Sos Chifiero, a natural healthcare consultant is up in arms against Ecobank Nigeria Plc over $19, 300
For six months, Sos Chifiero, a doctor and natural healthcare consultant based in Warri, Delta State, has been battling to get Ecobank Nigeria Plc to pay him a judgment fee of $4, 306. 85 and $15, 000 damages awarded him by the High court of Justice, Effurn, Warri to no avail. Feeling that he might be denied justice, he has now taken his case to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Chifiero had petitioned Ibrahim Magu, executive chairman of EFCC, on November 19, 2015, alleging fraud and financial crime by Ecobank Nigeria, acting as the agent of MasterCard Credit Card Company of the United States of America, USA, in Nigeria. He also accused the bank of refusal to obey a court judgment, which awarded him the cost of $19, 306.85. P. Onajite-Kuejubola, judge of High Court, Effurun, Delta State, on the 8th June 2015, had passed a judgment in favour of Chifiero after he was deemed to have been able to show by both oral and documentary evidence that Ecobank inappropriately debited a total of $4, 306. 85 from his dollar account to his Master card credit account, resulting in duplicated debits.
The judge, therefore, ordered a prompt reversal and correction of all the debits that were posted to the Chifiero’s MasterCard account between 2005 and 2009. The judge also ordered a prompt refund of the $4, 306. 85 debit and reversal of similar debits posted to his dollar domiciliary account transferred to his MasterCard credit account to shore it up as a result of the debits. Chifiero was awarded damages of $15, 000.
If the verdict came to Chifiero as a relief, it did not manifest in material terms. That is because Ecobank’s lawyer filed a motion for Stay of Execution on the 16th of June 2015, pending the outcome of the substantive appeal filed against the judgment. But the motion for Stay of Execution of the judgment was not heard until January 13, 2016.
After considering the pleaded facts and reviewing the details of the submissions by both counsel, as well as the court records, the judge confirmed that “there was no appeal or record of any appeal in any court in Nigeria by the Defendant/Applicant (Ecobank) as at the time of this motion; January 13, 2016.”
The judge therefore ruled that Ecobank’s Motion for Stay of Execution lacked merit and had no substance to warrant it being filed in the first place; and therefore struck it out and awarded a cost of ₦10,000.00 against Ecobank to be paid to Chifiero. Again, the plaintiff should not expect that his account will be credited yet with the financial awards. This is because Dafe Akpedeye, senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Ecobank’s lawyer has filed another motion for Stay of Execution at the Appeal Court, Benin.
Tope Akinbola of the Brand Communications department, Ecobank, said, following a judgment against the Bank last year, the bank filed a Motion to stay execution and a Notice of appeal at the Court of Appeal which, according to him, were duly served on the Claimant and the Court. “The position of the law is that the Appeal is only deemed to be before the Court of Appeal upon compilation/transmission of records to the Court of Appeal. The compilation of records in this case was, however, delayed due to administrative issues in the court and this gave an opportunity for the Claimant to get the court to strike out our Motion for Stay of execution. Our Lawyer in a bid to protect the interest of the bank rushed to the Court of Appeal to file another Motion for stay of execution (which is allowed under the rules of court) thereby stopping any steps to attack the bank’s property. The Claimant had already taken steps to levy execution so this came as a big disappointment,” he explained.
Akinbola said the bank believed strongly that there were issues of law, which the judge who delivered the judgment did not correctly appraise. “So we needed to take the matter to higher court (Court of Appeal) to appraise the matter as we are constitutionally entitled to. Moreover all the errors in the account have been corrected and after correction, it turned out that it is Dr Chifiero that now owes the bank. He owes the bank about $67 (US).”
Chifiero had on December 23, 2009, written to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to lay complaints against Ecobank. The letter written by V. O. Grant, Chifiero’s lawyer, had similarly alleged, “Fraud perpetuated MasterCard credit card debits and unauthorized transfers from our client’s domiciliary US Dollar account with the bank.” However, Chifiero said he did not receive any response from the CBN, hence his petition to EFCC.
According to Chifiero, his ordeal started on August 2, 2009 when Ecobank sent him a MaterCard statement of account by email. “I was jolted and surprised because this is very unusual as the bank has never sent to me a MasterCard Credit Card Statement of Account by email or as a routine except I specifically requested for it,” he said. According to him, he discovered that most of the entries in the statement, especially those posted in July, 10, 2009, one day, were totally incorrect and were duplicated debits for transactions that he had earlier been debited and paid for in 2005 and 2007. He explained that the duplicated debits were point of sales, PoS, purchases he made in the United Kingdom, UK, in 2005 and 2007. He explained that he made the purchases personally with the MasterCard credit card and his account was debited accordingly. He, therefore, found it curious for MasterCard to debit him again two and four years later for the same transactions he had already paid for.
“Furthermore, on the day in question, that is July 10 , I was in Nigeria and could not have done any Point of Sale (POS) purchases which are transactions that require my physical presence in the United Kingdom. Neither did I travel to the United Kingdom in the whole of 2009. Even more curious was the fact that one of the shops they re-debited me for purchases made from them in 2005, was no longer in operation as at July 10, 2009,” said Chifiero in his petition to Magu.
Subsequently, Chifiero called the Ecobank customer service to lodge a formal complaint and was advised to write the bank via email. He said he complied and wrote the bank on August 9, 2009. After several correspondences between him and the bank for over two months, he wrote a formal letter of request to the bank on October 10, 2009 to reverse all the debits posted to his MasterCard credit card account with the bank. Thereafter, Ecobank responded with a letter on October 15, 2009, giving assurance that his complaints were being looked into and promised to revert to him as soon as their investigation was completed.
However, Akinbola said, “All the errors in the account have been corrected and after correction, it turned out that it is the Dr Chifiero that is owing the bank. He owes the bank about $67. The judgment sum, we believe strongly was wrongly arrived at. That is why we have gone to the court of appeal. The debiting is not human error but system error. When we updated our system’s software it caused duplication on people’s accounts including that of Dr Chifiero. The issues emanating from the system error at the time have been settled,” he explained in an email response to the magazine.
On whether the bank has made any representation to the CBN and EFCC, Akinbola said Chifiero instituted the action against the bank which is still pending in court and that, “It is unclear to us why Dr. Chifiero chose to write petitions to the CBN and EFCC who can’t handle the matter since it’s also in court. Should we report the system software or the maker of the software to CBN and EFCC?” asked Akinbola.
Is there any hope of out of court settlement between Ecobank and Chifiero? Akinbola says yes, “If Chifiero is willing to discuss based on available information.” But from the look of things, Chifiero is undaunted and insists on enforcing the judgment already awarded to him by the High Court. That is dependent on the decision of the Court of Appeal. Will the Appeal Court uphold the judgment? That is dependent on the decision of the Court of Appeal.