The Federal High Court Sitting in Lagos has struck out a suit filed by the Federal Government against seven commercial banks.
Justice Chuka Obiozor struck out the suit this morning and awarded a cost of N200,000 against the Federal Government and in favour of all the affected banks except Skye Bank which was not represented in court.
The Federal Government had sued the banks seeking the remittance of $793.2 million allegedly hidden with them in contravention of the Treasury Single Account policy.
Yesterday, counsel for the Federal Government, Professor Yemi Akinseye-George, told the court that the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, asked him to withdraw the suit in the larger interest of the public and because of the economic implications.
The counsel had also disclosed that the Federal Government decided to explore an ‘out-of-court settlement’ with the banks.
Even though the banks did not oppose the notice of discontinuance of the suit, through their lawyers, they had insisted that the Government’s allegation against them was false and had caused substantial damage to their reputation.
They had also urged the judge not to merely strike out the suit but to dismiss it and award a cost of between N10-N20m against the Federal Government.
They argued that any case struck out could be re-filed while a case dismissed could no longer be re-filed.
But in his ruling today, Justice Obiozor held that dismissal of an action is one of the gravest actions a plaintiff can face and so the court must be slow to take that option and only exercise such a discretion judiciously.
Having considered the reasons for the withdrawal of the suit, the court held that since the case had yet to proceed to trial, the proper order to make was to strike it out.
In awarding cost, Justice Obiozor held that the banks had placed no evidence before him to support their claim that the actions of the Federal Government had caused damage to their reputation.
He, therefore, used his discretion to award a cost of N200,000 each.
The court also vacated the interim order made on the 20th of July in favour of the Federal Government directing the banks to temporarily remit the funds to the TSA.
Following the July 20 order, most of the affected banks had issued retractions and disclaimers, insisting that they had no illegal funds in their custody