$5.7m Forfeiture: Court Hands off Suit against Patience Jonathan’s Pending Appeal

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Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday ordered s stay of proceedings in the case seeking permanent forfeiture of $5.7million belonging to the former First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan.

The judge stayed proceedings pending the outcome of an appeal filed by Mrs. Jonathan challenging the money’s temporary forfeiture.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is praying the court to order that the cash be permanent forfeiture to the federal government.

Justice Olatoregun on April 26 made an interim order forfeiting the money based on an application by EFCC which said the money was suspected to be “proceed of crime.”

Justice Olatoregun had also ordered the temporary forfeiture N2,421,953,522.78 found in an Ecobank Nigeria Ltd account numbered 2022000760 in the name of La Wari Furniture and Baths Ltd.
The commission said the money is also linked to Mrs. Jonathan.

EFCC’s lawyer Rotimi Oyedepo told the judge yesterday that he was ready to move his application for the money’s forfeiture. He said the respondents had filed counter-affidavits.
However, Mrs. Jonathan’s lawyer, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), said he filed an application for stay of proceedings pending the appeal’s determination.

Counsel for La Wari Furniture and Baths, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), added that once an appeal had been entered, the lower court ought to stay proceedings.

Besides, he said the Court of Appeal had already fixed the case for hearing on July 5.
Citing nearly 20 judicial authorities and Court of Appeal rules, he said it would amount to disrespect for court hierarchy for the judge to proceed with the case where there is a pending appeal on a decision.

“The entire proceedings will be an illegality if it goes on. After an appeal had been entered, the Court of Appeal shall be seized of the entire proceedings any application to be made shall be to the Court of Appeal and not to the court below.

“It’s not for this court to remove the carpet from the foot of the Court of Appeal. It will be an affront to the authority of the Court of Appeal,” Ozekhome said.

He further argued that the lower court ceases to have jurisdiction once an appeal is entered and records transferred.

“It’s the law that once a party to a matter has filed an appeal and the records of proceedings transferred, the lower court ought to wash its hands off the case like Pontius Pilate.

“The Supreme Court said it will amount to judicial impertinence to entertain the matter when there’s a motion pending at the appeal court. It will amount to embarking on an illegal judicial voyage of discovery,” he said

Ruling, Justice Olatoregun held that it would be in the interest of justice to await the Court of Appeal decision.

“I have seen the hearing notice issued by the Court of Appeal. I believe it will be in the interest of justice for parties to ventilate their views at the Court of Appeal.

“I will, therefore, adjourn this case until September 20,” the judge held.