â€¢ Court adjourns to April 26 to hear application
Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremmadu, on Tuesday challenged the proposed seizure of some of his properties by the federal government.
The government had on March 21, 2018, approached the Federal High Court in Abuja for an interim order for the temporary forfeiture of some of his undeclared properties worth billions of naira.
The properties, 22 of them, are said to be located both within and outside the country.
Nine of the mentioned properties are said to be in Abuja, two in London, United Kingdom, eight in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and three in Florida, United States.
The government had brought the suit pursuant to section 330 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and section 8 of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) Act.
In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/284/2018, the applicant, (Special Presidential Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Public Property) is seeking an order of temporary forfeiture of the said properties pending the conclusion of its investigation.
The government claimed that without the courtâ€™s order attaching/forfeiting the said properties, â€œthe likelihood of the frustration of investigations as well as the dissipation of the said properties is very high.â€
It was the contention of the government that the matter was of utmost public interests and concern, and as such,Â â€œan order will enable the government to carry out a thorough investigation into the activities of the respondent in the acquisition of the said properties as it relates to the allegation of a breach of Code of Conduct for Public Officers.â€
Â It said the interim order would lapse as soon as investigation and further inquiry by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public PropertyÂ is concluded.
It said the respondent might face possible arraignment after investigations.
But at yesterdayâ€™s proceedings, the Deputy Senate President informed the court of two applications he had already filed in opposition to the notice of ex parte application filed by the government.
When the matter came up yesterday, counsel to the federal government, Bala Dakum, who held brief for Festus Keyamo (SAN), informed the court that by the nature of an ex-parte application, the respondent was not supposed to be in court not to talk of being heard.
He informed the court of an application he filed seeking leave of court to file a counter affidavit to Ekweremaduâ€™s application seeking to be heard in the ex-parte application.
Since the application was not opposed to by Ekweremaduâ€™s counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), the court granted his prayers.
In the counter affidavit filed on April 9, opposing the hearing of Ekweremaduâ€™s application, the government argued that being privy of the notice of ex parte application does not accord the respondent right to be heard in the suit.
He said what happened was that while waiting for the court to fix a date for hearing of the motion,Â the respondent filed an application, seeking to be heard.
According to Dakum, what the government seeks to do at this stage is to obtain an order of court stopping Ekweremmadu from dissipating the assets in question whilst investigations are ongoing.
The government further averred that the application of the respondent â€œis a delay tactics to frustrate the substance of this suit as there are reports that the respondent is already hurriedly selling off the assets in questionâ€.
The governmentâ€™s lawyer further argued that the position of the respondent that granting the ex parte would infringe on his right to fair hearing was misconceived and urged the court to dismiss the application for lacking merit.
Responding, Awomolo told the court that he equally filed two applications on March 26, 2018. The first according to him, is the one praying the court for leave to be heard in the motion ex parte, while the second is challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the ex parte on grounds that the applicant is not recognised in law to file the suit.
â€œThe body that brought that motion ex-parte does not exist in law. We are challenging the constitutionality of its existence,â€ he said.
Awomolo, therefore urged the court to adjourned to a convenient date to take all the applications together.
But Dakum objected, stating that the court should first determine whether the respondent should heard in the suit before taking on other matters.
After listening to counsel in the matter, Justice Binta Nyako, severed the two applications filed by Ekweremadu, and held that the first one should be heard and subsequently adjourned to April 26 for hearing of his application seeking to be heard in opposition to the ex parte application.
The federal government had in the notice of ex parte application soughtÂ for â€œAn interim order of this Honourable court temporarily attaching/forfeiting the properties listed in schedule B hereunder to the federal government of Nigeria pending the conclusion of further inquiry/investigation by the Special Presidential Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Public Property and or possible arraignment of the respondent.
â€œAnd for such other orders as the court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of the case.
Some of the grounds on which the application is predicated are that the properties listed in schedule A were the properties declared by the respondent in his asset declaration forms at the Code of Conduct Bureau
That ongoing investigation / inquiries have revealed that the properties listed in schedule B also belong to the respondent and so belong to him when he declared his assets in Schedule A.
That the properties listed in schedule B were not declared in the assets declaration forms of the respondent.
That preliminary investigation by the applicant reveals that a prima facie case of breach of Code of Conduct for Public Officers has been made out against the respondent.
In a four paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Yohana Shankuk, a clerk in the Chambers of Festus Keyamo, the plaintiff stated that the order is necessary to forestall any frustration of the investigation of Ekweremadu by the panel.
The Special Presidential Investigative Panel, headed by Okoi Obono-Obla is accusing Ekweremadu of not making full disclosure of his assets as required by the rules of a public officer.