As the eight-year-long case finally reaches a conclusion with the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos ruling in favour of Honeywell Flour Mills to receive N72.2 billion from the bank as damages, the public is abuzz with analyses of the complex saga.
Ecobank’s acquisition of ex-parte orders to freeze Honeywell Flour Mills’ funds over a contentious loan agreement had set off the drawn-out legal tussle in 2015. What was initially anticipated to be a routine disagreement soon turned into an extensive and intricate legal war that held the nation’s business and legal landscape’s attention for nearly a decade.
However, on Tuesday, July 18, the court presided over by Hon. Justice Mohammed Liman pronounced its judgement on the flour milling company’s lawsuit demanding compensation from the bank for its losses following the asset freeze. It deemed Ecobank liable to pay the damages.
The judiciary’s decision has been met with mixed public reactions, with some hailing it as a triumph for corporate accountability, while others expressed concerns about its potential impact on the banking sector.
Other observers of the protracted legal dispute have simply expressed relief that the matter can be finally laid to rest.
Reacting to news of the judgement, one social commentator, Rukky Fari, acknowledged the significance of the victory for Honeywell Flour Mills but wondered about the impact of the ruling on Ecobank’s financial position. She said, “I just wonder how Ecobank will cough out the N72bn they are told to pay Honeywell for damages. This is indeed a massive win for Honeywell,” she said.
One commentator on Twitter believes the court has given a fair judgement, saying “The position of the honourable court in this suit is very commendable,” but another user of the microblogging app stated his surprise at the court’s decision.
The user, Omobolarinwa, commented, “I know I’m not a finance person but I thought this was going in Ecobank’s favour?”
Justice Liman, during his ruling, did not shy away from criticising Ecobank’s legal team for their handling of Honeywell Flour Mills’ demands for damages. He brought to light the fact that the bank had previously signed an undertaking, clearly expressing its commitment to comply with such demands if their decision to freeze the flour milling company’s assets was deemed unjust by law.
Stressing the importance of adhering to the clear provisions of the winding-up rules, the judge firmly stated, “The defendant cannot claim ignorance of this provision as ignorance of the law is no excuse, and it is even more inexcusable if committed by a lawyer. Therefore, the ex-parte application was made ultra vires.”
Commenting on the judge’s reaction to Ecobank’s legal team’s conduct during the saga, another user, Tokunbo Oshisanya, expressed his lack of surprise at the ruling.
He said, “See how he lashed them, but then who would blame him? A case that has been going on since 2015, so Honeywell paid 3.5 billion in debt, Ecobank said ‘no, you can’t go like that your money has increased to 13.5 billion.’ Now, just look at what is happening.”
There are indications Ecobank will appeal the decision, and many observers believe such reaction would add a new dimension to the case, giving room for further legal tussle. Agreeing that the case would drag even further with Ecobank appealing the ruling, one observer, Tunji, shared, “Another 10 years of appeal loading.”
A legal practitioner and analyst, Ikemesit Effiong, however, believes that while the case was about the abusive use of an ex-parte order, an occurrence which he considers a big deal in legal circles, the case has far more reaching implications in Nigeria’s financial landscape.
“More importantly from my perspective, it potentially calls into question the reliability of Nigerian financial institutions to support companies and entrepreneurs to build the businesses and create the jobs our economy badly needs,” Effiong noted.
Another marketing expert, Inyang, also said “The Honeywell and Ecobank saga needs more attention and exposé for the benefit of young entrepreneurs coming into the murky market of doing business in Nigeria.”
Ultimately, as the implications of the ruling on both Honeywell Flour Mills and Ecobank continue to unfold, many Nigerians continue to ponder the lessons to be learned from the high-profile legal battle.
Most of the public commentators, while expressing satisfaction that it had finally been settled, agree that the impact of the case will be felt in the legal and business landscape for years to come.