By CHRIS EKEKE, Abuja
An appeal by filed by former first lady, Patience Jonathan, seeking to stop the permanent forfeiture of her $5.7million and N2,421,953,522.78 to the Federal Government yesterday suffered a setback due to the withdrawal of one of the three appeal court justices meant to hear the appeal.
Mrs. Jonathan had filed the appeal before the Lagos Division of Court of Appeal to challenge an order granted by Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court in Lagos on April 26 this year, temporarily forfeiting the cash, found in her Skye Bank account, to the government.
But at the resumed hearing of the case on Wednesday, the presiding justice of the panel, Justice John Ikyeh told parties in the matter that the appeal could no longer be heard as one of the three justices had decided to withdraw for personal reasons.
Although Justices Ikyeh did not give any further reason for the development or name the member, other members of the panel are: Justice Abimbola Obaseki-Adejumo and Justice Abraham Georgewill.
Justice Ikyeh said “One of us is going to rescue 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.
Following the development, counsel for the Economic and Financial Commission (EFCC), Rotimi Oyedepo, urged the court to consider hearing the appeal as early as possible, preferably during vacation.
Oyedepo said, “If we can be accommodated during vacation. Our challenge is that the trial court has stayed proceedings over the subject matter of this suit.”
But Justice Ikyeh insisted that because the panel had not formed a quorum, it could not grant his request.
The suit was adjourned till September 18.
The EFCC had told the lower court that the funds were suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities.
The anti-graft agency had alleged that the N5.7million was part of the $6,791,599.64 (about N2.1billion) which Mrs. Jonathan allegedly directed her aides to pay into her account between February 8, 2013 and January 30, 2015, while her husband was President.
Mrs. Jonathan, the commission said, had earlier spent $949, 282.98 (about N296, 141,911) from the money.
The commission had also claimed that the former first lady withdrew another $100,000 from the account in April, leaving a balance of $5,731,173.55.
However, on May 22, 2016, Justice Olatoregun was forced to adjourn the case indefinitely, pending the Court of Appeal hearing and determination of the appeal filed by Mrs. Jonathan on the interim order.
The application to stay further proceedings was filed on Mrs Jonathan’s behalf by her lawyer, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) and that of Counsel for La Wari Furniture and Baths, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN).
Apart from Patience’s personal account with $5.9million, the court also froze a number of accounts linked with her including an Ecobank account, with a balance of N2.4billion, opened in the name of one La Wari Furniture and Bath Limited.