⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Diamond Bank Limited v. Prince Alfred Amobi Ugochukwu (2016) – SC
by NSA PaulPipAr
⦿ AREA OF LAW
– Administive Law
– Freezing of bank accounts.
Diamond Bank Limited
Prince Alfred Amobi Ugochukwu
–  NGSC 52
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
WALTER SAMUEL NKANU ONNOGHEN, JSC
* FOR THE APPELLANT
– L. M. ALOZIE ESQ.
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
– KEVIN UGWU ESQ.
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
This is an appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Holden at Port Harcourt in appeal No. CA/PH/329/2005 delivered on the 28th day of March, 2007 in which the court dismissed the appeal of the present appellant.
The facts of the case include the following: Appellant is a commercial bank while the respondent opened and operated two accounts with appellant; one of which was a current account in the name of AL-CLEMENT with two signatories thereto. It was account No. 0712555017. The signatories were Prince Alfred Amaobi Ugochukwu and Uzoma Onuoha (also known as Unachukwu Ugochukwu), a then Special Assistant to the Military Administrator of Imo State. Exhibit W is the specimen signature card for the account. Respondent also opened a fixed deposit account with appellant. Both accounts were for the purpose of lodging funds realized from contracts between the respondent and Imo State Secondary Education Management Board and the Primary Education Board for the production of students’ identity cards.
Some cheques were issued and lodged in the two accounts while cheques for withdrawals were signed by the signatories to the account. Later on, a dispute arose between the two signatories over the operation of the account resulting in the respondent writing exhibit JD’ to appellant in which he dropped the signature of Uzoma Onuoha. Efforts by DW1, the manager of appellant to resolve the dispute was unsuccessful. Respondent issued exhibits E.F.G. and H to some people for payment but were dishonoured and marked “incomplete mandate” as the cheques were signed by respondent alone.
The accounts of the respondent were later frozen on the orders of Imo State Task Force for the Recovery of Public Property and Funds headed by a High Court Judge. It was alleged that respondent used the contract to defraud the Imo State Government and paid the proceeds into the said accounts with the appellant. Appellant was ordered to transfer the funds in the accounts to the account of Imo State Government with Afribank Plc. The Orders are exhibits’ S and T. The initial reluctance of appellant to comply with exhibits S’ and T resulted in a threat by the Task Force on DW1, a manager of appellant with Imprisonment as per exhibit LT. Appellant consequently complied with the order of transfer of the funds in the account.
Respondent was aggrieved by the refusal of appellant to honour the cheques on grounds of incomplete mandate and the orders of the Task Force freezing and transferring the funds in the accounts and consequently instituted two suits namely HON/208/97 in the High Court of Imo State, Holden at Owerri and FHC/PH/262/97 in the Federal High Court, Holden at Port Harcourt; see exhibits W and JU’ respectively.
While the two suits, supra, were pending, respondent instituted the suit resulting in the instant appeal. In the course of the trial, appellant sought leave to further amend its amended Statement of Defence to plead a standard banking practice but the court struck out the motion.
At the conclusion of trial, the trial court entered judgment for the respondent, which judgment was affirmed by the lower court on appeal, resulting in the instant further appeal.
1. Whether the jurisdiction of the trial court was not ousted by section 18(1) of the Recovery of Public Funds and Property (Special Provisions) Edict, 1995 of Imo State?
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
1. ISSUE 1 WAS RESOLVED IN FAVOUR OF THE APPELLANT BUT AGAINST THE RESPONDENT.
i. It should however be pointed out that jurisdiction may be ousted by Statute or Decree or Edict such as section 18(1) of Edict No. 7 of 1985 supra. Once again, let me repeat that the freezing of the account of the respondent and subsequent transfer of the funds therein to Afribank were acts and things done under Edict No. 7 of 1985, as found by the lower court thereby constituting part of the cause of action and are consequently not subject to litigation. It is also unconscionable for the respondent to be allowed to exploit/manipulate the law to his advantage having regard to the circumstances in which he got the funds lodged in those accounts, as revealed in evidence on record.
– Section 12 Edict No. 7 of 1985.
⦿ SOME PROVISION(S)
Section 18(1) of the said Edict No. 7 of 1985 provides as follows: “No action shall lie or be maintained in any court of law in respect of any action taken or anything done or omitted to be done in respect of any matter under the Edict.”
⦿ RELEVANT CASE(S)
In interpreting a similar provision in section 6(3) of Decree No. 10 of 1976 in the case of A-G Federation vs Sode (1990) 1 NWLR (pt. 128) 500 at 505, this Court held, inter alia, as follows:- “The prohibition contained in section 6(3) of Decree No. 10 of 1976 was absolute in that no civil proceedings will lie to be instituted in any Court on account of or in respect of any act, matter or thing done under the Decree. In the instant case, the matter or thing done, under the Decree was forfeiture and in respect thereof no civil proceeding could lie or be instituted. The exclusion of jurisdiction related both to acts done, and those purported to be done under the Decree.”
⦿ CASE(S) RELATED
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
In view of the fact that it is now settled law that an issue of jurisdiction is a thresh-hold issue which is fundamental to adjudication, it is important to consider and resolve same, (issue C) first before proceeding any further with the consideration of the merits of the substantive appeal. The above position is also advised by the principle of law that a decision of a court without the requisite jurisdiction is null and void, however well, the trial or proceeding leading thereto was conducted. – Onnoghen, JSC. Diamond v. Ugochukwu (2016)
It is true that jurisdiction of the court is determined by the claim of the plaintiff. However, in considering the claim of the plaintiff, the defence must also be considered when the issue is that of the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine the matter. – Onnoghen, JSC. Diamond v. Ugochukwu (2016)