opportunity has to be given to him for him to comply.”
Mr Ekwo said he had given Mr Emefiele an opportunity in the case, which he said was filed in 2017.
“I have given you enough opportunity, but you are taking it for granted,” the judge said while directing Mr Anuga to give a good reason the court should not issue a warrant of arrest against Mr Emefiele.
The senior lawyer said since his client was still in detention after his suspension despite an order mandating his release, “My lord, we are at the mercy of the court.”
He agreed that the essence of issuing a warrant was to assist the court to perform its duty, “but there is an intervening event, as we have not had the privilege to see him.”
He added: “The last opportunity my lord gave to the 4th respondent has not been communicated to him.
“I feel an opportunity should be given so that this can be communicated.”
He said the court could take action if his client failed to comply with its orders.
The judge, consequently, adjourned the matter until 31 October for the CBN and Mr Emefiele to show cause why an arrest warrant should not be issued against the former CBN governor.
“Upon listening to counsel, I am minded to exercise restraint in this proceeding to give the 4th respondent an opportunity to explain himself to me on the next adjourned date,” he said.
The suit is one in a flurry of legal actions associated with the federal government’s refund to states and local governments the amounts of funds said to have been over-deducted from their accounts to offset Paris Club and London between 1995 and 2002.
Linas International Ltd and its promoter, Ned Nwoko, had initiated the first major suit, which culminated in a court judgement awarding them huge amounts of money for their roles in helping states and local government areas to discover the excessive deductions from their accounts.
Since then, countless entities, lawyers, and other professionals have surfaced, claiming to have provided one form of consultancy services or the other to recover the money for the states and local governments.
Mr Agi, through his suit, seeks enforcement of a judgement that he obtained against Linas International Ltd for his role in helping the firm to secure the recovery of the funds.
NAN reports that Mr Agi’s suit stemmed from an alleged $70 million judgement against Linas International Ltd for his role in the Paris Club refund.
Mr Emefiele was said to have only released $17 million, leaving an unpaid balance of $53 million.
The court had, on 23 January 2020, ruled that Mr Emefiele must appear “to be examined on oath, since the date of the said garnishee order absolute, to pay the balance of 53 million dollars now due and payable under the said garnishee order absolute and also show cause why you should not be committed to prison for default in payment of the said sum”.
In October 2022, Mr Agi, through his counsel, Isaac Ekpa and Chinonso Obasi, filed another application against Linas International, the Minister of Finance and the CBN.
He sought an order directing the Inspector-General of Police to arrest Mr Emefiele and bring him to court alongside his lawyers, Damian Dodo, Audu Anuga, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria, and Ginika Ezeoke, Jessica Iyoke, Abdullahi Afolayan, and Olayemi Afolayan.