What a Party Must Show/Prove for Court to Set Aside/Discharge an Interim Order of Forfeiture Being Sought to Be Made Final

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CASE TITLE: Katah Property & Investments Ltd V. Chairman EFCC (2023) LPELR 59736(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE:  9th February, 2023

JUSTICES:

  • Elfrieda Oluwayemisi Williams-Dawodu, JCA
  • Ugochukwu Anthony Ogakwu, JCA
  • Danlami Zama Senchi, JCA

COURT DIVISION: Abuja

PRACTICE AREA: Forfeiture of Asset

 FACTS:                                

This appeal emanated against the decision of the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, wherein an order was made for the final forfeiture to the Federal Government of the Appellant’s properties situate at House No. 19, Burundi Street, Zone 5, Wuse, FCT Abuja; House No. 3, Timbuktu Street, Zone 6, Wuse, FCT Abuja; House No. 12, Jimma Street, Zone 6, Wuse, FCT, Abuja and House No. 27, Lusaka Street, Zone 6, Wuse, FCT, Abuja.

​The Appellant was dissatisfied with the decision of the lower Court and appealed against the same.

ISSUES:

The appeal was determined upon consideration of the issues thus:

(i) Whether the learned trial Court Judge did not breach the appellant’s right to fair hearing in the evaluation of the facts and arguments considering the statutory obligation of the respondent under Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, 2007 to show by evidence that the properties are proceeds of unlawful activity as against the evidence provided by the appellants before reaching a decision to finally forfeit appellant’s properties to the respondent?

(ii) Since the learned trial Court Judge raised the issue of the validity, non-certification and non-attestation of the Exhibits attached to the appellants’ processes suo motu, whether the learned trial Court Judge ought not to have afforded the appellant the opportunity to address the Court on the said Exhibits before making a finding on them?

(iii) Whether by the lumping of the appellant’s distinctive cause with those of other claimants and the failure of the lower Court to pronounce on the facts presented to the Court in the appellant’s notice and affidavits showing cause which were not controverted by the respondent, the learned trial Judge did not err in making a final order of forfeiture of the appellant’s properties?

(iv) Whether having regard to all the circumstances of this case, the learned trial Judge did not erroneously apply the Supreme Court decision in Dame Patience Jonathan Vs EFCC (2019) LPELR SC 41/201 or (2019) 2-3 SC Pt. 1 @ 158 to the case in making a final forfeiture order on the appellant’s properties.

 COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS:

The Appellant opined that the summary of the allegations on which the Respondent premised the action for forfeiture is that the properties were acquired through unlawful activity, but that the Respondent did not show how the Appellant was engaged in any unlawful activity, thus showing that the lower Court did not pay attention to the case made by the Respondent in arriving at its decision. It was stated that Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act is an expropriatory statute that has to be construed strictly in favour of the Appellant vide EFCC vs. LAWAL Appeal No. SC/CR/212/2020 delivered on 12th March 2021, NANGIBO vs. OKAFOR (2003) 14 NWLR (PT 839) 78 at 106 and ADOLE vs. GWAR (2008) 11 NWLR (PT 1099) 562 at 608. It was maintained that the Respondent had a duty to show that the properties were acquired with proceeds of unlawful activity and that it is only thereafter that the Appellant would be required to show cause why the property should not be forfeited. It was asserted that the failure of the lower Court to consider the Appellant’s claim to the properties before making the order for final forfeiture breached the Appellant’s right to fair hearing and rendered the proceedings and judgment a nullity and liable to be set aside. The cases of EZENWAJI vs. UNN (2017) 5-6 SC (PT II) 73 at 94 and THOMAS vs. FJSC (2018) 2-3 SC (PT I) 79 at 100 were relied upon.

