The Federal High Court in Lagos, on Tuesday, dismissed the suit filed by Mrs. Patience Jonathan and her group, Union of Niger Delta Youth Organization for Equity, Justice and Good Governance, against the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
At the hearing of the case, lawyers to Mrs. Jonathan, wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, informed the court that they were no longer interested in continuing with and subsequently applied to discontinue/withdraw it.
The court, presided over by Justice C.M.A Olatoregun, duly struck out the case and awarded N25,000 as cost to SERAP, an advocacy group.
Mr. Timothy Adewale, SERAP’s Senior Staff Attorney, said the case should never have been brought against the advocacy group in the first place.
“The case has been a complete waste of our time. While we do not object to the request by the plaintiffs' lawyers for withdrawal of the case; we ask the honourable court for N500,000 as cost against Mrs. Jonathan and her group,” said Mr. Adewale.
Mrs. Jonathan and the Union of Niger Delta Youth Organization for Equity, Justice and Good Governance had accused SERAP of publishing malicious allegations against her in print, online and electronic media platforms that she stole $15million and should be prosecuted.
The accusation was made in a suit (FHC/L/CS/1349/2016) dated 6 October, 2016.
SERAP responded to the suit by filing a preliminary objection dated 27 October 2016, asking the court to “dismiss her suit with substantial cost.”
At the maiden hearing of the suit before Justice Olatoregun, Mr. Babatunde Ogala, former Chairman of the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Judiciary, represented SERAP in court.
Mr. Ogala had argued that Mrs. Jonathan’s claims could not be sustained because they were brought, on her behalf, by a group unknown to law.
Mrs. Jonathan’s group is not a registered as legally required.
“This very point calls into question the legal capacity to file this suit against SERAP, and the jurisdiction of the court to entertain her suit,” contended Mr. Ogala.
The wife of the former president, abetted by the unregistered group, had asked the court for an order of interim injunction restraining the advocacy group from continuing with the “vilification, condemnation and conviction of the former first lady Mrs. Patience Jonathan, in all public media and in the use of the judicial process for that purpose by the extremely publicized pursuit of any application for the coercion of the Attorney-General of the Federation to prosecute the plaintiff/applicant for owning legitimate private property, pending the hearing and determination of the originating summons”.
The suit filed by Mrs. Jonathan and her group also claimed that SERAP’s campaign is in breach of her right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. It further claimed that SERAP was trying to coerce the Attorney-General of the Federation to breach the same right when the Attorney-General is better placed than the advocacy body to know of the existence of evidence of wrongdoing by Mrs. Jonathan.
“SERAP’s action is blatant misuse of the processes of this court. SERAP, therefore, no longer deserves to continue as an incorporated entity and ought to be dissolved. It is just and equitable to dissolve SERAP in the circumstances of this case. Damages will not be adequate compensation for the irreparable damage Mrs. Jonathan will suffer if the application is not granted. The plaintiff undertakes as to damages in favour of SERAP in the event the instant application ought not to have been granted,” Mrs. Jonathan and her group claimed.
They also argued that there had been a running battle between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Mrs. Jonathan with respect to the release of the $15million, which they claimed was legitimately earned and deposited in accounts opened in the names of certain companies by one of her husband’s aides without her authorization.
The funds, they equally submitted, were legitimate gifts from her friends and well-wishers over the last 15 years. Mrs. Jonathan, they added, had been saving the funds to reflate her family’s businesses, which had suffered an account of her husband’s service as a public office.
“The gifts were given in small contributions by several persons, some of whom she cannot even now recall, over this period of 15 years sometimes in as small a gift as N250,000.
“In order to preserve the value of these funds, which she did not require for any purpose at the time, she changed them into foreign exchange and kept them as cash for a long period in her home safe in Port Harcourt and Abuja,” Mrs. Jonathan and her group claimed.
In 2010, they said, the family home of the Jonathans was razed by hoodlums, forcing her to begin to think about banking the funds. That year, according to them, she instructed Mr. Waripamo-Owei Emmanuel Dudafa, a personal aide to her husband, to assist her in opening bank accounts into which the funds could be deposited.
“Unknown to her, the said Dudafa, in a bid to be discreet about the owner of the funds, decided to bank the funds in the names of companies owned by him. When she discovered this, she was constrained to continue with the names of the companies when she was advised that it did not make any difference as to the ownership of the funds since the director of the company would appoint her as sole signatory to the accounts in question,” claimed Mrs. Jonathan and her supporting cast.
They maintained that when Mr. Dudafa was arrested and detained last year, the former first lady believed the funds could not be linked to him once it was discovered that she was the sole signatory to the accounts in which the funds are held.
Mrs. Jonathan said it came as a shock to her when she discovered that the EFCC had placed a no transaction order on the accounts by the EFCC in the belief that the funds belonged to Dudafa.
She instructed her lawyers to inform the EFCC in writing that the funds belong to her and that they formed a part of her legitimate earnings over the last 15 years.
“It was this letter that was leaked by the EFCC to the media that became sensationalized and led to the plaintiff’s vilification and attack by ignorant persons who had no information about the matter.
“SERAP is playing to the public gallery in order to gain the notoriety it has achieved over the past years. SERAP has done this mostly by intervening in high profile issues without regard to the rights of persons it claims to protect. SERAP jumped into the fray of ignorant accusations being made against Mrs. Dame Patience Jonathan in the public media and has begun a campaign of calumny against her using online, print and electronic media to publish to the public unfounded and malicious allegations that she stole the funds in question and ought to be prosecuted,” said Mrs. Jonathan and her supporters.