Patience Jonathan, Nigeria’s former First Lady, is arguably the most prosecuted of all wives of former presidents of the country. Since her husband, Ex-president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, was dislodged form Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power, Mrs. Jonathan has been dragged to court at least four times by the Economic and Financial crimes Commission (EFCC), with the target of reclaiming both money and properties allegedly acquired with “proceeds of unlawful activities.”
As the first lady, Dame Jonathan, pulled all her political influence to get what she wanted. Rotimi Ameachi, the former Governor of Rivers State and the current Minister of Transportation, once described the former first lady as a "de-facto President" because of the political power she wielded at the time.
“It is about power and control. She appears to be somebody who loves power.” Ameachi said in an interview with TheNews in 2013. “I remember when female senators came to me after she met with them. She said to them: ‘I am the highest ranking officer from Rivers State and I wonder why the Governor of Rivers State does not accord me that respect.'"
But, in 2015, Nigerians — angered by the overwhelming corruption and leadership ineptitude of Jonathan — rejected him at the poll and along went the influences and privileges of Mrs. Jonathan as the first Lady.
No sooner had President Muhammadu Buhari, who won on the promise to fight corruption among other things, assumed office than the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) gone after Mrs. Jonathan for profiting illegally from public funds.
$15,591,700 warehoused in fictitious companies’ accounts
The directors of four companies revealed by EFCC to be conduits for embezzling funds pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and money laundering.
The companies, Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited, Seagate Property Development & Investment Co. Limited, Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited, and Avalon Global Property Development Company Limited, were charged alongside a former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa; a lawyer, Amajuoyi Briggs; and a banker, Adedamola Bolodeoku.
However, while Dudafa and two others pleaded not guilty, the companies pleaded guilty and were thus convicted by Babs Kuewumi, at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, on September 16, 2016.
The anti-graft agency froze the companies’ accounts, holding the sum of $15,591,700, through an order of the court but in a dramatic twist, Mrs. Jonathan showed up to claim ownership of the funds.
Mrs. Jonathan claimed that the funds, domiciled in Skye bank plc, were hers, being the only signatory to the accounts. However, she disowned the convicted companies, blaming Dudafa for opening the accounts in the companies’ name instead of hers.
The sum is still subject of litigation, as the criminal trial is still ongoing.
$5,842,316.66 suspected to be proceeds of theft
While the former first lady was still battling to have the $15 million unfrozen, the commission obtained an order for interim forfeiture of $5.9 million in the name of Mrs. Jonathan and another N2.4bn opened in Ecobank in the name of one La Wari Furniture and Bath Limited, a company suspected to be linked to the former first lady.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun, sitting at the Lagos Federal High Court, ordered the forfeiture but rather than come forward to show the Federal High court why said sum should not be permanently forfeited, Mrs. Jonathan headed to the court of appeal.
In January, the appeal court dismissed her suit for lacking in merit. The court held that EFCC is empowered by Section 17 of the Advance Fee fraud Act to apply for the forfeiture of property reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activity.
Not satisfied with the judgment of the court of appeal, Mrs. Jonathan sought redress at the Supreme Court.
The matter is currently awaiting judgment of the apex court.
FG claims ownership of Mrs. Jonathan's houses — only for 45 days
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba forfeited two houses owned by Mrs. Jonathan to the Federal government for 45 days to allow the anti-graft agency conclude its investigations on the properties.
However, he added that the commission could seek extension before the initial 45 days elapses.
EFCC claimed that the properties, located at Plot No. 1960, Cadastral Zone A05, Maitama District; and Plot No. 1350, Cadastral Zone A00, both in Abuja, are subject of ongoing investigation.
The ownership of the properties will be determined by the outcome of EFCC’s investigations.
$8.4m, N9.2bn linked to Mrs. Jonathan “temporarily” forfeited
On Tuesday, May 8, Justice Olatoregun ordered the interim forfeiture of $8.4 million and N9.2 billion linked to Mrs. Jonathan following an ex-parte application of EFCC alleging that the funds came from the coffers of Bayelsa state government.
An investigator of the EFCC, Huleji Tukura, who deposed to the affidavit filed along with the ex-parte application, claimed that Mrs. Jonathan allegedly stole the money when she served as permanent secretary in the state.
According to Tukura, Mrs. Jonathan first opened a First Bank account and then “procured” the then Senior Special Assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Domestic Affairs, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, to fund the account with “proceeds of unlawful activities".
“Dudafa Waripamo-Owei procured one, Festus Isidohomen Iyoha and Arivi Eneji Peter, who were domestic staff attached to the State House, Abuja, to deposit the funds, reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities, in to account of the 1st respondent (Patience)," the deponent averred.
“In depositing the funds into the account of the 1st respondent, the said domestic staff, in a bid to conceal their identity, deposited the funds, reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful act, into the 1st respondent’s account, using fictitious names.
“The total sum of $4,036,750.00 (Four million, thirty-six thousand, seven hundred and fifty United States’ dollar) reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities, were deposited into account No. 2022648664 domiciled in First Bank Plc in the name of the 1st respondent.
“On the 28th day of September, 2016, the 1st respondent, in dissipating the property sought to be forfeited, transferred the sum of $3,640,794.72 to the 1st respondent’s account No. 2031277178 domiciled in First Bank Plc.
“On the 5th day of October, 2016, the 1st respondent withdrew the sum of $1,000,000.00 cash from the said account leaving the balance of the sum of $3,645,013.73 which sum we are urging this honourable court to forfeit in the interim to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
"As at the time the various sums were deposited in into exhibit EFCC01, the 1st respondent was a serving permanent secretary in the employment of the Bayelsa State Government.
“The funds sought to be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria are not the 1st respondent’s lawful earnings but are rather reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities.”
The funds will remain under the control of the Federal Government, consequent of the interim forfeiture order, until Mrs. Jonathan can proof that she earned them legitimately