By Onozure Dania, LAGOS
A Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, Monday, adjourned the hearing of a motion seeking the final forfeiture of the $5.78 million and N2.4 billion linked to a former first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, until October 7, 2021.
Justice T. G. Ringim fixed the date, after listening to arguments from counsel to the parties in the matter.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had, in 2017, filed the application for forfeiture before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.
The defendants in the suit were Mrs. Jonathan, alongside LA Wari Furniture and Bathes.
EFCC said the funds belonged to the former first lady, adding that the monies were said to be warehoused by two banks.
Justice Olatoregun, on April 26, 2017, ordered the temporary forfeiture of the monies, following an ex-parte application by the EFCC.
The judge’s order was affirmed by both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
However, midway to the conclusion of the hearing on the final forfeiture of the said sums, Justice Olatoregun retired from the Bench in 2019.
The development compelled the Chief Judge of the court to re-assign the matter to Justice Chuka Obiozor for hearing.
But Justice Obiozor could not hear the case before his transfer to the court’s Benin division.
At the resumed hearing of the matter yesterday, EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, explained to Justice Ringim how far the matter had gone.
Counsel to Mrs. Jonathan, Ifedayo Adedipe(SAN) and Gboyega Oyewole(SAN), also informed the judge that the case was adjourned for mention because it was coming up for the first time before him
But counsel to the companies, Chief Mike Ozekhome(SAN), argued otherwise by urging the court to adjourn the case on the premise that it was starting afresh and that he intended to file an application challenging the constitutionality of the entire proceedings.
On his part, Oyedepo opposed the application, praying the court not to grant it, saying there is a procedure enshrined in Section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud and other related offences Act, which the EFCC had complied with except the last step which is a motion for final forfeiture.
In a bench ruling, Justice Ringim held that a proceeding of this nature is a special one and cannot be truncated by any application.
He said: “I say, in my humble opinion, that there is a procedure to follow in this type of application which cannot be truncated.
“The court cannot adjourn the matter because of an application which is yet to be filed.
“However, due to the nature of the application as hinted by the second respondent, the court will not shut the application out.
“This court will adjourn for the hearing of the motion for final forfeiture that is pending.
“Consequently, the second respondent is hereby ordered to file the application if any within 14 days from today and the plaintiff will have one week to respond. It will be heard alongside the motion for final forfeiture.”
He adjourned further proceedings till October 7.