Mr Charles Danson, a Lagos resident banking with First City Monument Bank [FCMB], has been working hard to save a certain amount of money to expand his upcoming business. Steadily and painfully while denying himself and family many things, he plunged every penny into this account.
Danson, a striving business man who has maintained his account for nine years, was determined to save up to N170,000 with FCMB and at last the money in his account stood at N170,060.75. But the money which he planned to catapult him to the next level is going to cause him so much grief and nightmares.
Had he known, he would not have gone to FCMB to make all that accursed deposits. Had he known, he would have plunged the money straight back into his business. At least that last action would have generated him some profit, but no, he decided to save the money with the bank pending when he will need it for more business.
His nightmares started when on the 31st of October last year, he went to FCMB bank situated at Akowonjo roundabout on Shasha Rd, Alimosho LGA. Armed with his cheque book, he went to the bank and filled a cheque leaf with no.04930911 requesting for N100,000.00. After a while, the cashier informed him that he had insufficient cash to his credit.
To say that. Danson was baffled and miffed will be an understatement. “Since depositing up to N170,000 in my current account, I have not made any withdrawals so how can you say I have insufficient cash to make a withdrawal of N100,000?” he asked the cashier. Responding, the cashier directed him to the Customer Service Desk where he claimed he was kept for over an hour before his accounts officer spoke to him on phone.
According to Danson, his accounts officer told him that it was a case between one “Mrs Winny Ugamah and Mr Eben Spiff Dan Paul” in Port-Harcourt, that the bank acted on the orders of the Rivers State Magistrate court to debit his account and pay Mrs. Winny Ugamah”, while advising Danson to go to his FCMB home branch.
Barely able to stand on his feet, as, according to him, he did not know any of the names the bank staff were mentioning nor was he indebted to anybody nor has he ever been to Rivers State, he staggered out of the bank completely confused.
Early the next morning, petrified and completely confused as he has put so much hope on this money, Danson rushed to the Agege branch of the bank, where he opened the account and received a letter with more bomb shell.
The letter was served him on the 1st of November 2018 though dated 30th of November 2018 and by then, the money in his current account had been moved out without his knowledge.
According to the letter from FCMB addressed to Mr. Charles Danson and titled ‘Re-PMC/947/2017:Mrs.Winny Ugamah vs Mr. Eben Spiff Dan Paul’. Please find attached garnishee order absolute from the magistrate court of Rivers state. The judgment debt is N2,687,332.14. We hereby intimate you of the receipt of the order and the readiness of the bank to comply with it. The sum of N170,060.75 standing to the credit of your account with our bank as at the date of receiving this order shall be debited and moved on the order of the court to the judgement creditor.
“We hereby take the acknowledgment of this letter as a consent by you to honour the subject Garnishee order” stated the letter signed by two staff of the bank though before the reception of this letter according to Mr. Danson he had been informed the previous day when he came to make withdrawal that he had insufficient cash in his account.”
Danson blamed FCMB for betraying the explicit trust he once had in them to protect his funds in their care, lamenting that he was framed and defrauded due to complacency on the part of FCMB, in failing to establish his true identity even with his personal information at their fingertips.
He said: “If I may ask, where is customer’s protection and what is the importance of BVN in the bank, biometrics, photograph and others personal details of which are in the custody of the bank to distinguish and identify “Mr EBEN SPIFF DAN PAUL” the alleged debtor operating from Port Harcourt Rivers State and from Charles Danson being myself, residing and operating my business in Lagos State?”
After several fruitless efforts of going to the bank to retrieve his money, he was forced to contract a lawyer, ‘Fruityway Law office’ located at No. 3 Salvation Road Opebi Lagos. “It is a breach of contractual reasonable care and notice if the account No.0350377013 is debited in respect of a court case and garnishee order our client knows nothing about,” stated the lawyer in a letter to the bank dated 29th November 2018.
According to the lawyer, “Your letter to our client, incorrectly dated 30th November 2018 was received on 1st November 2018. If I may ask, of what importance is personal BVN, thumbprint, photograph and other personal details all of which are in your custody to help you distinguish and identify Mr. Eben Spiff Dan Paul from Mr. Danson Charles, your customer?
“Dishonouring his cheque of N100,000 dated 31st October 2018 for insufficient fund is a confirmation of your negligence and readiness to honour the unrelated garnishee order whereas the letter notifying him on your readiness to comply with the order was not brought to his attention until 1st November 2018”, regretted Danson lawyers.
“Our client, Danson Charles, is a different person entirely from Mr. Eben Spiff Dan Paul, who uses Danson Charles [coincidentally the name of our client] as business name,” stated the lawyer while demanding that Danson’s money be reverted to his account within seven days.
However, all of these fell on deaf ears and the very aggrieved bank customer had to take his case to the Consumer Protection Council of Nigeria where after several days he was advised by one Mr. Badamosi of CPC to get a lawyer.
