Otudeko, Other To Testify Tomorrow In Honeywell, Ecobank’s Disputed N5.5bn Debt

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Sequel to the directive of Justice Ayotunde Faji of a Federal High Court, Lagos, asking Ecobank Nigeria Plc to bring to court all his witnesses in its legal tussle with the Honeywell Group of Companies Limited over an alleged N5.5 billion indebtedness, the Chairman of the conglomerate, Dr. Oba Otudeko may appear in court on Monday, to give evidence in the suit.

When the matter came up for hearing on Friday, first plaintiff witness Oluwakemi Olanrewaju Owasanoye, Head of Treasury and Finance to Honeywell Group of Companies while being cross examination Ecobank’s counsel, Mr. Divine Agbua, told Justice Faji that by an agreement dated July 22, 2013,  the company at a meeting with the then Oceanic Bank Limited agreed to merge all the indebtedness of the company’s three subsidiaries and put the total indebtedness at N3.5 billion.

Owasanoye added that part of the agreement was that N500 million of the debt must be paid immediately, while the balance of N3 billion must be paid before the exit of the Central Bank of Nigeria,( CBN) Examiners from the bank.

The witness said Honeywell Group complied with the agreement by paying N500 million same day, July 22, 2013 and also ensure the payment of the balance of N3 billion before the exit of the CBN Examiners from the bank.

Owasanoye said that after complying with the terms of the agreement, the company wrote the defendant, ( Oceanic Bank) informing the bank of its compliance with the terms of the agreement and the need for the bank to discharge her of any obligation.

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The witness said the bank in its reply to the letter did not say anything contrary.

She added that the company was surprised when after a year, the bank came up via a letter to make further demand of the alleged indebtedness which had been fully liquidated.

Owasanoye also confirmed that the whole money was paid in four instalments of  N500 million, N850 million, one billion, N1.15 billion and that all the money was paid before the  exit of the CBN Examiners in line with the terms of agreement.

She added that when the dispute arose the matter was referred to the Bankers’ Committee consisting of bank managing directors, representative of the CBN and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC and that the matter was resolved in favour of Honeywell.

However, in his own evidence, Ecobank’s witness, Mr Elemi Gabor, Head Corporate Communication of the bank while being cross examined by Honeywell lawyer, Mr Olabode  Olanipekun (SAN) Insisted that the agreement for the payment was for a two term payment only.

He said the agreement stipulates that N500 million must be paid that same day and the balance immediately.

Agbor said Honeywell  breach the term that same day.

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However, when asks about the time the first tranche of N500 million was paid, the witness said on the same day July 22, 2013, but with a letter.

When  further asked about the importance of the exit of CBN Examiners to the terms of payment as contained in the terms of agreement, Agbor said ” I don’t know if payment were tied to the exit of the CBN Examiners”

When also asked to show where in his statement on oath it was stated that the payment must be made twice, the witness said “I can’t find it”.
Meanwhile, Justice Ayotunde Faji has adjourned further hearing in the matter till January 14 and 17, and he also directed Ecobank Plc’s counsel to bring all their witnesses on the next adjourned date reminding them of the order of accelerated hearing made by the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Legal hostility over the disputed N5.5 billion debt commenced afresh on Thursday before Justice Ayotunde Faji following the the elevation of the former trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris  to the Court of Appeal.

It would be recalled that at the last hearing of the matter before the former trial judge, Justice Idris (now Appeal Court Judge) adjourned the matter indefinitely following an interlocutory  appeal filed by Ecobank Plc challenging his refusal to recuse himself from hearing the matter.

However, when the matter resumed last Thursday, both parties agreed to adopt all exhibits and statements on oath earlier tendered in the matter before the former trial judge, (Justice Idris) and the court consequently consented to the agreement.

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Upon the consent of both parties, the first plaintiff’s witness, Oluwakemi Olanrewaju Owasonoye, Head of Treasury/Finance of Honeywell Group of Companies, who was led in evidence by Honeywell’s lawyer, Mr. Olabode Olanipekun (SAN),  was subsequently asked to enter the witness box so as to adopt her earlier statements on oath, which she did.

Following the plaintiff’s witness adoption of her  statements on oath, lawyer to Ecobank Plc, Mr. Divine Agbua informed the court of a pending motion to call additional witness dated March 7, 2018, this was moved and subsequently granted by the trial judge.

Ecobank Plc’s lawyer also sought for an adjournment till Friday, to cross-examined the plaintiff’s witness.

The suit which was filed by Honeywell Flour Mills Plc, and its sister company – Anchorage Leisures Limited against Ecobank Nigeria Limited is urging the court to hold that they are not indebted to Ecobank.

However, Ecobank Plc is claiming that Honeywell and its sister companies are indebted to it in the said sum, by refusing to  comply strictly with the terms of agreement dated July 22, 2013 by which all the company”s indebtedness were merged and the company asked to pay a concessionary sum of N 3.5 billion.

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