Nigerian bank, Ecobank has been dragged before the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja by a customer, Anthony Okpala for allegedly infringing on his human rights.
Okpala is a Lagos-based businessman and the Chief Executive Officer of Mashuchun International Ltd, which deals in the importation of electronics, building materials and assembling and installation of energy pre-paid meters is claiming N50 million as damages with suit No: ID/3532MFHR/16 filed against the bank at the court through his lawyer.
In a 29-paragraphed affidavit deposed to by Okpala, he stated that his travails with the bank started when he was invited to the Ikotun, Lagos, branch of the bank by one Mr. Agwu Olugu, the Resident Internal Control officer (RICO) of Ecobank for interrogation over N10m that was transferred to his company’s Bank account by a customer, Mr. Rabiu Lawal.
Okpala said he admitted to Olugu that there was such a transaction and it was done in good faith at the Ejigbo, Fadu, Lagos branch of the bank, in the presence of Mr. Oluwafemi Oladele, a staff of Ecobank, who is also the witness in the business agreement signed by both parties.
Okpala added that he was taken in by the assurances of Mr. Oluwafemi, who in addition told him that he had been the account officer to Rabiu, right from the branch where the account was domiciled, before he was posted to Fadu branch, stating that he knew Rabiu very well.
Apparently, satisfied with his explanation, the RICO, let him go but agreed to invite him any time their Complainant is available at the branch, more so as his corporate and current accounts with the bank were still being run by himself and his company.
Events however, took a turn for the worse, when bank officials with men described as policemen from Ikoyi Divisional Police Station, Lagos, stormed Okpala’s residential estate in the middle of the night, and harassed the residents. Fortunately for Okpala, that night, he was away on a business trip.
According to a resident who pleaded anonymity, the men who stormed the area were hefty and armed and appeared in mufti.
Their suspicious appearance and presence raised the doubt of the estate security men, who demanded to know their identity. The security men were unable to stop them from entering the estate, hence the men forced their way into Okpala’s compound.
The raiders however claimed they were from Ikoyi Divisional Police Station, Lagos. The team said to have been headed by one Sgt Tope Ijatuyi and one Damian Oguiye, threatened to shoot anybody that obstructed them from effecting Okpala’s arrest.
According to the anonymous resident, the invaders came in a Nissan Almera with registration No: LND 365 CW.
Investigation shows that this invasion was in contravention of an earlier court order, restraining Ecobank and or its agents from harassing or arresting any person in the matter pending at the High Court. The Court bailiff had served the court processes in the suit filed by Okpala against the bank, to Ecobank and Ikoyi Police Station. In the suit filed on June 9, 2016 by Obiora Umeh Esq, counsel to the applicant is seeking for the following:
A declaration that the arrest and detention of the applicant at Ecobank Headquarters at Gbagada on Wednesday June 8, 2016 by other police men attached to Ikoyi Divisional Police Station is illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional and violates the fundamental and constitutional right of the applicant.
An order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents from further violation of the fundamental right of the applicant.
N50m damages against the respondents, jointly and severally, for the unconstitutional arrest and detention of the applicant. Obiora Umeh in the course of the proceedings before the court, pointed out that Ecobank consciously detained the applicant illegally.
The police officers apparently ignored the court process served on them on June 9, 2016 and arrested and detained Okpala on August 11, 2016.
Curiously at the Ikoyi Police Station (IPO), where Okpala was interrogated, Sgt. Damian Oguinye, told him that the amount was no longer N10 million, but over N14m, made up of another N4milion and N10,000 allegedly stolen by him from a woman, now deceased.
In the course of investigation, Sgt. Damian Oguinye took a photograph of Okpala and Aghanenu with his mobile phone, and threatened to send the photograph to all the media houses for publication, if Okpala proved stubborn
and did not comply with his demand for money. He actually through the Ikoyi Police Division, maliciously published the photograph of Okpala and one Ikechukwu Aghanenu, a senior Ecobank staff for alleged fraud on August 12, 2016.
Taken aback by this development, Okpala in a statement insisted that the said N4 million was payment made to his company by a customer that bought fire well cooking stoves, brand 641, for which the duplicates of the sales receipts are available.
In addition, he claimed that Sgt. Damian Oguinye and Inspector Rohdar Bartholomew, forcefully collected the sum of N400,000.00 from him, with the ostensible aim of recovering his alleged debt to Ecobank. In the process, he claimed, the police destroyed his blackberry phone and hand bag.
Okpala said that he has never denied receiving any money, but insisted that Ecobank should provide their complainant to make his statement to confirm or deny the transaction, rather than resort to strong arm tactics to rubbish his reputation as an astute businessman.
When contacted on the phone, Ikechukwu Aghanenu, the bank senior staff whose photograph was published alongside Okpala, said that he is a victim of circumstance, as he was never brought before the bank disciplinary committee to defend his involvement and face possible sanctions, but was instead suspended indefinitely, insisting that there is more to the case than meets the eye.
