- •EFFC had knowledge of fund since July
- •Why action was not taken earlier
BY Sonny Daniel
HAD ex-First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan not claimed ownership of $31.4 million found in the bank account of a former presidential aide, Mr. Waripome Dudafa, the issue may not have been made public by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
This was the outcome of an investigation by Saturday Vanguard into the matter that had elicited calls in the polity for the prosecution of the former First Lady.
Her decision to claim ownership of the money through a suit filed against Skye Bank at a Federal High Court in Lagos, it was learnt, easily made the commission to quit keeping the issue in the dark.
The EFCC, it was learnt, got wind of the account more than three months ago, but decided to keep mute in order not to be accused of singling her out for prosecution out of former first ladies’’.
A source told Saturday Vanguard that the operatives of the EFCC actually ran into the accounts in the course of investigating Dudafa over alleged diversion of N10 billion meant for Peoples Democratic Party,PDP, delegates.
The source said: “It was the former first lady who put herself in a tight corner by going to court to sue Skye Bank, where the money was traced to and also asked the court to compel the EFCC to defreeze her account. “Indeed, I can tell you that the EFCC was working actively on the Dudafa case without any letter of invitation or oral invitation to the woman but she went to court to expose everything and we had no choice but to respond to her challenge.
“It might interest you to note that these findings on these accounts were made since July this year but the details were yet to be made public when the former first lady slammed a fundamental rights enforcement suit on us and we were taken aback.’’
It will be recalled that a letter written by her lawyers on the matter, Granville Abibo ,SAN, and Co, stated thus: “It is noteworthy to emphasise that the said accounts, which were in US dollar denomination, were card-based accounts and our client is the sole signatory of these accounts.
“The said bank officials also assured our client that they will change the account names accordingly and issue to our client new credit cards for the said accounts which were not done despite repeated demands. “However, our client has been operating the said accounts using the cards for her medical bill payments and purchases for her private purposes without any let or hindrance.
“Our client was therefore surprised when the said cards stopped functioning on July 7, 2016, or thereabout. Our client immediately thereupon contacted Skye Bank Plc through our solicitors. It was only then that the bank officials informed our client that the said accounts were placed on a ‘No Debit Order’ following investigations and instructions from your commission and this is without notice to our client by either the bank or the commission.
“It is in the light of the foregoing that we urge you to use your good offices to vacate the ‘No Debit/Freezing Order’ placed on the said accounts.” Mrs. Jonathan had, in the meantime, given the EFCC 14 days to defreeze her account and tender an unreserved apology.
The ultimatum, which took effect on September 18, was contained in an open letter to the Chairman of the commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu.
The letter which was written by Mr. Timipa Okponipere urged the Commission to leave Mrs. Jonathan alone, just as it cautioned thus: “We shall file an action at the African Commission on Human Rights at the Gambia demanding N5 billion in exemplary and punitive damages.”
The letter said: “There is no established legal or political precedent for what the EFCC is currently doing to our client. How many former First Ladies in Nigeria have received the Patience Goodluck Jonathan Treatment (PGJT) to have warranted the EFCC to engage in the effrontery to freeze our client’s accounts and subject her to public opprobrium, ridicule, and disgrace? This must stop forthwith.
“Our client is a respected senior citizen of international repute, a retired Permanent Secretary and the immediate past First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Our Client is a law-abiding citizen who has never or at all been the subject of any criminal or financial investigation, whether at home or abroad. Accordingly, she has not been found guilty of any criminal conduct throughout a sparkling public service career spanning over 35 years.
“During the 5 years our client served as First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between May 2010 and May 2015; she was the Initiator of the Aruera Women Foundation and Women For Change Initiative. “Our client is the recipient of numerous local and international awards in recognition of her untiring commitment towards uplifting the living standard of women, children and the aged in Nigeria.
“Sir, it is against this sterling and meritorious background of our client that we most respectfully, write to draw your attention to the numerous breaches of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act 2004 committed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in cause of the Commission’s illegal and unlawful investigation of our client for alleged money laundering.
“The EFCC must realize that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2004 is inferior in content and quality to both the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, 2004.”
It could not be ascertained yesterday whether the EFCC would summon the former First Lady to appear before it. The commission appears to be restrained by public opinion that doing so might give the impression that it is trying to get at the husband. But our source said the commission was determined to carry out its job and may commence an investigation into assets worth billions of Naira allegedly owned by the former First Lady.