A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday adjourned till October 7, to hear a motion seeking the final forfeiture of the $5.78million and N2.4billion, linked to a former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.
Justice T.G Ringim fixed the date after taking arguments from counsel to the parties in the matter. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed the application for forfeiture in 2017 before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.
The defendants in the suit were Mrs Jonathan alongside LA Wari Furniture and Bathes.
According to the EFCC, the funds belonged to the ex-First Lady. The monies were said to be warehoused by Skye Bank Plc and Ecobank Plc respectively.
Justice Olatoregun on April 26, 2017, ordered the temporary forfeiture of the monies, sequel to an ex-parte application by the EFCC.
The judge’s order was affirmed by both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
However, midway to the conclusion of hearing on the final forfeiture on the said sums, Justice Olatoregun retired from the Bench in 2019. This 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 on Monday, EFCC counsel, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, narrated to Justice Ringim how far the matter had gone. “This matter is a suit instituted before your learned brother, Justice Olatoregun now retired, where we prayed for the final forfeiture of the sum of $5,781,173.55, warehoused in Skye Bank Plc and N2,421,953,502.78, property of LA Wari Furniture and Bathes in Ecobank Plc.
“It was instituted and an interim order was granted on April 24, 2017, upon which it went up to Supreme Court and an application for its final forfeiture was moved but the trial judge didn’t deliver judgment before retiring.
“It was upon that fact that the file was transferred to the registry where it was reassigned to the former judge and subsequently your Lordship.”
Counsel to Mrs Jonathan, Mr 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.
Ozekhome prayed the court to grant a long adjournment to enable him file the application that the case is supposed to start afresh.
But Oyedepo opposed the application, praying the court not to grant it, because, according to him, there a procedure enshrined in section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud and other related offences Act, which the EFCC had compiled with except the last step which is a motion for final forfeiture.
He invited the judge to look at the proceedings of February 17, 2021 where the former judge adjourned hearing of the motion for final forfeiture till April 13, which could not hold because of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) strike.
He prayed further that should the court be inclined to grant an adjournment, it should be for the motion of 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 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, 2021.