Godwin Tsa, Abuja
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Monday vacated its interim forfeiture order made in respect to some of the properties belonging to the former Minister of Aviation, Senator Stella Oduah.
Justice Inyang Okoro specifically vacated the order he issued on October 18, 2019, after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had linked the ownership of the assets to some of the ex-Aviation Minister.
However, in his judgment on Monday, the judge held that the EFCC failed to establish a link between the assets and the ex-Minister.
The EFCC had applied for the interim forfeiture order in furtherance of its investigation of an allegation that Oduah diverted part of the N9.5 billion fund meant for the provision security equipment in some airports during her tenure as Aviation Minister.
In its supporting affidavit to the forfeiture application, the anti-corruption agency alleged that Oduah, who was Aviation Minister between 2012 and 2014, connived with bank officials to divert the fund and allegedly used the money to procure broadcast equipment for Crystal Television Ltd, a newspaper printing press, six dredgers and quarry.
But the judge struck out the counter-affidavit filed against the motion to show cause, filed by Crystal Television Ltd and the other companies affected by the interim order, on the grounds that it was defective.
The judge noted that the counter-affidavit, filed for the EFCC by its lawyer, O I Uket, to rebut the companies’ claims, was filed out of time without first seeking the court’s leave for an extension of time to file.
He further noted that rather than apply to the court for leave to file his counter-affidavit out of time, the EFCC’s lawyer proceeded to pay a default fee of N3,000 without the court’s consent.
‘The right thing to do was for the applicant to apply for an extension of time, any payment of default fees made by the applicant, without first applying for an extension of time, is unlawful, he took the law into his hands.
‘The consequences of filing a process, without the leave of court to file out of time, is that the process is incompetent and liable to be struck out.
‘The counter-affidavit is struck out with all the processes filed along with it. The implication is that there is no counter-affidavit,’ the judge said.
Justice Ekwo proceeded to consider the case of the respondents – Crystal Television Ltd and the other affected entities – and held that ‘they have established the fact of ownership of the assets’ and that they have no link with the ex-Minister.
The judge further held that the respondents have shown cause why the prayer by the EFCC, that the order of interim forfeiture made on October 18, 2019, be made permanent, should not be granted
‘The interim order is set aside. The case of the applicant is dismissed,’ Justice Ekwo held.
The judge rejected the oral application made by respondents’ lawyer, N Abdul, for N200 million cost.