First Bank faces N1bn Suit over CPC crisis as Battleground shifts to Courts

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The rancorous fracas currently rocking the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has triggered a tangle of legal battles between the Prince Tony Momoh-led national executive committee and the former national executive committee led by Senator Rufai

 Hanga. As both factions trade accusations and lawsuits against each other, First Bank of Nigeria Plc. has become the first major collateral victim as the Tony-Momoh faction has sued the bank, for abiding by a Senator Hanga-inspired injunction barring them from operating the party account. The Momoh-faction is claiming N1 billion in damages.

Court papers from the federal High Court in Abuja noted that the case was filed ostensibly 'in view of the continued defiance of First Bank Management in allowing CPC operate seamlessly the current account with the financial institution.' According to the originating writ of summons filed August 4, 2011, by Chief Okoi Obono-Obla of Obono, Obono and Associates law firm, the plaintiff (the Momoh faction of the CPC) is praying the court to grant seven (7) reliefs for general and exemplary damages for breach of contract and fiduciary relationship, libel, defamation and 'An Order of Perpetual Injunction restraining the Defendant including its agents, servants or officials in whatever guise from refusing, neglecting or failing to honour cheques presented by the Plaintiff including its agents, servants or third parties to the Defendant for payment.'

According to the statement of claim, the Plaintiff is a customer, who maintains a Current Account with the Defendant. The opened its account with the Defendant at one of its branches in Garki, Abuja. The account was opened at the First Bank, AREA 3, 2 nd Branch, Garki, Abuja; and the Account Number is: 5062030009416. The Plaintiff has money in the account but surprisingly 'in July, 2011, the Defendant without stating any cogent or compelling reasons started rejecting or dishonouring cheques presented by the Plaintiff or issued to third parties by the Plaintiff for presentation to the Defendant for payment even though the Plaintiff has enough to its credit in its account to cover the value of these cheques in absolute breach of the duty the Defendant owes the Plaintiff to honour its cheques.'

'When the National Chairman of the Plaintiff, Prince Tony Momoh, sought to know the reason(s) why the Defendant was refusing to pay cheques issued by the Plaintiff from the Manager of the Defendant's Branch where the Plaintiff has its account, the Manager of the Defendant claimed that he was served with a letter dated 7 th July, 2011, from a Lawyer (Aliyu, Marama & Co, Legal Practitioners & Consultants) representing one Senator Rufai Sani Hanga & 3 others, concerning a case filed by them against the Plaintiff (the Momoh led faction of the CPC).

The Plaintiff averred that the persons mentioned in the said letter written by the Messrs Aliyu, Marama & Co to wit: Senator Rufai Sani Hanga (National Chairman), Alhaji Badmos Mutalif (The National Secretary), Abdulwahab Adebayo Adeleke (National Financial Secretary) and Chief Denis Aghanya (National Publicity Secretary) are imposters and this was well known to the Defendant because the Plaintiff has been operating the said account since January, 2011, without any controversy. The Plaintiff also averred that the National Secretary of the Plaintiff is Engineer Buba Galadima; National Publicity Secretary is Engineer Rotimi Fashakin; the National Financial Secretary is Pastor Longe. These NEC officials were democratically elected at the National Convention held on January 6, 2011.

The results of this election have never been contested evidence in the fact that Senator Hanga himself contested the Primary Election for nomination of the Governorship Candidate for Kano State conducted and supervised by the new National Executive Committee led by Prince Tony Momoh, the elected National Chairman of the Plaintiff. When Tony-Momoh sought clarifications as to why the account was frozen, the bank manager told him it was 'orders from above.' On July 6, 2011, the Plaintiff issued a First Bank Cheque No. HC 81476512 to Ahmed Zuberu for N60, 000.00 which was presented for payment at Jos Street, Abuja Branch of the Defendant, but was dishonoured. Another First Bank Cheque No. HC 81476511 dated 6/7/2011 issued to Solution Business Services Ltd for N5, 750,000.00 which was lodged into FinBank, Gwarinpa, Abuja, for payment was also returned on July 15, 2011. The Defendant wrote on the said Cheque 'DAR' which in banking parlance means, Drawers Attention Required.

