Reprieve came the way of Lagos Lawyer and human rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, on Thursday, September 22, 2013, when the High Court of Lagos State, presided over by the Honourable Justice A. Opesanwo, set aside and vacated the interim order of forfeiture by which the house and property of Mr. Jonathan Udeagbala, was purported to have been attached by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in August 2012.
It will be recalled that Mr. Adegboruwa was charged to court in May 2016, for allegedly dealing in property forfeited by order of court to the federal government of Nigeria, through the EFCC.
Adegboruwa has consistently maintained that he committed no offence in law, but only assisted two business partners to broker a settlement arising from a telecoms transaction and that the EFCC was only taking advantage of the anti-corruption war of the Buhari regime to persecute him because of his constant criticism of the Buhari administration and in particular because of his involvement as defence counsel in the case of Chief Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo) and the cousin of the former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Azibaola Robert.
In or about 2012, Mr Jonathan Udeagbala, was arraigned before the High Court of Lagos State, for allegedly issuing dud cheques in favour of his business partner, Mr Leonard Okafor. In the course of the said trial, the parties met and decided to resolve the matter amicably by leasing out the personal house of Mr Udeagbala in Nicon Town, Lekki, Lagos. All the parties expressed preference for and trust in Mr Adegboruwa to supervise the settlement, which he did to the satisfaction of everybody.
On December 17, 2015, the High Court of Lagos State, dismissed the criminal case against Mr. Udeagbala, based upon the settlement brokered by the parties, effectively ending the entire criminal proceedings and all other cases connected with it. Mr Adegboruwa has maintained that at all relevant times, he was not aware of any interim order of forfeiture on the private property.
A day after Adegboruwa appeared in court in the case of Azibaola Robert against the EFCC, a criminal charge was filed against him at the Federal High Court, by the EFCC and he was arrested on May 9, 2016, for allegedly dealing in property subject of an order of forfeiture. He was arraigned in court on May 12, 2016 and granted bail. All the witnesses so far called by the EFCC have exonerated Mr Adegboruwa of the charge against him.
In the meantime, Mr Udeagbala filed an application dated 21st January 2016, before the High Court of Lagos State, to discharge the interim order of forfeiture, since the criminal charge upon which it was anchored, had been dismissed. The EFCC filed a counter-affidavit to the said application dated 24th June 2016, arguing that it had filed an appeal against the order of December 17, 2015, which dismissed the main criminal charge.
On 4th July 2016, when the court took arguments from counsel to the parties, Mr Adegboruwa appeared for Mr Udeagbala, whilst M.A. Anma Esq appeared for the EFCC. On 22ndSeptember 2016, Mr Adegboruwa appeared for Mr Udeagbala while M.S. Usman Esq appeared for the EFCC. The court delivered its ruling on the application to set aside the interim order of forfeiture.
In its ruling, the court held that once the Honourable Justice Oluwayemi had dismissed the main criminal charge on December 17, 2016, the interim order of forfeiture could not stand and that she could not sit on appeal against the order which dismissed the case. The court held further that it was left for the EFCC to appeal against the said order, if it was dissatisfied with it and not to seek to hold on to an interim order that was granted since 2012.
The court rejected the argument of the EFCC that an appeal had been filed against the order dismissing the criminal charge as no evidence of such an appeal was produced before the court and the court could not proceed to adopt the deposition contained in paragraph 12 of the counter-affidavit filed by the EFCC. The court consequently discharged the interim order of forfeiture, holding that as from December 17, 2015 when the criminal charge was dismissed by the Court, the order of interim forfeiture had ceased to be valid in law.
It is this order of interim forfeiture that the EFCC alleged that Mr Adegboruwa breached.