By Nkasi Kolie
A Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos presided over by Justice T.G. Ringim on Monday adjourned till October 7, 2021 to hear a motion filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), seeking the final forfeiture of the $5.78million and N2.4billion linked to a former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.
The EFCC had filed an application for the forfeiture of the sums of money warehoused in Skye Bank Plc and Ecobank Plc, respectively in 2017 before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.
Following an ex-parte application by the EFCC, Justice Olatoregun had, on April 26, 2017, ordered the temporary forfeiture of the money.
Dissatisfied with the order of the trial court, Jonathan alongside other respondents, LA Wari Furniture and Bathes, had first approached the Court of Appeal and subsequently the Supreme Court to set aside the order of the lower court.
However, both the appellate court and the apex court affirmed the order of Justice Olatoregun.
Midway into the conclusion of hearing on the motion for the final forfeiture of the said sums, Justice Olatoregun retired from the Bench in 2019.
Consequently, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court re-assigned the matter to Justice Chuka Obiozor for hearing.
Justice Obiozor, however, could not hear the case before his transfer to the Federal High Court, Benin , Edo State.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on Monday, the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, narrated to Justice Ringim how far the matter had gone.
Oyedepo said: “This matter is a non-conviction 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 did not deliver the judgment before retiring.
“It was upon that fact that the file was transferred to the registry, where it was re-assigned to the former judge and subsequently your Lordship.”
Counsel to Patience 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.
Counsel to the companies, Mike Ozekhome, (SAN), therefore, urged 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.
He prayed the court for a long adjournment to enable him file the said application.
In his response, Oyedepo opposed the application and prayed the court not to grant same, because, according to him, 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.
Oyedepo, therefore, 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 be held because of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) strike.
He also prayed 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: “In my humble opinion, 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.”
Justice Ringim further adjourned the proceedings to October 7