By Kenneth Atavti
The Management of Granite and Marble Ltd, (GML) has dragged Zenith Bank Plc, Zenith Bank UK, First Investment Development Company (FIDC) and Prudential Mortgage Bank (PMB) before a Federal High Court in Abuja over alleged forgery, illegal conversion of equity, illegal operations of bank account, economic sabotage and threat to life.
In what may possibly go down as a watershed case in Nigeria’s corporate circles, the Abuja based mining company is demanding N635bn for damages for the alleged infractions committed against it by the four banks and others.
According to the writ of summons, those listed alongside as defendants are, Ebenezer Onyeagwu MD of Zenith Bank, Adebisi Adebutu MD of FIDC, Eyo Asuquo MD of PMB, Mrs Adaora Umeoji, Deputy MD Zenith bank, Yewande Esan and others.
The suit as filed at the Federal High Court Abuja on behalf of GML and others by Messrs Sebastine T Hon (SAN), AA Malik (SAN) and Paul Harris Ogbole (SAN), accuses Zenith Bank of diverting the sum of N1billion approved to GML by the Central Bank of Nigeria and routed through it (Zenith Bank).The plaintiffs also alleged that Zenith Bank Plc and its officers connived with Mr Adebutu, Mr Asuquo, FIDC and PMB to illegally change signatories to the GML accounts without the authorization of the signatory to the account. FIDC and PMB are also alleged to have forcefully taken over the operations of the quarry site of GML despite not paying for the shares of the company they proposed to buy.
Also, GML claims that Zenith Bank Plc held unto its verified assets for four years as collaterals without disbursing the N1billion RSSF funds approved for it by the CBN. In the suit which is accompanied by a 126 point statement of claim, GML and its Directors narrates their ordeal in the hands of the institutions and individuals leading to massive revenue losses, arrest of members of their families, prevention from access to their business premises and transferring their accounts to persons not properly and legally authorized to do so.
GML claims that sometime in 2016, its Managing Director was on President Muhammadu Buhari’s delegation on his first trade visit in China as a representative of the mining sector. While on that trip, he signed an agreement with SBM China Ltd one of the world’s largest manufacturers of mining equipment to establish the biggest mining processing plant in Africa to be located in Abuja. According to the company it was on the strength of this agreement that they approached and got approval for a N1billion facility from the Real Sector Support Fund (RSSF) operated by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
As stated further in the writ, not only did Zenith Bank refuse to release the funds which were the counterpart commitment of the company, it frustratingly held on to the company’s assets and wrote several approval and offer letters without disbursements. At a point, Zenith Bank claimed in a letter that the funds will be disbursed by their UK subsidiary, Zenith UK Ltd. The refusal by Zenith to release the funds jeopardized the agreement signed in China and robbed Nigeria of the chance to provide thousands of jobs and reduce cost of construction.
Also detailed in the suit, Messrs Eyo Asuquo, FIDC and PMB approached GML to purchase shares in the company valued at an agreed combined sum of N700million. Despite not paying for these shares, they illegally tampered with the company documents at the Corporate Affairs Commission and introduced names of themselves and substituted the names of other directors and the company secretary based on forged board resolutions. It is with these altered documents that they connived with zenith bank to change the signatory to the account.
Adebutu and his team also forcefully took over the sites of the company and conspired with Zenith Bank to draw down from the RSSF facility using the instrumentality of a forged deed of debenture. The writ also claims that while the quarry site was taken over by the purported new owners, illegal trade in unlicensed explosives were carried out thereby endangering residents of the neighborhood. It concluded that evidence of illegal trade in explosives by the interlopers are before the EFCC.
Thus, for the trauma experienced by the families, the cancelation of the contract occasioned by the activities of Zenith bank and the massive loss of revenues occasioned by the illegal takeover of the company, the plaintiffs are stating a claim of N635bn or $1.2bn.
Meanwhile, Justice Inyang Eden Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja on January 21, 2022 granted the plaintiffs’ request for substituted service of court documents on Zenith Bank, UK through DHL, a courier firm. The judge granted the substituted service order while ruling on an ex-parte application filed and argued by lead counsel to the plaintiffs, Chief Sebastine Hon (SAN). Justice Ekwo consequently fixed March 8, 2022 for the hearing of the suit.
Kenneth Atavti is the Judiciary Editor of Nigerian Pilot Newspaper in Abuja.