Nigeria: An Appraisal of the Role of Biometric Verification in Garnishee Proceedings in Nigeria

INTRODUCTION

Garnishee Proceedings as a means of enforcing monetary judgment in Nigeria is chaotic and difficult. It has become more of a fishing expedition wherein a judgment creditor will garnish all the commercial Banks in the country with the hope of striking gold by finding monies belonging to the judgment debtor in one or more of the garnished Banks.

With the introduction of Biometric Verifications ("BVN") by Nigerian Banks, a judgment creditor may not need to garnishee all the Banks. Once the judgment creditor has the BVN of the judgment debtor, it may attach sums to the credit of the judgment debtor in its accounts in all the Banks.

WHAT IS BIOMETRIC VERIFICATION?

Biometric verification is any means by which an individual or corporate entity can be uniquely identified by evaluating one or more distinguishing biological traits. Unique identifiers include fingerprints, hand geometry, earlobe geometry, retina and iris patterns, voice waves, DNA and signatures. Biometrics verification has advanced considerably with the advent of computerised database and the digitalization of analogue data, allowing for almost instantaneous personal identification beyond biological traits.

WHAT IS GARNISHEE PROCEEDINGS?

In Commonwealth jurisdictions, one of the methods of enforcing monetary judgment debts is by Garnishee Proceedings. In Garnishee Proceedings, a judgment creditor applies to the court for a Garnishee Order Nisi to attach sums belonging to the judgment debtor in the hands of third parties to satisfy a judgment debt. Upon granting a Garnishee Order Absolute, the Court orders the third party to pay the attached judgment sum to the judgment creditor.

Fidelis Nwadialo, in his book 'Civil Procedure in Nigeria, Second Edition (University of Lagos Press, 2000) page 1011.' The author describes garnishee proceedings thus:

"Garnishee proceedings involve the attachment of debt due from a third party to the judgment debtor and the use of the amount of that debt in liquidating the judgment debt."

In the same vein, the Black's Law Dictionary, Eight Edition, 2004, page 702 describes garnishee proceedings otherwise known as garnishment thus:

"A judicial proceeding in which a creditor (or potential creditor) asks the court to order a third party who is indebted to or is Bailee for the debtor to turn over to the creditor any of the debtor's property (such as wages or bank accounts) held by that third party."

WHO IS A GARNISHEE?

Black's Law Dictionary (supra) defines garnishee as "A person or institution (such as a bank) that is indebted to or is a Bailee for another whose property has been subjected to garnishment."

In STB Ltd. v. Contract Resources (Nig.) Ltd., [2001] 6 NWLR (Pt. 708) 115 at 123, paras. G-H, Olagunju, J.C.A. defined a garnishee thus:

"...'a garnishee' is a third party who is indebted to the judgment debtor or having custody of his money and who at the instance of the judgment creditor is being called upon to pay the judgment debt from his indebtedness to the judgment debtor or from the credit of the judgment debtor in his account with the third party."

Succinctly, a garnishee is a third party indebted to or holding monies belonging to a judgment debtor.

In U. B. A. v. S. G. B. Ltd. [1996] 10 NWLR (Pt. 478) 381 at 389, paras. G-H the court held thus:

"The law is that where a person, known as a judgment creditor, has obtained judgment or order for the payment by some other person, known as a judgment debtor, of a sum of money and any other person within the jurisdiction, known as the garnishee, is indebted to judgment debtor, the Court may order the garnishee to pay the judgment creditor the amount of any debt due or accruing due to the judgment debtor from the garnishee."

THE ROLE OF BIOMETRIC VERIFICATIONS IN GARNISHEE PROCEEDINGS

Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria through the Banker' Committee in collaboration with all banks in Nigeria on February 14, 2014 launched a centralized biometric identification system for the banking industry known as "Bank Verification Number" (BVN).

The purpose of the exercise is to use biometric information as a means of first identifying and verifying all individuals that maintain accounts in any Nigerian bank and subsequently, as a means of authenticating customer's identity at point of transactions.

Under the new policy, all signatories to businesses and company's accounts are to register their BVN. Upon registration all the accounts of the business entity become centralised and can easily be traced using the unique BVN. This means all company accounts are now under one platform and if a judgment creditor is able to obtain the BVN then it becomes easy to garner information about all accounts in which a company or individual hold in different Banks.

This means that a judgment creditor who is able to obtain the BVN of a judgment debtor need not embark on a wild goose chase of Banks in custody of the judgment debtor's funds. The judgment creditor does not need to seek for a court order compelling all the commercial Banks to appear in court to disclose the monies in the judgment debtor's credit when the BVN can be used to ascertain same.

LEGAL ISSUES ARISING

Since the judgment debtor's BVN is personal and highly sensitive information, the major hurdle the judgment creditor will face is how to obtain the judgment debtor's BVN information without infringing on its Right to Privacy.

Therefore the pertinent questions are: Would the judgment creditor garnishee the Central Bank of Nigeria and seek an order to produce the judgment debtor's BVN? Would the judgment creditor seek an Order of Court for the judgment debtor to produce its BVN? Would the judgment creditor simply get an order of disclosure compelling the Central Bank of Nigeria to reveal such information?

CONCLUSION

If the judgment creditor obtains the BVN of the judgment debtor to attached sum in its credit in Nigerian Banks through garnishee proceedings, it would be almost impossible for judgment debtors to hide their funds. Also, commercial Banks who spend millions of naira yearly to brief Legal Practitioners to represent them in garnishee proceedings regarding can avoid this wasteful spending.

In a nutshell, the BVN saves money as it can be used to eliminate Banks who have no business in particular in garnishee proceedings. It will also save the time of the judgment creditor and the court. 

With the advent of biometric verifications into the banking system it is incumbent on Legal Practitioners to explore the use of the BVN in seeking accounts where the judgment debtor has funds, this will ease the burden and clumsiness of having to invite every commercial Bank in Nigeria to show cause why a garnishee order absolute should not be made against the sums in the judgment debtor's account in their Banks.

A stich in time saves nine.


Oluwole Awe Esq. studied law at the University of Jos, he was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2007, he is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association and Association of Professional Negotiators & Mediators with about 9 years combined experience in a range of legal practice, particularly Corporate and Commercial practice.

Oluwole is experienced in commercial litigation, corporate finance, secured credits and banking, debt recovery, intellectual property, real estate development and mediation. His services have been retained by individuals, corporations and interest groups to represent them against government and its agencies.

Oluwole is a skilled advocate and negotiator.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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