$15m: Dismiss Patience Jonathan’s Suit Against Us, SERAP Begs Court

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has responded to the alleged ‘campaign of calumny against Mrs Dame Patience Jonathan’ by asking the Federal High Court to “dismiss her suit with substantial cost.”

Mrs Jonathan and her group Union of Niger Delta Youth Organization for Equity, Justice and Good Governance had accused SERAP in suit number dated 6 October 2016 of “using online, print and electronic media to publish to the public unfounded and malicious allegations that she stole $15m (US) and ought to be prosecuted.”

But SERAP in a preliminary objection dated 27 October 2016 and signed by its executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni said “Patience Jonathan’s claims cannot be maintained because they are brought on her behalf by a group that is unknown to law.

He said “Mrs Jonathan’s group is not a registered organization envisaged by law. This very point calls into question the legal capacity to file this suit against SERAP, and the jurisdiction of the court to entertain her suit.”

When the case came up for hearing before Justice C.M.A Olatoregun on Friday 28 October 2016 SERAP was represented by its lawyer Babatunde Ogala, former Chairman of the Lagos State House of Assembly’s Committee on Judiciary.

SERAP’s preliminary objections read in part: “Since the process of court has not been used bonafide and properly it is unnecessary to consider whether or not there is a genuine case on the merits. An abuse of court process is not the specie of sins called an irregularity. It is a much more fundamental vice which is deserving of the punishment of dismissal.”

“The suit as constituted discloses no reasonable cause of action against SERAP and as such unmaintainable. Mrs Jonathan and her group cannot and has not articulated what legal wrong SERAP has done or what legal dispute they have with SERAP. They have not shown that the matter is justiciable and that a dispute exists between them and SERAP. Mrs Jonathan’s case against SERAP is therefore a flagrant abuse of court process and as such must be dismissed.”

“The commencement of this suit through Originating Summons by Mrs Jonathan and her group is wrong and faulty. Originating Summons is absolutely inappropriate to commence an action where the facts are in dispute. It is evident from the processes filed by Mrs Jonathan and her group that this suit will definitely be disputed by SERAP.”

“No stamp and/or seal of the solicitors to Mrs Jonathan and her group is fixed to the Originating Summons and as such is incompetent and not cognizable by the court. A document filed shall be deemed not properly signed or filed if it has no fixing of the seal and stamp, and the court cannot consider such document.”

The Union of Niger Delta Youth Organization for Equity, Justice and Good Governance suing for themselves and on behalf of Mrs Dame Patience Jonathan had sued SERAP on 6 October 2016 before the Federal High Court in Lagos.

Mrs Jonathan and her group had asked the court for “an order of interim injunction restraining SERAP from taking any further steps in further vilification, condemnation and conviction of the Former First Lady Mrs Dame Patience Jonathan, in all public media and in the use of the judicial process for that purpose by the extremely publicized pursuit of any application for the coercion of the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute the Plaintiff/Applicant for owning legitimate private property, pending the hearing and determination of the Originating Summons.”

The suit is also seeking “an order directing SERAP to stay all action and to desist forthwith from proceeding against Mrs Dame Patience Jonathan, with any process whatsoever, pending the hearing and determination of the Originating Summons.

The suit by Mrs Jonathan and her group also claimed that, “The campaign by SERAP is in breach of Mrs Jonathan’s right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty under Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended). The action by SERAP seeks to coerce the Attorney General of the Federation to embark on a breach of the same right when the Attorney General is in a better position than SERAP and the Court to know whether or not there is any evidence of wrongdoing by Mrs Jonathan.”

“SERAP’s action is blatant misuse of the processes of this Court. SERAP therefore no longer deserves to continue as an incorporated entity and ought to be dissolved. It is just and equitable to dissolve SERAP in the circumstances of this case. Damages will not be adequate compensation for the irreparable damage Mrs Jonathan will suffer if the application is not granted. The Plaintiff undertakes as to damages in favour of SERAP in the event the instant application ought not to have been granted.”

“There has been a running battle between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Mrs Jonathan with respect to the release of her legitimately earned funds which were deposited in accounts opened in the names of certain companies by one of her husband’s aides without her authorization.”

“The funds in question were legitimate gifts from her friends and well-wishers over the last 15 years which she had been saving in order to utilize to upgrade family businesses and concerns which had been somewhat dormant by reason of the long period of her husband service as a public officer in Nigeria.”

“The gifts were given in small contributions by several persons some of whom she cannot even now recall over this period of 15 years sometimes in as small a gift as N250,000 Naira. In order to preserve the value of these funds which she did not require for any purpose at the time she changed them into foreign exchange and kept them as cash for a long period in her home safe in Port Harcourt and Abuja.”

“It was when the family home in Otuoke was burnt down by hoodlums under the instigation of political adversaries in 2010 that she began to think about banking these gifts which had now grown to large sums in United States Dollars. In 2010 she therefore summoned one of her husband’s domestic aids, Waripamo-Owei Emmanuel Dudafa to assist her in opening bank accounts into which the funds could be deposited.”

“Unknown to her the said Dudafa in a bid to be discreet about the owner of the funds decided to bank the funds in the names of companies owned by him. When she discovered this she was constrained to continue with the names of the companies when she was advised that it did not make any difference as to the ownership of the funds since the director of the company would appoint her as sole signatory to the accounts in question.”

“When in 2016 Dudafa was arrested and detained she had no fear for the funds as she realized that the funds could not be attributable to him once it was discovered that she was the sole signatory to the said accounts. It was therefore a rude shock to her when she discovered that a no transaction order had been placed on the accounts by the EFCC in the belief that the funds belonged to Dudafa.”

“She instructed her solicitors to further write to the EFCC to inform them that the funds belong to her and that they formed a part of her legitimate earnings over the last 15 years. It was this letter that was leaked by the EFCC to the media that became sensationalized and led to the plaintiff’s vilification and attack by ignorant persons who had no information about the matter.”

“SERAP is playing to the public gallery in order to gain the notoriety it has achieved over the past years. SERAP has done this mostly by intervening in high profile issues without regard to the rights of persons it claims to protect. SERAP jumped into the fray of ignorant accusations being made against Mrs Dame Patience Jonathan in the public media and has begun a campaign of calumny against her using online, print and electronic media to publish to the public unfounded and malicious allegations that she stole the funds in question and ought to be prosecuted.”

“SERAP has maintained this position, notwithstanding the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever by which Mrs Jonathan could be prosecuted for obtaining the funds through unlawful means. In furtherance of this campaign, SERAP, being in breach of its own objects for which it was incorporated, has continued to proclaim the guilt of Mrs Jonathan in the media and recently was widely reported in the news media to have commenced a self-serving action to attempt to coerce the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute her.”

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