Unlawful Detention: Businessman Sues Ex-NIMASA D-G For N1b

akpo  Dr. Henry Omorodion, Chairman, Hensmor Nigeria Limited, and one of the company's directors, Barrister Patricia Okereke , have slammed a N1billion suit on the immediate past Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, (NIMASA), Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi.

The duo claim they were unlawfully arrested and detained by the police on Akpobolokemi's instruction.

Joined as co-respondents are the  Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety (NIMASA), Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Deputy Commissioner of Police, and Officer-in-Charge of the Legal Department of the Criminal Investigations Department, Panti, as first, third, fourth and fifth respondents respectively.

‪ Omorodion, Okeke and their company in an originating summon filed before the court by their lawyer, Mr. jide Zaid , are demanding N1 billion from the respondents jointly and severally in respect of their alleged unlawful arrest and detention.

‪ The applicants, in an affidavit in support of the originating summon, sworn to by Okereke and filed before a Federal High  Court in Lagos by Zaid, averred that their company filed a suit before a Federal High Court in Lagos and obtained a judgment against NIMASA  for cumulative damages in the sum of N6.8 billion, arising from Hensmor's ship named M.T. Agbonmein on March 14, 2006.

In the company's attempt at legitimate enforcement of the said judgment, Hensmor filed an application  dated December 12, 2011, for garnishee order nisi before the court, but the application  was not heard because of NIMASA's application for stay of the execution of the said judgment.

Okereke  averred further that on February 3, 2012, the Federal High Court granted the NIMASA's stay of execution of the judgement  on the condition that  the said judgment sum of N6.8 billion be deposited in an interest yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court within 14 days. However,   NIMASA ignored the conditional stay and refused to obey the order and filed an appeal before Lagos Division of Court of Appeal for a stay of execution of the judgment of the lower court, which was later struck out

Upon the disposal of the NIMASA's motion for stay of execution of lower court order by the Appeal Court, Hensmor Nigeria Limited filed an application  for garnishee order nisi, which was taken and granted by the Federal High Court  and NIMASA's fund in the custody of its banker, First City Monument Bank (FCMB), was attached. Thereafter, another application filed before the Appeal Court of Lagos by NIMASA was dismissed with cost. ‪Okereke averred further that upon the disposal of all pending applications filed by NIMASA for stay of execution of the judgment, both the Federal High Court and Appeal Court granted the garnishee order absolute dated July 2, 2012, against FCMB Plc in the sum of N6.8 billion.

In spite the consent of NIMASA's banker, FCMB, to comply with and implement the terms of the garnishee order absolute, the bank refused to comply with the order. Consequently, Hensmor Nigeria Limited, obtained the leave of the court on September 25, 2012, to commence contempt proceedings against the principal officers of the bank.     ‪She added that all steps taken by Hensmor Nigeria Limited and its directors to enforce the judgment obtained in the suit against NIMASA were done in total compliance with the subsisting  order of the court and due process of law. ‪   However,  the event took another dimension when the Lagos State Deputy Commissioner of Police, acting on the order of the Commissioner of Police, invited Omorodion and other directors of Hensmor for an interview with the Officer-in-Charge of the Legal Department of the Police, through an invitation letter dated November 8, 2012.

She stated that the said police invitation followed a petition titled " Sustained threats to our bankers and funds of the Federal Government of Nigeria in our custody by a company known as Hensmor Nigeria Limited"  written by Akpobolokemi.

The petition accused Hemsor directors of threatened his life and those of his bankers in order to forcefully collect the sum of N6.8 billion, property of the Federal Government of Nigeria despite the pendency of their appeal against the judgment. ‪

Okereke  also statedr that Akpobolokemi boasted in the media and other public fora that he would use state power, including the police and armed forces, to deal with her and other applicants by frustrating them from enforcing the judgment obtained by their company. On account of Akpobolokemi's instigation, she  was arrested, cautioned and temporarily detained by the men of State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti-Yaba, Lagos State, and was released on bail bond on self recognition.

‪  Consequently, the applicants, while claiming the sum of N1billion against NIMASA and Akpobolokemi jointly and severally for unlawful arrest and detention are also seeking a declaration that their company, Hensmor's legitimate attempt to enforce the judgment it obtained at the  Federal High Court Lagos on December 2, 2011, in suit number FHC/CS/L/909/2010, by way of garnishee proceedings against NIMASA cannot amount to or give rise to any criminal offence that could warrant an invitation to be  interviewed by the police, a declaration that the police have no  power  or jurisdiction to prevent the applicants from enforcing the judgment of court dated December 2, 2011, which they obtained against NIMASA,    a declaration that both NIMASA and Akpobolokemi's petition dated September 27, 2012, to the police during the pendency of a civil litigation at the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal, amounts to self-help and reckless abuse of executive powers which are calculated attempt to ridicule the courts and harass, intimidate, oppress, and suppress their company's fair hearing in the court of law.

‪They are also seeking an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents, and their agents or servants or any other person whosoever from arresting or detaining any director, officer or agent of the Hensmor company in respect of any matter relating or pertaining to the pending civil litigation at the federal high court or Court of Appeal. ‪    However, NIMASA and Akpobolokemi, while urging the court to discountenance the applicants' motion on notice,  denied almost all the applicants' averment in the affidavit in support of their suit. ‪

NIMASA and its former Director- General, in their counter-affidavit  sworn to by legal officer of NIMASA, Albert Nakpodia, and filed before the court, state that both NIMASA and Akpobolokemi were not parties to the garnishee proceedings before the  Federal High Court in Lagos and that Hensmor has no valid licenses/permit to operate the businesses it claimed to be engaged in.

‪ Nakpodia also stated that NIMASA and its former D-G never disobeyed any court order, but exercised their constitutional rights to challenge the order at the Court of Appeal, adding that Court of Appeal has since stayed all proceedings in the High Court on the subject matter.

They, however, admitted that their application was struck out for failure to 'seek a variation from the conditional stay of execution of the order of the court, and that on May 17, 2012, NIMASA has re-filed the struck out application seeking for 'extension of time to reply for a variation order of the conditional stay of execution granted by the trial court and an accelerated hearing of the substantive appeal.

‪ Both NIMASA and Akpoblokemi  also stated that Okereke was not known to them, neither was any petition or report written against her by them adding that the second applicant, Dr. Omorodion was never invited by the police.       Therefore, urged the court to dismiss the applicants' suit with substantial cost award against them.

Meanwhile, the case file may be re---assigned to another judge after the court vacation as NIMASA, in a letter written to the Chief Judge, has requested that the case should be reassigned to another judge.

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