20th January, 2023
By Taiye Agbaje
Accusing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of deceit, EFCC, Justice Inyang Ekwo of Federal High Court, Abuja on Friday set aside the November 4, 2022 interim order of forfeiture he issued on 40 landed property linked to former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice.
Ekweremadu and his wife have been in the United Kingdom since last year where they have been undergoing trial for alleged involvement in organ harvesting.
EFCC obtained the order of interim forfeiture last November while the couple are still on trial in the United Kingdom.
But while vacating the order on Friday, Justice Ekwo accused the EFCC of deceiving the court by failing to disclose the material facts of the matter.
The Judge noted that though EFCC was aware of the current situation of Ekweremadu and his wife in the Uk and indeed wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service for information about the lawmaker, it still brought an application seeking an order for them to show cause on the assets to be forfeited.
The Judge said EFCC ought to know that in their present circumstances, the Ekweremadus cannot defend themselves or show cause as required.
“I do not think that the desired objective of the legislature in enacting the provision of Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act (AFFOROA), 2006 relied upon by the respondent (EFCC) in initiating the proceeding to obtain an ex-parte order of interim forfeiture order was for the provision to be used in any circumstance where the person affected is not in a position to defend himself or show cause as required” he said.
He therefore said the validity of the order and indeed the entire proceeding leading to the order would be affected by non-disclosure, suppression or misrepresentation of material facts.
The judge therefore dismissed application by the EFCC that since the Ekweremadus had failed to filed application to show cause, the court should go ahead with the order for final forfeiture of the assets.
“I do not think that this position is correct. The requirement to file affidavit to show cause pursuant to S. 17 of the AFFOROA, 2006 will hold strong in a normal situation where the person required to do so is not fettered by any act, condition or situation that amounts to a deprivation of the right to show cause as required by law.
“In this case, the respondent (EFCC) wrote Exhibit SIE 2 (a letter) to the Crown Prosecution Service in the United Kingdom which letter was used as evidence to deny Senator Ike Ekweremadu bail in the criminal proceedings.
“At the same time, the respondent filed ex-parte application for interim forfeiture which upon order being made thereon required Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife to show cause in Nigeria why an order for final forfeiture ought not to be made.
“I have been asking myself the question repeatedly: How can a citizen of Nigeria who is incarcerated outside the country to the knowledge of the respondent, be expected to show cause in an action in Nigeria brought by the respondent?
“In other words, how do you help to tie down a man and initiate a fight and demand that the same man you have helped to tie down must defend himself?
“This in my opinion, is an unconscionable act. The act of the respondent clearly shows that this action was brought in bad faith.
“In law, bad faith entails dishonesty of belief or purpose,” the judge said.
According to him, on the whole, I find that the application for forfeiture, going by the facts of this case has not been brought in good faith and ought to be struck out.
He held that Ekweremadu’s son, Llyod,, had done the right thing by bringing an application to set aside the proceedings initiated in bad faith and suppression of material facts.
“Once more, this court needs to apply the test of reasonableness of the act of the respondent in initiating the proceeding leading to the interim forfeiture order.
“I have done so and found this applicant ex-parte wanting in that respect.
“Consequently, I make the following orders:
“An order is hereby made setting aside the interim forfeiture order of the properties of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his companies made by this court on 4th day of November, 2022, upon the ex-parte Originating Motion filed by the Economic and Finance Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 27 July, 2022.
” The entire proceeding initiated by the respondent is hereby set aside,” Justice Ekwo declared.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Justice Ekwo had, on Nov. 4, 2022, granted the anti-graft agency’s ex-parte motion, seeking an interim order of forfeiture of some property of Ekweremadu, who was former deputy debate president.
The judge, who granted the motion, had ordered the agency to publish the interim forfeiture order of the property in a national daily within seven days.
The judge direct anybody who had interest in the forfeited property to indicate within 14 days of the publication on why the property should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
NAN reports that Ekweremadu’s oldest child, Lloyd; Anambra government and a company, Uni-medical Healthcare Limited had, on Dec. 5, appeared in court as parties interested in the seized property.
Lloyd, in a motion on notice marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1242/2022 and filed by Chief Awomolo, prayed the court for an order setting aside the Interim forfeiture order on his father’s property and companies.
Lloyd, in a four-ground argument, said that the facts in support of the the EFCC’s ex-parte originating motion “deliberately and fraudulently omitted very critical facts/evidence, which negate the granting of the application.”
He argued that the motion which the anti-graft agency commenced the action was filed in absolute bad faith.