“In fact, I have more to tell. The transaction was normal, I didn’t see any fraud, the customer was in the branch physically, at Ecobank Fadu branch. I was pushed out of office while I have a role to play in recovering the money, if actually the customer that instigated the transfer denied being at the bank physically, on the date the transaction was made. It is as if there is something some people are hiding for me, if not they wouldn’t have pushed me out of office and charged to court, without me facing a panel at the headquarters.”
In his statement to the police, Mr. Adetunji Adedeji, said that the said Rabiu claimed to have left Nigeria since 2011, his account was operated sometime in 2013 and in 2015, which made him phone the bank and send a massage through customer service, that he was not the one that instructed and authorised the bank to transfer the money to the beneficiary account, that Ecobank staff, Mr. Ikechukwu Aghanenu instructed that Rabiu’s email address should be changed.
He also mentioned the N4 million from a deceased investor, though he said there was no complaint about it, but when the bank was scrutinising Okpala’s company account, they noticed this transfer and that was the reason why it was included in the case against the latter.
On the strength of this statement, Okpala is insisting that the bank is maliciously weaving a web of intrigues around him, because, according to him, the same Mr. Adetunji Adedeji, alongside Mr. Ayo Yinka, Mr. Adeyinka Adeleke and Mrs. Sotunde Dolapo, all Ecobank staff, on their own, allegedly forced one Mr. Awojure David to copy an undertaking drafted by one of them, Ayo Yinka of Ecobank, Gbagada Branch, to paint Okpala and his company in bad light.
Awojure who once sold generators to Okpala’s company, when contacted, confirmed Okpala’s statement, stating that Ecobank staff at the bank’s bulk room at Areromi, Iyana Ipaja, Lagos, branch, maltreated him, on the strength of his admission that his company which deals in fairly used generators, sold a generator to Okpala’s company in 2015.
He said that his involvement started when it came to payment, and the company that bought the generator requested an Ecobank account for the payment.
“It was then my company advised me to give my personal bank account to receive the money, as we supplied the generator to the customer. Recently, I went to the branch and effected a transfer of money to a customer that we bought generators from, to resell. I was surprised when the seller customer kept calling that the amount we transferred to him, was not in his account. I then went back to the bank the following day, only to encounter the CSM of the branch, Mrs. Sotunde Dolapo, who instructed the bank security to collect my phones and forced me into their bulk room, insisting that I refund N650, 000.00 that the customer said I defrauded him.
“I refused. I was beaten and threatened, so as not to delay signing the form which the CSM, Dolapo, brought to enable her remove the said amount from my account back to the company account of Mashuchun International Ltd, which I really don’t know about. I was forced to sign the transfer form, and from there I was ferried to Gbagada branch of Ecobank with armed policemen in their bullion van. When I pleaded for my safety they let me go, only on the condition that I copied a drafted undertaking by one of the men at the place. I copied their drafted undertaking and was let go after several hours. I really thank God”, he said.
The question is where is the money? Did the bank in its illegal bid to recover the alleged missing N10m divert it?
“My lawyer has filed a N100 million suit against the bank for infringing on my rights. We have equally petitioned the Inspector General of Police about Ecobank in our submission; “Threat To Life cum False Imprisonment.” I really don’t know my offence and till this moment they have not returned the money to my account, and Mashuchun Company account where they told me that the money is being returned to, said they didn’t receive such payment alert.”
“The court case is going on at the State High court Ikeja while the IGP assigned the case to the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command to investigate. Currently, the CP X-quad is investigating the case, and it was there the brave police officers uncovered the man that drafted the undertaking for me to copy, as I couldn’t look at their faces due to the severe beating and slaps that I was given.”
To untie these knots, embarrassing and frustrating legal knots surrounding him, Okpala decided to include the services of another lawyer apart from Barrister Umeh, who filed the earlier case at the Lagos High Court.
Even so, Umeh said the police threatened him. According to him, Sgt Tope Ijatuyi has harassed him and threatened to deal with him, unless he withdrew the suit he filed against them for his client at the state High Court Ikeja.
“I equally petitioned the Lagos State Ministry of Justice and Chief Judge of Lagos as the police threat continues. The Chief Judge, I know, has forwarded the case to the Commissioner of Police, Lagos state, and I was contacted by the Police Complaint Unit of the state command to make a statement to this affect, and we are still hoping to hear the outcome of the police investigation to that effect”, he stated.
R.O.A Awobeku, the other Lawyer has petitioned the Inspector General of Police. In the petition, Okpala faulted the attitude of the police and Ecobank through its staff, Mr. Adetunji Adedeji Akanbi, stating that his harassment, torture and the allegations of fraud against him, are all malicious.
Awobeku, on the other hand, said that Ikoyi Divisional Police, lacks the jurisdiction to investigate and or charge the case to court. The case, he maintains, should have been reported at the police station close to the bank or any of the following; the State Headquarters, the Special Fraud Unit, State CID, or Zonal Headquarters.
He is however optimistic that justice will prevail at the end of the day, with the intervention of the IGP.
“We thank God for the intervention of the IGP, that he assigned his special team to carry out a thorough investigation to unveil the perpetrators of this evil”, he said.