Alex Enumah in Abuja
Effort by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to commence process of seizing property belonging to former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, was thursday stalled at the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The property located at Plot No: 1960, Cadastral Zone AOO, Maitama District and Plot No: 1350, Cadastral Zone AOO were part of an exparte motion scheduled for hearing before Justice Nnamdi Dimgba thursday.
However, hearing on the motion was stalled owing to a heated argument between counsel representing Mrs. Jonathan and that of the prosecution.
Dame Jonathanâ€™s counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), informed the court of an application he brought, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the exparte motion, thereby resulting to argument between him and EFCC counsel, Sylvanus Tahir, who wanted to move the exparte application.
Tahir, who announced appearance in the matter midway after Mrs. Best Ojukwu had announced appearance as EFCC counsel, urged the court to hear the commissionâ€™s motion because in the face of the application, it is an exparte.
He told the court that the motion exparte is seeking an order of the court to freeze the two properties on the grounds that they are proceeds of crime.
Tahir, in his argument, submitted that the former first lady is a stranger to the exparte motion and as such, cannot challenge the motion.
He urged the court to allow him to move the motion and grant the order freezing the property. Tahir said it was only then that Mrs. Jonathan could ask for a revocation of the order.
In his response, Ozekhome, who was also allowed to address the court by Jonathanâ€™s lead counsel, Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), said their application is challenging the court jurisdiction and that there are circumstances where an exparte application can be opposed like the instant case.
He said the EFCC motion is an example where an exparte application can be challenged because it is an abuse of court process.
According to Ozekhome, the commission wants to overreach the fundamental human rights suit pending before this court in suit No /FHC/CS/586/2017 filed by Ariwabai Aruewa Reachout Foundation filed by the owner of the property the commission seeks to freeze.
He therefore prayed the court to hear his application challenging the court jurisdiction first, adding that if his prayers are granted, the court will find that the exparte motion is an abuse of court process.
In his ruling, Justice Dimgba held that exparte applications are heard without the other party and that is the general principle.
While stating that there was no counter affidavit challenging the motion on jurisdiction, he observed that since the issue of abuse of court process has been raised, it is necessary for the court to protect its integrity.
Justice Dimgba therefore resolved to hear both applications together and adjourned the matter to November 11.
The EFCC in an exparte originating summons filed on September 20, 2017, asked the court for â€œAn order of interim attachment/forfeiture of the asset and property set out in the schedule attached herein.
The commission in the suit with No FHC/ABJ/CS/872/2017 is also seeking an order stopping any disposal, conveyance, mortgage, lease, sale or alienation or otherwise of the property / asset described in the schedule attached therein.
One of the grounds the motion is predicted on is that the asset/property in respect of which the reliefs are sought are the subject matter of investigation, enquiry and examination by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The motion was supported by a 12 paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Kolawole Mukaila, an investigator with the EFCC, who averred that in the course, they discovered that the plots of land were allocated to one Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation belonging to the former first lady and her allies.
He averred further that all the payment/transfer/purchases had no contract award backing it up whatsoever and as such was reasonably suspected to be fraudulent payments and an illegal dissipation of the nationâ€™s resources.