The appeal filed by the wife of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, to discharge a court order which temporarily seized the sum of $5.9m found in her Skye Bank account, was stalled on Wednesday as one of the three appeal court justices meant to hear the appeal in Lagos withdrew from the case.
The three-man appeal court panel, comprising Justices John Ikyeh, Abimbola Obaseki-Adejumo and Abraham Georgewill, had earlier fixed Wednesday to hear the appeal.
But when the case was called on Wednesday morning, Justice Ikyeh, who presided over the panel, told the counsel on both sides that the appeal could no longer be heard as one of the three justices had decided to withdraw for personal reasons.
Justice Ikyeh, however, did not mention the name of the member of the panel who withdrew but said the appeal had to be further adjourned in the circumstances.
“One of us is going to recuse himself from this case for personal reasons, so we are not complete. Two of us cannot make a quorum. So, we’ll give you a date,” Justice Ikyeh said.
In the circumstances, counsel for the Economic and Financial Commission, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, urged the appellate court to fix a new date during the court’s long vacation which would last till September.
Oyedepo said the EFCC, which is seeking a court order permanently forfeiting Patience’s $5.9m to the Federal Government, had been handicapped because the Federal High Court in Lagos, which is hearing the case, had already stayed proceedings to await the decision of the Court of Appeal.
But Justice Ikyeh reiterated that nothing could be done because two justices could not form a quorum.
“We can’t write anything because we are incomplete. One of us cannot sit over this appeal,” he said.
The case was subsequently adjourned till September 18, 2017, after the court’s vacation.
Patience, through her lawyer, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), is urging the Court of Appeal to overturn an April 26, 2017 interim order of Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court in Lagos, who ordered that the $5.9m found in her Skye Bank account should be temporarily forfeited to the Federal Government.
The forfeiture order was made in favour of the EFCC, which took an ex parte application before the judge.
Apart from Patience’s personal account with $5.9m, the court also froze a number of accounts linked with her including an Ecobank account, with a balance of N2.4bn, opened in the name of one La Wari Furniture and Bath Limited.
In a supporting affidavit attached to the ex parte application, the EFCC told Justice Olatoregun that the funds were suspected to be proceeds of Patience’s alleged criminal activities.
An EFCC operative, Musbahu Abubakar, who deposed to the affidavit, stated that Patience opened the Skye Bank account on February 7, 2013, and used it to allegedly warehouse proceeds of crime.
According to Abubakar, the former first lady made several cash deposits in United States dollar into the account, through a former Special Assistant to ex-President Jonathan, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, and a State House steward, Festus Iyoha.
He said as of January 30, 2015, the Skye Bank account had a balance of $6.7m but Patience subsequently withdrew it down to $5.9m.
The EFCC had prayed the court to urgently freeze the account so as to prevent Patience for moving the funds.
Justice Olatoregun had then granted the interim forfeiture order and adjourned till May 22, 2017, for anyone interested in the funds to appear before her to show cause why the funds should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
On May 22, Patience’s lawyer, Adedipe, appeared in court in company with counsel for La Wari Furniture and Bath Limited, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), and told Justice Olatoregun that their clients had appealed the temporary forfeiture order.
They urged the judge to suspend further proceedings pending the outcome of the appeal.
They argued that it would be disrespectful for Justice Olatoregun to proceed with the case after the appeal had been entered and the appellate court had issued a hearing notice.
Justice Olatoregun had then consequently adjourned the case till September 24, 2017, to give the parties time to “ventilate their views in the appellate court.”