Hearing on the final forfeiture of the $5.8million belonging to a former first lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, has been temporarily suspended after her counsel, Mike Ozekhome, informed the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos on Monday that the appeal on the interim order has been fixed before a Court of Appeal.
Mr. Ozkehome told the presiding judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun, that the appeal for “stay of proceeding” had been entered with a hearing at the Court of Appeal fixed for July 5.
The Federal High Court had on April 26, 2017, ordered an interim forfeiture of the sum, following an ex-parte motion filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Olatoregun thereupon adjourned the matter to May 18, 2017, for the respondents to show cause why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
On May 18, however, a legal representative of Mrs. Jonathan, Mr. Ifedapo Adedipe (SAN), argued that he needed more time to file necessary responses to the court’s order, adding that EFCC had delayed in publishing the notice of the court’s order in a national newspaper as demanded by law.
He subsequently asked for an adjournment which was granted, although the matter could not proceed on the adjourned date due to the pending hearing at the Appeal Court.
In his address to the court today, Mr. Ozekhome said: “The appeal in this matter has been entered and going by Rule 5 of Court of Appeal Rules, this court ceases to exercise jurisdiction to proceed in this matter. It will amount to an illegal judicial voyage if this court embarks on the proceeding in this matter.”
“The Federal High Court cannot decide the merit of an appeal and it would amount to an affront for a lower court to disregard the process of the appellate court served on it,” Ozekhome added.
In her short ruling, Justice Olatoregun said she was inclined to grant an adjournment to September 24 due to the appeal notice as well as the July 5 scheduled for the hearing.
“This is to enable all the parties to ventilate their views in the appellate court,” the presiding judge said.
Saharareporters gathered that the $58.8million, which the EFCC had alleged to be the proceeds of crime, has been under several litigations.
In November 2016, Justice Olatoregun granted forfeiture of the sum, following an application by the anti-graft agency.
But the forfeiture order was vacated in March 2017 in agreement with the counter application that challenged the propriety of the commission’s action.
Barely 24 hours after the forfeiture order was vacated, however, EFCC filed an “Action in Rem”, seeking an order for interim forfeiture which was again granted by Justice Olatoregun.