Barely few weeks after the proposed merger between Access Bank and Diamond Bank, A Federal High Court, Lagos has ordered Access Bank Plc to pay the sum of N4.7 million to two Lagos-based Businessmen for breach of trust and gross negligence.
Justice Abdulazeez Anka made the order on Wednesday while delivering judgement in a three years old suit filed by Chief Kolade Oluwole Ogunbiyi and Aremo Michael Oladipupo Ogunbiyi against the bank over illegal debiting of their company’s account, breach of trust and gross negligence in the way and manner their account was handled by the bank.
In a statement of claims filed by tbe businessmen’s lawyer, Mr John Femi Aina, in a suit number FHC/L/CS/09/2016, the claimants averred that the first plaintiff is the Executive Director of a company called Samwoly Guest House situate at 13, Idita Street, Off Bode Thomas, Surulere, Lagos, while the second plaintiff Aremo Michael Oladipupo Ogunbiyi is the Chairman Managing Director of the same company.
The plaintiffs claimed that sometimes in November 2014, a corporate account for their company, Samwoly Guest House was opened at the Tejuosho branch of Access Bank Plc wherein the second claimant is the sole signatory to the account. addding that by the time of opening the Corporate account for their company, Aremo Michael Oladipupo Ogunbiyi, second claimant supplied Access Bank all necessary documents concerning the company for ease of search at the Corporate Affairs Commission for the purpose of opening the account.
The plaintiffs said that in November 2014 a staff of the bank Folakemi Ganniyu acknowledged the receipt of the incorporated documents by hand from the second claimant, hence open the account, issued cheque books and ATM Card .
Consequent upon the release of the documents to the bank, the claimants said that the business account of Samwoly Guest House was debited by Access Bank.
However, the claimants averred that in spite of debiting the account, the bank did not or refused to carry out any search at the CAC consequent upon which the operation of their company’s corporate account were restricted for more than three times within eight months which lead to loss of business.
It was also the case of the claimants that during this time of the restriction which is about eight months after the opening of the account, the bank did not in any way notify them about their inability to conduct search on their company’s profiles at the CAC despite the release of all the incorporation documents to them. And that as a result of the restriction placed on their account, they could not access it while an Access Bank cheque for the sum of N113, 900 issued in favour of Diamond Bank PLC was dishonoured despite sufficient money in the account. Added that they could not access their account while their ATM card and the POS issued to them by the bank were also blocked.
The claimants added that it is a known fact that in the banking institution as per regulation, no bank will open a corporate account without all necessary incorporation documents verified, as Samwoly Guest House account was debited for ATM Card and cheque books issued on February 24, 2015.
As a result of the accounting officer’s non – challant attitudes and unprofessional conducts and repulsive behaviour, plaintiffs said that by a letter dated June 17, 2015, the Branch Manager Access Bank, Tejuosho, Lagos was requested to close the account.
Consequently, the claimants asked the court for a declaration that the bank is liable in negligence for restricting the operation of its company’s account and fraudulently breached the duty of care, trust and due accountability owe them when it improperly and irregularly debited the account of commission on Turn Over.
The claimants also asked the court for an order directing Access Bank to pay the sum of N15 million, for their negligence to conduct search at the CAC and the loss of business claimants suffered as a result of the restriction placed in the use of their company’s Corporate account.
They also asked for the sum of N15 million and N5 million for breach of trust and due accountability as a result of the deliberate, improper and irregularly debiting of the claimants account and as general damages respectively.
However, Access Bank in its defence denied all the claimants’ averments.
The bank while denying restricting claimants’ account said it was the failure of the claimants to submit their company’s Incorporation documents that lead to it inability to conclude the process of the opening of the account.
Access Bank also stated that it deliberately debited the account of the plaintiffs’ company, Samwoly Guest House, said that what actually happened was a system glitch and that when this was noticed, the bank quickly reversed the charge in favour of the account.
Delivering judgment in the suit, justice Anka held that the bank story would be difficult to believe, more so, when the bank has issued cheque books and ATM card to the claimants and later turned around to say the account is yet to be opened.
Justice Anka also held that what would have being the basis for the bank to issue such instruments when there is no account. Added that the sole witness of the bank did not help matters as all what he came to tell the court was hear-say evidence.
“He did not participate in any of the process that led to the issues in dispute, what more he did not tell the court the person who gave her such information, where and when, he only said he relied on the information available to him” Justice stated.
Justice Anka further held that Access Bank is negligent by placing restriction on the claimants account after the receipt of necessary documents from them and debiting account for same. And also held that the bank is liable for breach of contract, trust and the duty of care to customers.
Consequently, Justice Anka upheld the case of the plaintiffs and dismissed the defence of the bank.
Justice Anka therefore, ordered Access Bank to pay to the claimants the sum of N2,000,000, for gross negligence, N1,000,000 for the hardship and loss of business occasioned by the dishonoured cheque, N 1,000,000 as general damages and the sum of N700,000 as cost of litigation