Alleged N800m amnesty fraud: Court rejects Ecobank’s request to halt FG funds recovery efforts

AFederal High Court in Abuja has rejected the request by the Ecobank Nigeria Limited for an order to restrained the Federal Government from proceeding with it’s efforts to recover the over N800millon allegedly overpaid by the bank to beneficiaries of the Amnesty Programme.

In a ruling on Wednesday, Justice Inyang Ekwo declined to restrain the Fed Govt as prayed by the bank in its ex-parte motion.

Instead, Justice Ekwo ordered the bank to put the respondents on notice within seven days of the order.

Listed as respondents to the motion are the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Federal Government of Nigeria Niger-Delta Amnesty Programme.

Justice Ekwo also ordered the bank to serve on all the respondents in the suit the processes filed and adjourned the matter until May 31 for the bank to show cause.

I’m it’s motion, dated April 6,  marked:  FHC/ABJ/CS/469/2023, the bank prayed the court to issue an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents or cohorts from arresting its directors, staff or agents or taking steps to disrupt its business without following due process of law pending the hearing and determination of originating motion.

It also sought an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents either by themselves or agents from taking further steps “to further harass the applicant, its directors and staff by way of ceaseless invitations extended to the applicant, staff and directors in order to force the applicant to pay the sum of N849,408,000 demanded by the 3rd respondent (Niger Delta Amnesty Programme) as sum due to it from the applicant using the coercive powers of the security agencies and the Central Bank of Nigeria without due process of law pending the hearing and determination of the originating summons.”

Ecobank stated, in its supporting affidavit  that since the inception of the programme to January, 2023, there had been no allegation against ECOBANK for fraud in relation to monies paid to its customers by the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme. 

It said on January 19, commercial banks, including ECOBANK, were summoned to a meeting by the NSA to the President, Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd.), in respect of the Amnesty Programme. 

“The NSA at the meeting which I attended informed the banks representatives that some of the beneficiaries of the Amnesty Scheme have been receiving double payments from the Federal Government of Nigeria by opening multiple accounts in several banks and that the 3rd respondent has also been paying funds to unknown individuals. 

“The NSA thereafter sought for the support of the banks in tackling the challenges in sanitising the system and ensuring the leakages are blocked.”

The bank said it was  surprised that the Permanent Secretary, Mr Aliyu Mohammed, informed all the banks that the Federal Government had purportedly lost the sum of N13 billion through the leakages and thereafter stated emphatically that the sum of N849,408,000 must be refunded by ECOBANK within 2 weeks. 

It added that it was shocked by the demand and the threat of arrest requested for time for them to audit their books to verify the claims for multiple payments in line with the payment instructions given by the 3rd respondent.” 

The bank stated that by  a letter dated January 13, 2023, but served on it on the 20th January, 2023,  a lawyer to the respondents wrote to demand for the payment of N319,830,000.00 “being the alleged loss suffered by the 3rd respondent (the Amnesty Programme) due to the multiple payments made to beneficiaries of the Amnesty Programme in line with the payment instructions given to the banks by the 3rd respondent.

“The applicant (Ecobank) was again shocked by the demand made on it as the applicant only acted as a banker and duly processed payments to the account of the beneficiaries with its bank in line with the mandate and instructions received from the 3rd respondent.

“The applicant was not involved in the processing of payments, approval of payments or verification of the list of the beneficiaries of the scheme.”

The bank said it  did not engage in any fraudulent activities in relation to the funds paid its customers either before or after the opening of account. 

It added that it was  not appointed as a financial adviser on the amnesty payment programme and was not given any responsibility of verifying payments to the beneficiaries of the programme under any contract. 

The bank said it was  not aware of the criteria used in picking/selecting the beneficiaries of the Amnesty stipends.