…former first lady fights back, accuses EFCC of abusing judicial process
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Thursday, filed a motion before the Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking to take over assets belonging to Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation owned by wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience.
EFCC, in an ex-parte motion that was signed by its lawyer, Mr. Benjamin Manji, applied for an order of interim attachment/forfeiture of assets and properties of the foundation.
It specifically prayed the court to grant it the ownership of Plot No. 1960, Cadastral Zone A05 Maitama District and Plot No. 1350, Cadastral Zone A00, in Abuja.
The anti-graft agency equally sought for “An order stopping any disposal, conveyance, mortgage, lease, sale or alienation or otherwise of the property/asset decribed in the schedule attached herein.
As well as, “An order authorizing the EFCC to appoint a competent person(s)/ firm to manage the asset/property listed in the schedule herein, temporarily forfeited to the federal government pending the conclusion of investigation”.
The motion ex-parte marked FHC/Abj/CS/872/2017, was predicated on section 6(d), 7(2), 24(a), 26(1), 28 and 29 of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004, section 330(a) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, section 15 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011, as amended, and section 44(2) (K) of the 1999 constitution, as amended.
The Commission told the court that the assets/properties of Mrs. Jonathan’s foundation “are subject matter of investigation, enquiry and examination by the EFCC”.
It said there was need to preserve the assets/properties “pending the conclusion of investigation and possibly determination of criminal charges that may be instituted against the suspects.
“If there is any transaction on the property by the suspects by way of disposal, conveyance, mortgage, lease, sale and alienation or otherwise of the asset or property described in the schedule herein, it will render nugatory any consequential order(s) which the court may make if the suspect(s) is convicted of the offences alleged against her/them after possible due trial”, the agency added.
Besides, in a 12-paragraphed supporting affidavit that was deposed to by one of its investigators, Mr. Kolawole Mukaila, EFCC said it has a Special Task Force investigating “alleged amounts of money laundered by the former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan into various account and properties were purchased with nothing to show for”.
Mukaila who identified himself as a member of the special investigating team, averred: “That sometimes in 2016, an alleged case of conspiracy and money laundering was received via inteligence report to the office of the Executive Chairman and referred to my team for investigation.
“That my team swung into action to conduct a descreet investigation by writing letters to Ecobank, Diamond bank, Corporate Affairs Commission and AGIS.
“That in the course of investigation, it was revealed from the responses from the C.A.C and Abuja Geographical Information Systems that the plots of land were allocated to Ariwabai Aruera Reach out Foundation belonging to the former first lady, Patience Jonathan and her allies.
“That investigation further reveals the accounts held by Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation had the former first lady, Patience Jonathan as one of the trustees and signatories of the account. Copies of the response from Diamond bank and Ecobank are herebu attached and marked as Exhibit EFCC 2A- 2B respectively.
“That investigation also revealed that the plots of land were allocated in 2010 and the Certificate of Occupancy was issued in 2011.
“That all the above stated payment/transfers/purchases had no contract award backing it up whatsoever and as such was reasonably suspected to be fraudulent payments and an illegal dissipation of the nation’s resources”, he added.
Meanwhile, in a swift reaction, Mrs. Jonathan, through her team of lawyers led by Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN, and Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, aborted moves by EFCC to move the ex-parte motion.
The former first lady said she got wind of EFCC’s plans and decided to file a counter-motion in opposition to the interim forfeiture order request.
She prayed the court to strike out EFCC’s ex-parte Originating Motion dated September 20 on the ground that the court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the application.
Mrs. Jonathan insisted that the motion EFCC filed before the court was legally defective, stressing that ‘Ex-parte Originating Summons’ “is not one of the modes of commencement of action under Order 3 Rule 1 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure Rules) 2009, and it is not known or provided for by any law or rules of court”.
She argued that the motion was an abuse of court process, stressing that it was filed “to overreach the Fundamental Human Rights suit pending before this court in suit no. FHC/CS/586/2017, filed by one of the trustees of Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation, against the said EFCC, with respect to the assets/properties of the said Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation, sought to be forfeited by the EFCC through the instant ‘Exparte Originating Summons”.
Mrs. Jonathan, in a six-paragraphed affidavit that was deposed on her behalf by one Chinedu Maduba, told the court that the NGO was founded in 2006 when she was the first lady of Bayelsa state, in conjunction with other trustees.
“That the said NGO was registered as a charitable organization and in the last 10 years, it has carried out several charitable programmes, in line with its objectives. Some of the programmes include vocational training for women, treatment of people with heart and kidney problems within the country and abroad, as well as assisting less priviledged generally.
“That recently, the Respondent herein began to harrass Mrs. Patience Jonathan, her relatives and the NGO, by indiscriminately freezing their accounts, even without court order, breaking into their properties, sealing off the NGO’s properties without an order of court. That the actions of the Respondent led to the filing of a Fundamental Human Right suit against the Respondent by Mrs. Patience Jonathan”.
Meanwhile, despite insistence by EFCC lawyer, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir that Mrs. Jonathan had file any response since the motion was brought ex-parte, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, after he had listened to arguments by Ozekhome, SAN, said he was minded to hear motions from the two sides in the interest of justice.
Cosequently, the court adjourned hearing on the matter till November 11.