A garnishee proceeding is a judicial process whereby a judgment creditor who is armed with the judgment of a court may recover such debt owed by judgment debtor from a 3rd party who in turn has an obligation to the judgment debtor. For instance, if Mr. A gets a monetary judgment in court against Mr. B and Mr. B has refused to pay, Mr. A can ask the court to help collect Mr. B’s money from Mr. C who in turn owes Mr. B money. The 3rd person indebted to the judgment debtor is called the garnishee while the judgment creditor is also referred to as the garnishor.
The law governing garnishee proceedings can be found in Rules of Court, the Sheriff and Civil Process Act Cap 407, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and case laws. Any debt owing to a judgment debtor from any other person within the jurisdiction of the court can be recovered by the judgment – creditor towards the satisfaction of his judgment by attachment of debts via a garnishee order.
However, not all debts are attachable; a debt can only be attachable if it is due or accruing to the judgment debtor and the test for determining this, is whether any sum certain is due and payable by the garnishee to the judgment debtor. In addition, the debt must be certain in amount and the judgment debtor must have an immediate legal right to it.
The amount at the judgment debtor’s credit in his savings/current bank account is property of the judgment debtor consisting of a debt, the bank being the person indebted; the amount could therefore be attached by garnishee proceedings. In other for a salary to be attachable it must be due and payable. Rent owed by a tenant can also be attached.
The process is instituted in court through an ex-parte motion by the judgment- creditor applying to the court for an order attaching the said sum, the order nisi is then served on the garnishee and the judgment debtor, if the garnishee fails to refute the claim that he has an obligation to the judgment – debtor, the court may then order that the order nisi be made absolute. It should be noted that disobedience of the order of the court as to the attachment of the debts may earn the judgment debtor imprisonment.