PORT HAR- COURT— Lawyer to former First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan, Timipa Okponipere, Senior Partner of First Law Associates, has given the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, 14 days with effect from September 18, to defreeze her accounts and tender a public apology to her.
In an open letter to EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, urged the commission to leave Mrs. Jonathan alone, warning that if it refused to conform, “We shall file an action at the African Commission on Human Rights at the Gambia demanding N5 billion in exemplary and punitive damages.” The lawyer said: “There is no established legal or political precedent for what the EFCC is currently doing to our client. How many former first ladies in Nigeria have received the Patience Goodluck Jonathan treatment, to have warranted the EFCC to have the effrontery to freeze our client’s accounts and subject her to public opprobrium, ridicule and disgrace? This nonsense must stop forthwith. “Our client is a respected senior citizen of international repute, a retired Permanent Secretary and the immediate past First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Our client is a law-abiding citizen who has never, or at all, been the subject of any criminal and/or financial investigation, whether at home or abroad. Accordingly, she has not been found guilty of any criminal conduct throughout a sparkling public service career spanning over 35 years. “During the five years our client served as first lady, she was the Initiator/Founder of the Aruera Women Foundation, as well as the Women for Change Initiative, both of which are non-governmental organisations, substantially contributed to the 35 per cent affirmative action for women in the country. Our client is the recipient of numerous local and international awards in recognition of her untiring commitment towards uplifting the living standard of women, children and the aged in Nigeria. “Sir, it is against this sterling and meritorious background of our client that we most respectfully, write to draw your attention to the numerous breaches of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act 2004 committed by EFCC in the course of the commission’s illegal and unlawful investigation of our client for alleged money laundering. These investigations have reportedly led to the freezing of our client’s accounts and led to untold consequences in our client’s health and wellbeing. “The EFCC must realise that the EFCC (Establishment) Act 2004 is inferior in content and quality to both the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, 2004. “To that extent, it is trite law that, where there is a conflict or an inconsistency between the EFCC Act, on the one hand and the combined provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights 2004, on the other hand, the extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights 2004 must necessarily prevail to the extent of the said inconsistency. “However, we note, with regret, that in the current matter involving the curious and bizarre investigation of our esteemed client, the EFCC under your watch has not only undermined the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights; the Commission has actually conducted itself in a most desperate, despicable and arrogant manner. This is rather unfortunate. “Consequently, the special powers of the Commission as defined by Section 7(1) & (2) of the EFCC Act 2004 to, among others, “cause investigations to be conducted into the properties of any person if it appears to the Commission that the person’s life style and extent of the properties are not justified by his source of income,” is inconsistent with and contrary to the mandatory requirement of Section 36(6)(a) & (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which states thus: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to – (a) be informed promptly in the language that he understands and in detail of the nature of the offence; (b) be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence. “The necessary implication or import of Section 36(6)(a) & (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is that the EFCC’s so-called power to arbitrarily and unlawfully investigate our esteemed client and thereby, freeze her accounts with total sum in excess of N15 million US dollars, which are domiciled with Skye Bank Plc is not absolute, he said. Okponipere stated: “ Sir, it is our client’s brief that there is no formal criminal complaint of economic and financial crime as defined by the EFCC Act 2004 written by any person or institution against her which warranted the EFCC to freeze her accounts.” “It is also our client’s brief that the EFCC failed to obtain a court order as required by Section 34 of the EFCC Act before her accounts were frozen. “It is our client’s further brief that up until the writing of this open Letter, she has not received any formal invitation to appear before the Commission for questioning; whereas her accounts domiciled with Skye Bank Plc have since been frozen by the Commission without recourse to her,” he said. The solicitor said: “The argument put forward by the Commission in the public domain that, “investigations are ongoing…Mrs. Patience Jonathan shall be invited in due course,” are not only vexatious and provocative. They constitute an outright violation and rape of the fundamental right to fair hearing and ownership of property as guaranteed to our client by the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights 2004.” “Indeed, Section 36(6)(a) & (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), contains or laid down a sequence or pattern of commencement of investigation, which must be followed strictly to wit: Persons charged with a criminal offence must be informed in the language they understand and in detail of the nature of the offence; Such persons must be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of their defence,” he added. The solicitor stated: “Instead of strict compliance with the above pattern, as laid down by Section 36(6)(a) & (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the EFCC went after our client’s money by ordering a freeze of her accounts. With all due respect, the EFCC is a big thief.” “We are very much aware of numerous instances where EFCC used strong-arm tactics to dispossess hard working Nigerians of their legitimately earned money; only to turn around to brazenly and shamelessly loot the recovered loot. This is one of such unfortunate instances. Clearly, it is a failed politically-motivated attempt by the EFCC to steal our Client’s money using the cover of the present political climate. “We are sufficiently convinced that prebendal politics of the sort that smears the image and reputation of former public office holders, together with that of members of their families – which automatically, distracts from governance and slows down the nation’s pace of development – is one of the major reasons for the persistent and unrelenting politically-motivated attacks on our client, who is extremely popular with Nigerian women, children and the aged,” he said.