​The Appellant further submitted that it was a breach of its right to fair hearing, when the lower Court, suo motu, raised the issue of the validity of the title documents it relied upon in proof of ownership of the properties and resolved the same without giving the Appellant the opportunity to address it on the issue. It was maintained that where a Court raises an issue suo motu, it should afford the parties a hearing on the issue, so as not to breach their right to fair hearing. The cases of UNION BANK vs. AWMAR PROPERTIES LTD (2018) 5 SC (PT IV) 1 at 35, EFCC vs. CHIDOLUE (2018) 12 SC (PT II) 59 at 79, FRN vs. MAISHANU (2019) LPELR 46 3850 (SC) [sic] among other cases were cited in support.

It was further submitted that the Respondent admitted the facts in the Appellant’s affidavit as it did not file any counter affidavit to contradict the Appellant’s affidavit showing cause. The case of OWURU vs. ADIGWU (2017) 6-7 SC (PT III) at 67 was called in aid. It was opined that the reasons adduced by the lower Court in respect of the Appellant’s exhibits are not tenable in law and insufficient to be relied upon to grant the order of final forfeiture. It was further stated that the findings made and relied upon by the lower Court to deny probative value to the Appellant’s documents were raised suo motu and decided upon without affording the parties a hearing on the issue.

The Respondent’s counsel submitted that the Appellant was not denied fair hearing as the lower Court evaluated the affidavit evidence and submissions of counsel before arriving at its decision. It was stated that the lower Court did not raise the issue of validity of the Appellant’s title documents suo motu, as it was the Appellant that presented the case that it had genuine title to the properties, when title was not in issue; but the acquisition of the properties with proceeds of crime. It was stated that having made its title to the properties an issue, the lower Court cannot be said to have raised the issue suo motu, since all it did was to evaluate the processes filed by the Appellant in order to arrive at its decision.

It was maintained that the lower Court heard learned counsel for the parties on their submissions and therefore there can be no issue of lack of fair hearing. It was contended that a party who tenders a document cannot be heard to complain about the Court’s consideration of the document and how it used the document in arriving at its decision. The cases of ONWUDINJO vs. DIMOBI (2006) 1 NWLR (PT 961) 318, AJIDE vs. KELANI (1985) 3 NWLR (PT 12) 248, OJE vs. BABALOLA (1991) 4 NWLR (PT 185) 267, A-G ENUGU STATE vs. AVOP PLC (1995) 6 NWLR (PT 399) 90 and IGWE vs. A.I.C.E. (1994) 8 NWLR (PT 363) 459 were relied upon.

DECISION/HELD:

In conclusion, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

RATIO

JUDGMENT AND ORDER – ORDER OF FORFEITURE: What a party must show/prove for Court to set aside/discharge an interim order of forfeiture being sought to be made final

“In the instant record of proceedings before this Honorable Court, upon lucid perusal, it is manifestly clear that the Appellant’s grievance with the decision of the lower Court is issue of proper and distinct consideration of salient depositions and not fair hearing as every opportunity to present cogent and tangible reasons why the order of final forfeiture should not be made against the Defendant now Appellant was accorded them. See the cases of AKINLADE V. STATE (2022) LPELR-57003 (SC); OKINA V. UKE (2017) LPELR-42341 (CA); MFA V. INOGHA (2014) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1392) 3431 372. The summary of the Respondent’s allegation are to the effect that the order of interim forfeiture of the properties of the Appellant that were alleged to have been acquired with proceeds of unlawful activities be made final and not a legal contest of valid title documents to the properties sort to be forfeited. The grievances of the Appellant are not ones which would ordinarily extinguish the allegation for the grant of order of final forfeiture evoked by the provision of Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act. For any grievance to evoke the force of law and be adequately accommodated, such must be remotely evinced and relevant to the claims for such to be relied upon by the Court. Title documents presented to show ownership of properties in a forfeiture claim do not adequately extinguish allegations before the trial to act otherwise.

The Appellant has the inured duty to prove that the properties being sort to be forfeited were not procured with proceeds of unlawful activities. This is the very core within which the interim and final forfeiture orders were predicated upon.” Per SENCHI, J.C.A.

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