Patience Jonathan

The Federal High Court in Lagos Thursday refused to discharge an interim order freezing N1.9 billion which was allegedly obtained fraudulently by a businesswoman, Hajiya Bola Shagaya.

Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) validly obtained the order.

Shagaya had urged the court to grant her access to her account, which had been frozen since December 29, 2016.

Through her lawyer, Mr. Napoleon Emeaso-Nwachukwu, she claimed she was not given fair hearing before Justice Muslim Hassan of the same court made the freezing order.

She urged Justice Oguntoyinbo to declare the freezing order unconstitutional, null and void “as same violates the applicant’s right to own movable property as guaranteed by Section 44(1)(k) of the I999 Constitution of Nigeria.”

But, EFCC argued that Justice Oguntoyinbo lacked the power to sit as an appellate court over Justice Hassan’s decision, describing Shagaya’s originating summons as an abuse of court processes.

It accused Shagaya of filing the suit “so as to impede the proper dispensation of justice and thus avoiding criminal investigation and possible prosecution.”

The anti-graft agency claimed that the N1.9billion was the balance of N3, 305,150,000, which Shagaya allegedly received as “founder fees” on behalf of an organisation “Women for Change” being spearheaded by former First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan.

The EFCC claimed that the N3.3billion was realised through Shagaya’s “fraudulent activities in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC),” where she allegedly “influenced the fraudulent allocation of Dual Purpose kerosene to Index Petrolube Africa Ltd., with the aid of the former First Lady, Mrs. Dame Patience Jonathan.”

According to the EFCC, the N3.3billion was paid by Index Petrolube Africa Ltd and its sister company, Autodex Nigeria Ltd.

The two companies, it said, belong to one Honourable Ezeani ThankGod, adding that the reason for the N3.3billion payment was to “fraudulently facilitate Dual Purpose Kerosene to ThankGod’s company, Index Petrolube Africa Ltd.”

The anti-graft agency claimed that out of the N3.3billion, Shagaya had “paid a cumulative sum of N1,212,000,000 to the former First Lady, Mrs. Dame Patience Jonathan, through her account, ‘Women for Change Initiative’ account domiciled in Diamond Bank, to which the former First Lady is the sole signatory.”

It said after paying N1.2billion to Mrs Jonathan, Shagaya kept the balance of N1.9billion for herself by “warehousing” it in her Unity Bank account.

The EFCC said it secured an order by Justice Hassan on December 29, 2016 to freeze the account pending the conclusion of its investigation.

The anti-graft agency said the applicant would “use this honourable court as a shield against criminal investigation and prosecution” if the application was granted.

In her verdict Thursday, Justice Oguntoyinbo faulted Shagaya’s claims she was not given the opportunity to defend herself.

“The interim order was made based on an ex-parte application filed by the EFCC. An ex-parte application has no respondent and the court is not expected to hear from the other party.

“Even when the other party is around, it can only be seen and not heard. Therefore, the failure of Justice Hassan to hear the applicant cannot invalidate the order.

“The granting of the interim order of attachment is not unconstitutional and does not constitute an infringement on the applicant’s rights to own property”, the judge held.

Justice Oguntoyinbo said the applicant failed to controvert EFCC’s claim that she refused to honour invitation.

The judge said Shagaya’s claim that the order was made in perpetuity did not hold water because there was no evidence that the EFCC had concluded its investigation.

“It is erroneous to claim that the interim order has metamorphosed into a permanent one or in perpetuity because it was to last until the conclusion of investigation by the respondent.

“There was no evidence to show that the respondent has stopped investigating the property or has concluded investigation,” Justice Oguntoyibo said.

The judge, therefore, held that Shagaya’s application lacked merit and dismissed it.

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