Property Law

Court orders FG to return 5 houses, funds to Nigerien nationale

By Olalekan Awojodu, Abuja

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has ordered the Federal Government to return five houses and foreign currencies in bank accounts belonging to a Nigerien-businessman, Hima Aboubakar, which were wrongly seized.

Justice Emeka Nwite gave the order in a ruling in which he reversed an earlier order issued on June 13, 2020 in favour of the Federal Government for final forfeiture of the properties located in Maitama, Abuja and funds being held in various accounts.

The affected properties are: Plot 1506, House 6, Ethiopia Close, off Owena Close, Maitama; Plot 3515, Cadastral Zone A06, Maitama; Plot 3516, Cadastral Zone A06, Maitama; Plot 3518, Cadastral Zone A06, Maitama and Plot 3519, Cadastral Zone A06, Maitama.

The funds are: N72.5million; $84,417 and £15,288 being by Aboubakar in various bank accounts.

Justice Nwite, in the ruling, agreed with Aboubakar’s lawyer, Dr. Kayode Ajulo that he (Aboubakar) was not accorded fair hearing as he was not adequately informed about the earlier interim forfeiture order granted by the court.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had seized the properties and funds in 2020 and proceeded to apply an order of interim forfeiture, which the court granted.

The court granted the order for interim forfeiture and ordered the EFCC to publish it in a national daily to enable interested parties appear and show cause why the properties and funds should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.

Justice Nwite, in his ruling on Friday, a copy of which was sighted on Sunday, upheld Ajulo’s contention that the EFCC was wrong to have published the order in a local newspaper – Leadership newspaper – which circulates only in Nigeria and not in Niger, where Aboubakar is based.

The judge held that the EFCC misrepresented facts before the court which informed the grant of an order of publication specifying the use of a national newspaper only instead of proper order for service on Aboubakar in his address by means of a courier service.

He further held that Aboubakar’s international passport, which was tendered before the court by his lawyer, showed that he is a citizen of Niger Republic and not a Nigerian, and was not in Nigeria when the publication was made by the EFCC and when the order for final forfeiture was later made by the court.

Having established lack of proper service of the interim order on Aboubakar, Justice Nwite proceeded to set aside the order of final forfeiture made in favour of the Federal Government on June 30, 2020 in relation to Aboubakar’s properties and funds.

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