Last week, I began my reaction to a widely circulated and lengthy article titled “Herbert Wigwe, Access Bank and the danger of a single story” credited to one Etim Etim who claims that the late Wigwe was his “boss, brother and friend”.

I stated that I would not have credited Etim Etim’s propaganda article with a response except that in his article, he placed me in a group of people whose “cruelty and depravity” in spawning “falsehoods against an innocent man even in moments of immense tragedies and pain is unfathomable”. Etim Etim went ahead to put me among the people he says “are out to inflict pain by fabricating lies and malicious propaganda against the dead. Their intention is to destroy the memory of the dead banker, inflict pain on his aged parents, business partners and damage the reputation of the businesses he left behind”.

To further drag my name into the mud, Etim Etim deployed blatant falsehood and half-truths and turned facts upside down and stated in his mischievous article that “Tony Okoroji’s claim that Access Bank has deliberately withheld COSON’s funds is a deliberate fabrication and obfuscation of information just to hoodwink the public and impugn the characters of those involved. The fact is that some members of COSON – Premier Music, Ivory Music and Pretty Okafor – have sued COSON and the bank seeking to restrict the accounts of COSON. The case is still in court, and as a senior lawyer in Access Bank’s Legal Department told me, ‘’in keeping with the legal doctrine of Lis Pendis, the bank as a responsible corporate citizen cannot take any steps that will tie the hands or foist a fait accompli on the court’’. No!!!

Facts are facts and propaganda must remain propaganda. Anyone can go to the Federal High Court, Lagos, which is a superior court of records, and obtain the facts.

It is fairly well known that following the rapid growth and unexpected great success of COSON, highlighted by the commissioning of the magnificent COSON House in Ikeja, a characteristic Nigerian affliction reared its ugly head. A small group of very ambitious young men conspired with their friends in the Buhari administration met at night and staged a midday coup, to gain control of COSON, a private sector organization with relatively significant resources. They dreamt of being the inheritors of the fruits of the enormous work we have done over several years to build a globally respected organization to project and protect the Nigerian music industry. They were determined to reap where they did not sow.

It is also well known that the coup failed woefully as COSON members fought back intelligently and valiantly to save an organization they have become very proud of. Upon their failure to grab control of COSON, this small group forged new plans to relentlessly attack the organization and its leadership with widely fabricated defamatory proclamations and propaganda. They also deployed the different government law enforcement agencies with bogus allegations, in their effort to cripple COSON. Part of their plan was to make sure that the COSON leadership is deprived of all funds of the organization so that it will have no money to operate.

On November 30, 2018, some in the group, with a spurious affidavit and without the knowledge of any officer of COSON filed Suit No FHC/L/CS/1819/2018 and without putting us on notice, obtained an ex-parte mareeva Order from Hon Justice M.S. Hassan of the Federal High Court, Lagos, against COSON and all the banks in which COSON had accounts. This resulted in the freezing of COSON accounts in every bank in which COSON had money. It took deft management by the COSON leadership to keep the organization from going under.

On February 6, 2019, Hon. Justice M.S. Hassan on being seized of the facts and the deception in the affidavit based on which the Order was obtained against COSON, set aside the ex-parte Mareeva Order earlier granted by him and struck out the entire Suit No FHC/L/CS/1819/2018 for abuse of Court Process.

Upon the striking out of the suit, every other bank affected by the Court Order immediately reverted to the situation before the Order. The Diamond /Access Bank team began to dribble us. They failed every promise they made to us. At some point, they demanded that we give them an indemnity before they would release our money!

I signed the documents to open the account and have consistently been a signatory to the account. The signatories had not changed. I did not understand the strange demand for an indemnity from us to have access to our money. We were not borrowing money from the bank. We were not owing the bank. It became clear to me that they were cooking up every excuse to hold on to the money belonging to the musicians of Nigeria They expected us to refuse to give them the indemnity so that they can clutch on to it to justify their self-serving very bad behavior.

We took on their bait and I asked them to draft the indemnity as they wanted it. I foresaw a situation where they would claim that our indemnity was not proper or that it was unacceptable to them. Yes, they drafted the indemnity, sent it to us and we reproduced it on our letterhead without changing or deleting one comma or full stop. We signed the indemnity and sent it to them.

That should have been the end of the matter. Right? No!!! They still did not release our funds!

Etim Etim, in his propaganda article, stated, “the case is still in court”. That is False! False!! False!!! I repeat that Suit No FHC/L/CS/1819/2018 was struck out by Hon Justice M.S. Hassan on February 6, 2019, more than five years ago!

See me, see trouble o! Please, which law allows any bank to apply the doctrine of “Lis Pendis”, to hold on to money belonging to its customer after judgment has already been delivered?

There is no question that Access Bank has taken the laws into its own hands and has held on tightly to the money belonging to the members of COSON without any Court Order whatsoever. There is a plethora of decisions of both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court that no Bank in Nigeria can legally freeze or restrict the accounts of its customer without a Court Order. Not even the almighty EFCC can order a bank to freeze its customer’s account without an order of court.

In her memorable opinion on the issue, in Fidelity Bank Plc vs. Bayuja Ventures Limited (2011), Helen Moronikeji Ogunwumiju (JCA) said: “It amounts to nothing more than a resort to self-help which is unacceptable, and which amounts to lawlessness and brigandage for the appellant to unilaterally freeze the account of the respondents. No one is allowed to resort to self-help if not we shall all descend into a state of anarchy”

When every effort we made to get Access Bank to release COSON members funds which were seized without a Court Order, failed, we went to court in SUIT NO FHC/L/CS/1777/2019 and asked the court to order Access Bank to unfreeze our account and pay us damages.

On May 4, 2022, in her judgment, Hon Justice Yellin Bogoro of the Federal High Court, Lagos, unequivocally ordered Access Bank to return the money belonging to COSON and its members and to pay damages to COSON for the “illegal and unlawful” freezing of COSON accounts.

Did Access Bank obey the order of Justice Bogoro? For where? For some reason, Access Bank behaves like it is above the law. We even had to demonstrate on the streets about our treatment by Access Bank.

In my last “Saturday Breakfast”, I wrote: “I don’t know if Etim Etim, the poor propagandist at Access Bank, is seeking to buy favour from the new managers of Access Bank by white-washing the crystal-clear errors that even a blind man can see. It is possible that Etim is seeking promotion in his career with the carcass of my reputation as part of his CV. What is certain is that he has set out to distort my credibility with blatant falsehood. Etim Etim may have heard of me but he clearly does not know me. If his gambit is to shut me up, somebody should tell him that it will not work!”

I understand that the Chairman of the Access Bank Board is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, a serious man of the law. Today, I call on him and the new leadership at Access Bank to run away from “Jankara Banking” and “Jankara Law”. They should steer the bank in a direction that eschews self-help, lawlessness and brigandage. Let them do what is right, obey the law and return the money belonging to COSON members which they have unlawfully seized for the sixth year running. If anybody tells them that propagandists and PR men will make this matter disappear, I advise that they take another look at the person. He must be drinking a very bad variant of “ogogoro”!


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