By Joseph Jibueze, Deputy News Editor
Access Bank Plc has filed petitions against two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) Etigwe Uwa and Babajide Koku before the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC) and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
The bank accused them of conducts “unbecoming of a legal practitioner” while representing Seplat Petroleum Development Company Ltd in a debt recovery case.
The bank accused Uwa of “deliberately making, publishing and/or causing to be published false statements of facts and law”.
It accused the SANs of “making and/or participating in making extra-judicial statements calculated to prejudice and/or interfere with the fair trial of a pending suit”.
The petitioner said it availed a third party, Cardinal Drilling Services Limited, several loan facilities, which Cardinal Drilling transferred to several accounts belonging to Seplat.
“On the 12th of March 2012, Cardinal Drilling drew down USD30 million as per the offer letter dated 13th day of February 2012 and immediately transferred the entire disbursed sum to accounts owned and operated by Seplat,” the bank said.
Access Bank said Seplat Chairman Dr Ambrose Orjiakor “pledged on behalf of Seplat that the said debts will be settled”.
The petitioner said following Seplat’s alleged failure to repay the debt, the bank obtained injunctive reliefs from Justice Rilwan Aikawa, following which it took over Seplat’s assets at 16A, Olu Holloway Road (Temple Road), Ikoyi, Lagos and 25, Lugard Avenue, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, Seplat appealed. On January 19, the Court of Appeal granted Seplat’s application to suspend the interlocutory orders.
Uwa had prayed the Appellate Court for an order “suspending the operation of the order of interlocutory injunction as it affects the appellant and its Chairman upon the provision of a Bank Guarantee in the sum of US$20,000,000 in favour of the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Court, as security for the suspension of the said orders of an interlocutory injunction pending the hearing and determination of this appeal”.
The petitioner said Uwa authored an email on January 22 to the bank’s lawyer Mr Kunle Ogunba (SAN) informing him that pursuant to the Court of Appeal order, Seplat “has been restored to possession of its premises at 16A Holloway Street Ikoyi”.
The bank said the email was published to over 13 people and was replete with fallacies.
“It is indeed elementary and Etigwe Uwa, a member of the Inner Bar, ought to know that the suspension of the interlocutory orders made by the trial court in FHC/L/CS/1588/2020 shall not take effect until the lodging of the security ordered by the honourable court.
“To date, Seplat has failed to lodge the said bank guarantee issued in favour of the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal within 21 days of the said ruling.”
The bank said Uwa, via his firm’s Twitter account @SSKohnNG, tweeted that his firm was “pleased to announce that the Court of Appeal has suspended the interim orders issued by the Federal High Court, which closed Seplat’s offices and froze its accounts.”
The petitioner said: “…The publication caused to be issued by Etigwe Uwa deliberately seeks to mislead the general public into believing that the said orders suspended were interim orders and not interlocutory orders to whip up public sentiments as to why an interim order will remain in force for almost two months, thereby leading to public outcry all in a bid to influence the decision of the Court in favour of his client Seplat.”
The petitioner said Uwa flouted Rules 15 (3) (g) and 33 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007, which provide that a lawyer in a pending case “shall not knowingly make a false statement of law or fact” and “shall not…make any extra-judicial statement” that can prejudice the fair trial of a case.
Access Bank said the Court of Appeal ruling was delivered around 10:00 am. It filed a Notice of Appeal and injunction pending appeal at 11:00 am and immediately served them on the counsel for Seplat (Uwa’s office) and others.
“Surprisingly, we received an email sent by Etigwe Uwa alleging that his client repossessed its assets at around 10:40 am without any evidence other than some old and doctored pictures to back up this claim…
“To compound issues, Etigwe Uwa stated in his e-mail that his client violated the interlocutory order of the Federal High Court by taking pictures inside the said asset at 12:27 am when indeed the Court of Appeal delivered its ruling around 10:00 am.
“He frantically concocted lies and made false allusions alleging that the said asset was repossessed by bailiffs of the Court of Appeal, same being totally false, as the bailiffs of court being law-abiding officers who would never act beyond the scope of their duties…
“Moreso, the Certified True Copy of the Ruling was only obtained by Etigwe Uwa, and his team at around 15:00hrs, hence it was practically impossible for Etigwe Uwa to claim that his client took over the said premises at around 10:40 am…
Access Bank said it filed a Notice of Appeal to the Supreme Court alongside a Motion for Injunction pending appeal and proceeded to serve the processes on Uwa.
“Security personnel at Streamsowers and Kohn, a firm in which Etigwe Uwa is a Senior Partner, claimed that the office was closed and that no legal practitioner or member of staff had been to work that day.
“Ironically, Etigwe Uwa had appeared in court that same day with a junior in chambers, yet it was claimed that the office had been closed the entire day…
“Flowing from the above, we state that indeed the acts of Etigwe Uwa amounted to a breach of Rule 30 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, we urge the committee to so hold.”
Regarding Koku, Access Bank said he was aware of the “fallacies” contained in Uwa’s emails, but he “failed to immediately caution his client Dr Orjiako to refrain from instructing his company Seplat from making such misleading statements.”
When The Nation contacted Uwa, he said: “I would prefer not to respond to the petition via a press statement or statement to the press as a mark of respect to the LPPC which is the body considering the petition.
“I can, however, request you to confirm from the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal Lagos whether or not a Zenith Bank guarantee dated 21st January 2020 was lodged and later replaced with another bank guarantee dated 25 January 2021.
“At the appropriate time, it would become manifest who has acted professionally.”
Koku could not be reached for comments.
He also did not respond to a text message sent to him on Saturday night.
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