By Mike Ojo, Lagos
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos presided over by Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo declared that an interim order attaching N1.9 billion domiciled in the Unity Bank’s account of a businesswoman, Hajiya Bola Shagaya, was validly secured by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Consequently, the court dismissed the suit filed by Bola Shagaya for lack of merit and abuse of court process.It would be recalled that the anti-graft agency had on December 29, 2016, secured an interim order attaching the account where the said sum is lodged from Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court, Lagos. Justice Hassan in his ruling held that the order of interim forfeiture was to last pending conclusion of investigation and conclusion of trial by the EFCC. However, D with the ex-parte ruling , Hajiya Shagaya, through her lawyer filed a motion seeking to unfreeze the account claiming that the EFCC’s action violates her rights to own property and fair hearing. She said she was never afforded the opportunity to defend herself before the interim order of forfeiture was secured.
Delivering judgement on the matter on Thursday, Justice Oguntoyinbo faulted Shagaya’s claims that she was not availed the opportunity to defend herself before the order was secured. According to the judge, the order was made through an ex-parte motion and as such there was no way the court would have listen to her own side of the story. “The interim order was made based on an ex-parte application filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (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 non hearing of 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 further noted that the failure of the applicant to controvert some of the averment contained in the the counter-affidavit of the EFCC regarding her refusal to honour invitation was fatal to her case. The judge said the claim by the applicant that the order was made in perpetuity does not hold water because there was no evidence that EFCC has either concluded its investigation of the matter or file any charge against the applicant. Justice Oguntoyinbo said: “It is erroneous to claim that the interim order has metamorphose into a permanent one or in perpetuity because it was to last until the conclusion of investigation by the respondent (EFCC). There was no evidence to show that the respondent has stopped investigating the property or has concluded investigation”. On the whole, the court held that the application lacked merit and it was consequently dismissed.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had earlier urged Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo not to unfreeze a Unity Bank’s account with a balance of N1, 902,673,399.93 belonging to the Socialite cum businesswoman, Hajiya Bola Shagaya.
In the counter affidavit filed against Shagaya’s motion seeking to unfreeze the account, the anti-graft agenecy argued that the money was the balance of a total of N3, 305,150,000, which Shagaya received as “founder fees” on behalf of an organization, “Women for Change” being spearheaded by a former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.
The EFCC claimed that the N3.3 billion was realized 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 Limited., with the aid of the Mrs. Jonathan.”
The N3.3 billion was said to have been paid by Index Petrolube Africa Limited. and its sister company, Autodex Nigeria Limited.
The EFCC, while revealing that the two companies are owned by one, Honourable Ezeani ThankGod, also posited that the reason behind the N3.3 billion payments was to “fraudulently facilitate Dual Purpose Kerosene to ThankGod’s company, Index Petrolube Africa Limited.”
The anti-graft agency further averred that out of the N3.3 billion, Shagaya had “paid a cumulative sum of N1, 212,000,000 to the former first lady, through her account, ‘Women for Change Initiative’ account domiciled in Diamond Bank, to which she is the sole signatory.”
It added that after paying N1.2 billion to Jonathan, Shagaya kept the balance of N1.9 billion to herself by “warehousing” same in her personal bank account in Unity Bank.
The commission further claimed that it was on this basis that it secured an order of Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos on December 29, 2016 to freeze the account.
However, the businesswoman through her lawyer, Napoleon Emeaso-Nwachukwu, contended that she was not given fair hearing before Justice Muslim Hassan made the freezing order.
She urged Justice Oguntoyinbo to set aside the order by declaring it unconstitutional, null and void. She claimed it violates her right to own movable property as guaranteed by Section 44 (1) (k) of the Constitution.