A safe deposit box brought by a bank customer which contained jewellery has allegedly disappeared from a branch of the First Bank in Enugu State.
It was learnt that the bank officials had kept the box in their vault and every month, the bank reportedly deducted an agreed sum from the customer’s bank account as charges for the service.
The mother of the affected bank customer is Ambassador Justina Eze who was a fashionista in her prime. She was also a big businesswoman.
Beginning from the mid-1960s, she traded in salt and essential commodities and invested the proceeds in expensive coral beads, she also invested in gold and diamonds.
In the 1970s, Justina expanded into distributorship and was a major merchant distributing Golden Guinea, Nigercem and other products. She travelled to Kaduna State and brought Peugeot vehicles to the East for sale.
It was learnt that she later relocated to Lagos State where she met some prominent women from the Northern region who convinced her that investing in precious stones and metals was one of the best investments available.
She then intensified her interests. By 1979 when she was elected into the House of Representatives while her distinguishing feature was the heavy jewellery that decked her neck and hands.
In 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed her as an Ambassador to Cape Verde. On the eve of her departure, and to ensure that her collection of gold, diamond, coral beads and other materials was safe, she packaged everything, purchased a safe deposit box and gave one of her daughters, Dr. Chinwe Eze-Boulhassane to take them to a branch of First Bank in Enugu.
Eze-Boulhassane was a customer of the bank.
It was learnt that at the bank, officials asked the daughter to open the safe, got satisfied that what was claimed were inside the safe deposit box, they asked her to lock it, took it from her and put it in their vault.
Every month, the bank deducted an agreed sum from her bank account as charges for the service.
By 2006 when the husband of Amb Eze died, her daughters pestered her to retrieve from the bank so they could pick beautiful jewelleries and wear for their father’s burial.
They then approached the bank, asking for the safe deposit box but were told that the First Bank couldn’t account for it.
Bank officials pleaded for time and the family returned three weeks later, still, bank officials pleaded for more time. The back and forth continued until the funeral rites were over.
Also, a formal letter of demand was written to First bank but no reply was given.
It was gathered that a reminder letter was sent to First Bank yet the Bank refused to either acknowledge or give a reply.
After a while, Mrs Eze secured the service of Chief Olusola Oke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria to help retrieved her box of jewellery, which conservative current value was put at about N1billion.
According to court filings, the bank shocked her one day by failing to produce her box. She had wanted to wear one for a special occasion only to find the box missing in the bank.
Initially, she said the bank assured that the box was intact but failed to produce it after many fruitless visits. She then sued the bank.
The above narration were part of filings at an Enugu High Court where the high profile celebrity was asking First Bank to produce the safe deposit box.
Last week, Dr. Chinwe Eze-Boulhassane, brought documents in support of the deposit to court for her testimony. She was led in evidence by Chief Olushola Oke.
After listening to her evidence, First Bank asked for an adjournment.
Judge Chinyere Ajogwu adjourned the matter to 10 May for cross-examination of the main witness.
Ambassador Eze, a diplomat and politician, represented Uzo Uwani in Nigeria’s House of Representatives during the Second Republic. She subsequently served as Ambassador to Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. In the Obasanjo Obasanjo Presidency, she served as Liaison Officer to the House of Representatives.
Oke explained that at the hearing that the case was “about a big box of jewelries, valuables put in the custody of the First Bank of Nigeria.”
“For many years, it was there and well-documented, but by the time she needed those jewelry, the bank could not produce the box.
“The ornament represented her savings in her life. She has been an Ambassador and done many other great things for the country in addition.
“She made several demands to get the box back. The bank is not disputing that it received the box and subsequently promised to compensate but failed to do so after many promises.
“What we did today was to call our first witness who is her daughter – the daughter of the Ambassador. Her involvement lies in the fact that she went with the mother to the bank to deposit the box. It was her account that was used in making payment of the charges, apart from the fact that it belongs to her mother.
“So, today, she tendered various documents to show that the box was there, to show the value of the jewelries, to show the bank’s undertaking to bring out the box, to show their failure to do so, to show that at one time or the other they agreed that they will make compensation, to show that when she made her demand, the bank reneged on a promise.
“We want to show that the bank is under obligation to produce the box or pay the value of the content. She has given the evidence and the cross-examination has now started.
“But the First Bank requested for an adjournment and because the Counsel is an elderly man, I did not oppose it. So, the judge granted the request.
“She (Dr. Chinwe) will be cross-examined after which I will call on other witnesses from the bank.”