The action of the Defendant in dishonouring the cheque issued to Ahmed Zuberu and Solution Business Services Ltd seriously brought the Plaintiff into great disrepute, public opprobrium and scandal portraying the Plaintiff as an irresponsible body, a scoundrel, fraudster, untrustworthy and a criminal organization among right thinking members of the public. To which end, the Plaintiff is seeking a Declaration that the freezing of the accounts of the Plaintiff by the Defendant on the ground that the Defendant had received a letter from a Solicitor purporting to act on behalf of the former Interim National Chairman of the Plaintiff in respect of a suit filed by the said former Interim National Chairman and 3 others against the Plaintiff is unconscionable, malicious, illegal, wrongful and baseless.

The Tony-Momoh led faction of the CPC is also seeking general damages of N500 million for breach of contract by the Defendant and another N500 million for general/exemplary damages for libel on the ground of the Defendant's wrongful dishonouring of cheques issued by the Plaintiff to third parties and presented by these third parties to the Defendant for payment. / understands that the said CPC party convention, which held from January 4-6, 2011, in Abuja and produced the present National Executive Committee of the party, was declared illegal by the Senator Hanga group for allegedly breaching the party's constitution. Hence the Senator Hanga faction which includes some CPC founding fathers has refused to recognize the National Executive Committee of the party led by Prince Tony Momoh.

Chief Denis Aghanya, the former National Publicity Secretary was the first to go to court, instituting legal action against the Prince Tony Momoh faction. Hearing on the case is due next October 19, 2011. Aghanya was quoted as saying that 'the decision of the former national executive of the party to challenge the leadership of Prince Momoh in court is to correct the anomalies that were perpetrated during the convention of the party and to reclaim the party from the current leadership, in order to restructure it in line with the vision of its founding fathers… For instance, the sudden zoning of top political positions at the convention venue was alien to the party's constitution and its adoption was therefore a violation of the party's laws,' Aghanya said.'

  Sources close to the former CPC National Chairman, Senator Hanga Rufai, who is a major financier of the party, indicted the Tony-Momoh leadership for the cavalier manner in which Sen. Hanga was removed from office ostensibly for opposing the party's choice of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as presidential candidate. 'The leadership of the party should be held responsible for the party's dismal performance in the governorship elections in the north,' noted the source, adding: 'the decision of the leadership of the party to substitute popular candidates with the party's choice was the undoing of the party in most of the northern states.'

'In the case of Katsina State, the winner of the governorship primaries was Senator Yakubu Lado who was substituted with the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Masari…If the leadership of the party had allowed Sen. Lado who had chosen the younger brother of Late President Umaru Yar'Adua, the CPC would have beaten the incumbent Governor because Senator Lado is very popular. Rather, they went ahead to forward the name of Aminu Masari to INEC. It was the same scenario in Kano where the name of Mohammed Abacha (late President Abacha's son) was replaced with that of Ja'faru Isa; same situation in Bauchi, and Kaduna where even the major financier of the party, Senator Rufai Hanga, was denied the governorship ticket.' gathered that the simmering crisis that preceded the January 4, 2011, convention followed the decision by Gen. Buhari, the Presidential candidate, to back Tony Momoh over his longtime friend and CPC founding father, Chief Mike Ahamba for the post of party chairman. The ensuing deadlock led to Chief Ahamba and other former national executive members of the party boycotting the convention. Another contentious issue was zoning. Whereas The Buhari Organization (TBO) the political structure of the Buhari campaign led by Buba Galadima and other key founding members of the party wanted zoning as operated in the ruling PDP, the Rufai Hanga group favored an open contest in which everybody had an equal chance. It probably did not help that Buba Galadima emerged as the National Secretary of the party at the convention.

It was equally learnt that the emergence of the splinter group, Save Nigeria Group (SNG) led by Pastor Tunde Bakare, who later emerged as the running mate to Gen. Buhari further compounded the simmering crisis in the party. Add this to the announcement by the party's caucus from the South South and the South East, distancing themselves from the leadership of the party which decided to challenge the declaration of President Goodluck Jonathan as the winner of the April presidential polls at the Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja; and you get a toxic political brew. Pundits are unanimous that if the current crisis in the party is not quickly addressed, it would affect the electoral fortunes of the party in future.