A successful litigant is entitled to enforce a judgment of court given in his favour. One of the ways a successful party may enforce a judgment of Court is by garnishee proceedings. This is a proceeding instituted to enforce a money judgment by the attachment of the monies due to the judgment debtor in the possession of a third party, otherwise known as the garnishee, to satisfy the judgment debt.
Under this proceeding the court orders the garnishee to pay directly to the judgment creditor the money in its custody which is standing to the credit of the judgment debtor. There are two steps involved in garnishee proceedings, the first being the making of the order nisi where the court orders the garnishee to show cause why monies in his possession, belonging to the judgment debtor, should not be attached to satisfy the judgment debt. The second is the making of the order absolute where the court makes a final order directing the garnishee to pay over money in its possession which is due to the judgment debtor, to the judgment creditor, for the purpose of satisfying the judgment debt.
In the recent case of GUARANTY TRUST BANK PLC v. INNOSON NIGERIA LIMITED in Appeal No: SC694/2014 decided in May, 2017, the Supreme Court had occasion to determine whether or not a garnishee has the locus standi to fight the cause of a judgment debtor. In that case, Innoson Nigeria Limited (Innoson) obtained judgment in its favour against Nigeria Customs Services and the Attorney General of the Federation. Innoson instituted garnishee proceedings against several banks, including Guaranty Trust Bank Plc (GTB) to satisfy the judgment debt. GTB which was the 5th garnishee, upon being served with the order nisi to show cause, contended that although it had in its possession monies belonging to the judgment debtors, however, the monies were to be remitted daily into the Federation Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Federal High Court, nevertheless, attached the monies and ordered GTB to pay Innoson. The Bank was dissatisfied consequent upon which it appealed to the Court of Appeal. The appeal was dismissed and it filed a further appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court in deciding the issue held amongst other points that, it is not for a garnishee to fight the cause of a judgment debtor who accepts the judgment against him and does nothing about it, or who may be indolent to fight the cause. No power in law, inheres in the garnishee to make himself a busy body to fight the cause of a judgment debtor. The Court went further to state that the only duty of a garnishee in garnishee proceeding is to satisfy the court why the funds in its possession belonging to the judgment debtor should not be attached to pay the judgment debt. It is not the duty of the garnishee to play the role of an advocate for the judgment debtor or to protect the debtor’s money in its possession. Although there are Court of Appeal decisions on this point, this Supreme Court decision is important as it lays to rest the issue as to how far a garnishee can go in resisting a garnishee order.