Asset Forfeiture: Patience Jonathan, EFCC Know Fate March 8
Alex Enumah in Abuja
The wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Dame Patience, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will on March 8, 2019, know their fate in an appeal filed by Mrs. Jonathan, challenging the powers of the commission to seize her properties when she has not been convicted for any offence.
The Supreme Court yesterday reserved the date for judgment after taking submissions of counsel in the matter.
There was argument from counsel to the former First Lady, Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe SAN, and Rotimi Oyedepo who stood in for EFCC.
Counsel to Patience, Ifedayo Adedipe SAN, in his argument, urged the Supreme Court to set aside section 17 of the Advanced Fee Fraud as contained in the EFCC Act on the ground that it is in conflict with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The appellant complained that the section of the EFCC Act which empowers the anti-graft agency to temporarily take over properties of Nigerian citizens on mere suspicion is offensive to a provision of the constitution which presumes suspects innocent until allegations against them are proved beyond reasonable doubt. The grouse of the former first lady was that the offending section 17 permitted the EFCC alone to approach the court, make submission to request for interim forfeiture without any recourse for opportunity for citizens to defend themselves.
The appellant further argued that by the provision of the section 17, individuals are already guilty even without trial as the law did not give equal opportunity to the EFCC and the suspects.
She therefore prayed the apex court to reverse the provision because it is in conflict with the 1999 Constitution that protects the citizens.
However, the EFCC urged the court to dismiss the appeal on the grounds that the section 17 complained about was mis-conceived.
According to the agency’s counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, section 17 of the EFCC Act only covers properties reasonably suspected to be product of unlawful act or abandoned for a long time and traced to a suspect.
The counsel insisted that the provision was not absolute because it makes opportunity for any citizen to always show cause in court why the forfeiture should not be granted by court.
Oyedepo, arguing further, noted that the appellant chose to go to Appeal Court to challenge the EFCC power rather than going to a Federal High Court to show cause why her properties should not be forfeited to the federal government.
He, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the appeal and to uphold the contending section of the EFCC Act.
After listening to their submissions Justice Mohammed Musa Dattijo, who presided over the appeal, fixed March 8 for judgment in the appeal.