Seven commercial banks which were accused of violating the government’s Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy may be left off the hook as the Federal Government on Tuesday applied to withdraw the case against them before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The Federal Government had alleged that the seven banks:United Bank for Africa; Diamond Bank Plc; Skye Bank Plc; First Bank Limited; Fidelity Bank Plc; Keystone Bank Limited; and Sterling Bank Plc, connived with some government agencies to illegally hide in their coffers, a total of $793,200,000, which was meant to have been transmitted to the TSA account domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Justice Chuka Obiozor had on July 20, 2017 granted an interim order in favour of the Federal Government, directing the seven banks to temporarily remit the funds to the TSA.
The court had then adjourned till yesterday for the banks to appear before him to show cause why the interim order should not be made permanent. But when the matter came up on Tuesday, the lead lawyer for the Federal Government, Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), said he had been instructed by the Attorney General of the Federation to discontinue the case in the overall interest of the public.
“It is not out of weakness that the Federal Government is withdrawing this case. The banks are corporate citizens and we are interested in the well-being of everybody,” Akinseye-George said, urging Justice Obiozor to strike out the suit.
But the banks, which claimed that the Federation Government’s allegation against them was false and that they had already been unjustly disparaged, urged the judge not to merely strike out the suit but to dismiss it and award N20m cost against the Federal Government.
They noted that any case struck out could be re-filed while a case that is dismissed could no longer be re-filed. Lawyers to the banks, including Mr. Seyi Sowemimo (SAN) and Mrs. Abimbola Akeredolu (SAN), took turn to argue that the proper order that the court ought to make in the circumstances of the case was to dismiss the suit and not strike it out.
Akeredolu, who represented Sterling Bank Plc, argued, just like the rest of the lawyers that the Federal Government decided to withdraw the case having realised that it was filed in error.
“My Lord should not allow the instrumentation of the law to be used as a vehicle of mischief. And nobody is above the law, even the Federal Government of Nigeria… We are praying the court make an order for a meagre cost of N10m against the plaintiffs,” Akeredolu said.
Lawyer to Keystone Bank Limited, Mr. Babatunde Ogungbamila, however, insisted on a cost of N20m against the Federal Government, saying his client had suffered a substantial damage to its reputation.
“They have destroyed the reputation of our banking industry and they did this recklessly because the fundamental economic underpinning of this country was actually targeted,” Ogungbamila said.