More frustrated, Danson got in touch with Consumerwatch who was astounded with the story. However, after going through his correspondences with the bank and placing a call to the bank, the nightmare the bank client had gone through these several months just because he left money in the bank for safe keeping became more real.
However, several emails and text messages to two top managers of the bank and the customer service prompted one Mr. Tony Ibekwe from FCMB legal department to call Danson on the 18th of February this year and meet him on the 21st of February at the bank’s head office at Tinubu Square, Lagos Island.
Explaining it was a case of mistaken identity, Ibekwe apologised to him and by 22nd of February N170,000 was back in his account. Thereafter, several emails and calls to get the complete side of FCMB’s story were not honoured. Sadly, Danson alleged that in the five months that this saga lasted that the apology from Ibekwe was the only one he ever received from the bank.
Our question and worry now is, how many customers of FCMB and other finance houses pass through this nightmare? Danson deposited N170,000 with FCMB but in the end he ended up with much, much less because he fought financially, emotionally, physically, and psychologically before he could get whatever was left. The profit he would have made, if he had plunged that money into his business, were all lost.
If you have had a similar experience, please get in touch with the contact numbers and email on this page.
The question of protecting the customer from a possible incident of fraud in a garnishee proceeding though an ethical issue, is viewed by some legal practitioners as a secondary one, while others believe the garnishee law makes allowance for the bank being a third party to raise objections if it believes there are grounds not to make the transfer of funds to the plaintiff.
How garnishee works
Garnishee proceeding, otherwise known as ‘garnishment’, is a judicial process of execution or enforcement of monetary judgment whereby money belonging to a judgment debtor, in the hands or possession of a third party known as the ‘Garnishee’ (usually a bank), is attached or seized by a judgment creditor, the ‘Garnisher’ or ‘Garnishor’, in satisfaction of a judgment sum or debt.
Generally, Garnishee proceeding is done in two different stages. The first stage is for the garnishee order nisi, while the second stage is for the garnishee order absolute.
At the first stage, the judgment creditor makes an application ex parte to the court (which need not be the court that gave the judgment) that the judgment debt in the hands of the third party, the garnishee, be paid directly to the judgment creditor unless there is explanation from the garnishee why the order nisi should not be made absolute. If the judgment creditor satisfies the court on the existence of the garnishee who is holding money due to the judgment debtor, such third party (garnishee) will be called upon to show cause why the judgment debtor’s money in its hands should not be paid over to the judgment creditor, and if the court is satisfied that the judgment creditor is entitled to attach the debt, the court will make a garnishee order nisi attaching the debt. It is important to note that where the garnishee proceedings is before a court other than the court that gave the judgment, a certified copy of the judgment must be attached to the ex-parte application.
The essence of the order nisi is to direct the garnishee to appear in court on a specified date to show cause why an order should not be made upon him for the payment to the judgment creditor of the amount of debt owed to the judgment debtor. By statute, a copy of the order nisi must be served on the garnishee and judgment debtor at least 14 days before the adjourned date for hearing.
Once a bank, being a garnishee, is served with a garnishee order nisi, the bank’s right to pay on cheques is suspended, and the bank at this point is free to set off the judgment debtor’s credit balance against the actual indebtedness to the bank, to determine the net balance properly owed for the purpose of the proceedings.
However, legal minds specify that the order nisi is a warning, to the garnishee and not an order for the garnishee to pay. Its effect is simply to freeze whatever sums are standing to the credit of the judgment debtor at the moment when the order is received. In garnishee order nisi proceedings, by its nature and mode of application, lawyers posit that the proceedings are only for the judgment creditor and the garnishee. Being an ex parte application, the judgment debtor is excluded from the proceedings and cannot be heard at that stage on the application even when present in court.
The second stage is for the garnishee order absolute, where on the adjourned date, the garnishee fails to attend court or show good cause why the order nisi attaching the debt should not be made absolute, the Court may subject to certain limitations make the garnishee order absolute. The garnishee, where necessary also have an option of disputing liability to pay the debt.
A case for identity verification
Legal experts state that where the proceedings extend to the second stage of garnishee order absolute, it becomes a tripartite proceeding between the judgment debtor, judgment creditor and the garnishee. This of course is because on the adjourned date all parties must have been served with the order nisi in compliance with Section – 83 (2) of the SCPA and afforded the opportunity to dispute the liability or pray that the order nisi be discharged.
Losing customer trust
Customer loyalty and growth to a large extent borders on customer experiences which act as green, amber or red lights to prospective and even existing customers. Customers need guarantees that in the course of their doing business with brands, they will not suffer shocks, which most times they are unprepared for and may not survive unhurt. It is therefore advisable that in the unavoidable rare instance that it happens, brands should wear a humane face and walk with their customers through the tunnel until alas they are back to the light.
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