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FG loses bid to recover N70tn ‘hidden’ in bank accounts over lack of diligent prosecution

A gavel. File photo

A federal high court in Lagos has struck out a suit by the federal government seeking to recover the sum of N70 trillion alleged to be stashed in 29 bank accounts by some individuals.

Peter Lifu, presiding judge, held that the federal government’s lawyers failed to prosecute the case diligently.

The plaintiffs/applicants in the case are the federal government of Nigeria and the attorney-general of the federation/minister of Justice.

The 19 defendants/respondents include Zenith Bank Plc, Polaris Bank Plc, Citi Bank Ltd, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc, Standard Chartered Bank Plc, Sterling Bank Plc, Union Bank Plc, Unity Bank Plc, and Keystone Bank Plc.

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Others are Heritage Bank Plc, First Bank Plc, United Bank For Africa Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, Eco Bank Plc, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Wema Bank Plc, Access Bank Plc, Nigerian Agip Oil Company Ltd, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

The suit was first filed on August 5, 2021, through an ex parte motion.

Tijani Ringim, the vacation judge at that time, upheld the applicants’ motion and made an interim order freezing the accounts on August 6, 2021.

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Upon resumption, the case was re-assigned to Lifu on September 22, 2021.

The case was first heard by the new judge on November 24, 2021, and on May 27, 2022, the ex-parte order was revoked since the plaintiffs/applicants had still not complied with it after more than nine months.

Delivering judgment on the substantive suit, the judge criticised the federal government for not diligently prosecuting the suit.

He held that since the vacation of the interim order “it has been back and forth, with various excuses, applications for adjournment at the instance of the plaintiffs/applicants counsel, Mohammed Ndarani Esq. SAN”.

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“From all indications, the instant case has clearly lost its stance as the plaintiffs/applicants seem not to be interested in the matter any longer having failed consistently to be present in court since 9th December 2021,” the judge held.

“The chambers of Femi Falana SAN that just filed notice of change of counsel on the last adjourned date have suddenly withdrawn appearance today.

“Going through the originating process filed by Mohammed Ndarani Esq. SAN, which is no longer extant as the ex-parte order was set aside on 27th May 2022, there is nothing left again for this court to adjudicate upon.

“It is amazing that the plaintiffs/applicants counsel from Ndarani SAN to Falana SAN have suddenly developed cold feet over this alleged public interest case which has generated so much public interest on the issue of an alleged N70trillion hidden in some accounts, allegedly belonging to some public officers.

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“In the circumstances of this case, therefore, the application of the learned counsel for NNPC, M. T. Danzaki Esq., and Access Bank Plc, I. S. Etefia Esq., succeeds.

“This case is hereby struck out for want of diligent prosecution and I make no order as to cost.”

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