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There are two ways to look at Reps committee’s order for banks to unfreeze Jonathan’s accounts

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There are two ways to look at Reps committee’s order for banks to unfreeze Jonathan’s accounts

The House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions yesterday directed a commercial bank, Union Bank, to unfreeze an account operated by former first lady, Patience Jonathan.

The lawmakers also threatened to arrest the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, if he fails to appear before the committee by October 4th.

One way to look at it: Patience Jonathan is a seemingly corrupt woman who abused her relationship as wife of the former president, Goodluck Jonathan, in illegally amassing properties and humongous sums of money. And now, she is being supported by an equally corrupt political class.

Furthermore: The above line of reasoning will also look at the fact that the House Committee on Public Petitions, which gave the directive, is led by Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, a PDP lawmaker from Abia state. The former first lady is partly from Abia, and partly from Rivers by birth, and from Bayelsa by marriage to ex-president Goodluck Jonathan. The motion for Magu’s arrest was moved by Hon. Kingsley Chinda, a PDP lawmaker from Rivers. Patience belongs to the PDP and continues to have supporters and wield influence within that party. So her party men and ‘brothers’ may be unduly exerting influence in her favour.

But there is another way to look at it: Consider why the committee asked the banks to unfreeze Patience Jonathan’s account. According to the committee, the EFCC does not have the powers to freeze her account (or that of anyone else) without a valid court order.

Per the Union Bank lawyer, Kenneth Otowo: “We received a communication from EFCC to put a precautionary restriction on the account.” The communication did not however say the EFCC had obtained a court order.

The right to property: This is a constitutionally guaranteed right. See Section 44 of the Constitution:

(1) No moveable property or any interest in an immovable property shall be taken possession of compulsorily and no right over or interest in any such property shall be acquired compulsorily in any part of Nigeria except in the manner and for the purposes prescribed by a law…

And what does the law say? Section 36(5) gives citizens right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The EFCC is not a court of law and cannot be prosecutor and judge on the matter. Only a court can give an order which empowers them to touch another person’s property.

Still on the law: Section 34(1) of the EFCC Act, from which the agency derives its powers, was very clear when it said this:

34.-{ I) Notwithstanding anything contained in any other enactment or law, the Chairman of the Commission or any officer authorized by him may, if satisfied that the money in the account of a person is made through the commission of an offence under this Act and or any of the enactments specified under section 7 (2) (a)-{f) of this Act, apply to the Court ex-parte for power to issue an order as specified in Form B of the Schedule to this Act, addressed to the manager of the bank or any person in control of the financial institution or designated non-financial institution where the account is or believed by him to be or the head office of the bank, other financial institution or designated non-financial institution to freeze the account.

And one last thing: There are decided cases that should lay this matter to rest. Take the Appeal Court 2012 ruling in FIDELITY BANK PLC vs. BAYUJA VENTURES LIMITED & BASHIR JIMOH. 

The court sitting in Lagos ruled that it is unlawful for banks to freeze their customer’s account without a proper order of court. The EFCC is – of course – not a court.

One of the appellate judges, Justice Ogunwumiju, put it this way: “It amounts to nothing more than a resort to self help which is unacceptable, and which amounts to lawlessness and brigandage for the appellant to unilaterally freeze the account of the respondents.”

Whether the victim is Patience Jonathan or Impatience Saul. Or anybody for that matter.

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