Fact Check: Judge Has Delivered Rulings On N70tn Allegedly Hid In 29 Banks

It was recently reported by some online platforms that Justice Peter Lifu of a Lagos Federal High Court, has adjourned hearing of a suit seeking for the Recovery and Forfeiture of over N70 trillion of looted funds in the hands of few Nigerians, till March 6, 2023.

The reports had it that Justice Lifu had on March 7, 2022, the last hearing of the Suit marked Fhc/L/CS/968/2021, adjourned till March 31, 2022 for ruling, but later fixed March 6, 2023, for further hearing.

The money in questions was said to have been stashed away in 29 bank accounts, mainly in First bank and others, is enough to fund Nigeria’s budget for three years with some change to keep.

The reports particularly stated that “Honourable Justice Lifu presided on the matter on March 7, 2022 and adjourned to March 31, 2022 for ruling. Since then, it has been adjournment upon adjournment with the next adjournment scheduled for 6th of March 2023.”

However, fact check conducted by this newsdishng.com, revealed that Justice Lifu had on May 27, 2022, delivered ruling on the application filed by two companies, Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, who sought to be joined in the suit.

Justice Lifu after taken parties’ arguments on the application, delivered a concise ruling which reads thus: “I have carefully gone through the application, various affidavit evidence, exhibits and written addresses of all parties. I am of the firm view that the issues to be determined by the Court are:

  1. Whether the two applicants are necessary and proper parties to this suit for the effectual determination of this suit?
  2. Whether there exist facts that will warrant this Court to set aside the interim orders made on 16 August, 2021.

“It is trite law that the Court will join all persons as parties to a suit who may be affected one way or the other by the decision of the Court. A court will grant an application for joinder where the presence of a party seeking to be joined is necessary for the effectual determination of the suit In the instant suit, both Applicants seeking to be joined have made depositions in their respective affidavits that they have’been affected by the order made by this Court on 6th August, 2021. Both Applicants alleged and exhibited documents in support that they are co-owners of the accounts frozen by the order of Court and that the funds in these accounts are not illegally acquired.

“On issue two, it is trite law that a Court which made exparte orders in the interim has jurisdiction to set aside such orders where it is shown that such orders were made as a result of misrepresentation or suppression of material facts. However, in R. Benkay Nig. Ltd v. Cadbury Nig. Plc (2006) NWLR Pt 976 pg 338 at 368 paras F-H Onnoghen J.C.A. (as he then was) stated as follows: “Even though it is the law that an applicant for exparte order of mareva injunction or any other injunction for that matter must make full disclosure of all relevant and material facts and that failure to do so may lead to the said exparte order being liable to be set aside, the suppressed facts must be relevant to a grant of the application and must be one whose presence would have led the lower court to refuse the application. In her words, the suppressed fact or facts must relate to the principles that guide the court in arriving at its decision other to grant or refuse the grant of the application…” (underlining mine for emphasis).

“In the instant case, Learned Counsel for the Applicant contended that the Plaintiffs/Respondents’ representation that the Security Accounts harbours proceeds of crime and that the accounts have the approval of the President to be exempted from the Treasury Single Account (TSA) significantly influenced the Court’s decision to grant the interim orders. The Plaintiffs/Respondents have not tendered evidence to dispute the documents tendered to buttress the alleged facts by the Applicant Rather, the Respondent attacked the probative value to be placed on the documents on grounds of non-certification and non affixing of seal. I have gone through these documents and I am convinced that these documents were duly signed by persons who are duly identified on the documents. More so, the appellate court in British American Tobacco Nig. Ltd v. International Tobacco Co. Plc (2013) 2 NWLR Pt 1339 pg 493 has held that public documents exhibited as secondary copies in affidavit evidence do not necessarily need to be certified true copies.

“Consequently, I am convinced that the facts alleged influenced the Court’s decision to grant the interim orders.

“Joinder of parties to a suit as in the instant case is a justiciable issue. A party who is interested in a pending suit can apply to be joined. The test to be applied by the court is whether the person sought to be joined or seeking to be joined will have his interest irreparably prejudiced if an order for joinder is not made. Any party therefore that may be affected, by the order of Court in a suit ought to be joined. This is the position of the law. The court will order a joinder whether as Claimant or Defendant, any party whose presence before the Court is necessary to enable the Court effectually and completely adjudicate upon and settle all questions involved in the matter. See the case of A.G. Federation v AG Abia State (2001) 11 NWLR P 725 pg 689.

“A careful perusal of the affidavits of the parties shows that the Applicants seeking to be joined have perceived interests in the subject matter leading to the exparte order sought to be set aside. The only main reason which makes any party a necessary party is that he should be bound by the order. The Nigeria Agip Oil Company Ltd and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation who are interested in this suit should be allowed to ventilate their grievances to prevent a multiplicity of actions as such eventual decision of Court creates estoppel. See the case of Ajayi v Jolayemi (2001) 10 NWLR Pt 722 P’ 516 at 531.

“In the further analysis of this instant application, the applicant has asked for extension of time to apply for a discharge of the exparte order made by this Court on the 6th of August 2021 during the Court annual vacation.

“Interim orders by its very nature made exparte are to last for fourteen (14) days period. This is to accommodate the fundamental principle of fair hearing guaranteed by Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Exparte orders are not meant to last up to the time when the civil rights and obligations of the parties are determined. See the case of Seven Ur Bottling Co. Ltd v. Abiola & Sons (1998) 3 NWLR Pt 383 pg 282. Order 26 (9) (1) of the Rules of this Court accommodates the instant application for discharge of exparte orders or for varying same. By Order 26(10) thereof, such exparte orders ordinarily should not last for more than fourteen (14) days.

“Going through the order made on the 6th of August, 2021, leg one (1) of the order was not complied wiith within seventy-two (72) hours as ordered by the Court. Leg four (4) of the said order on forfeiture of monies listed in the accounts in the order has lasted from 6th August 2021 to this date which is well over nine (9) months is not in consonance with the principles guiding exparte orders. Leg five (5) of the said order limiting verification of information on the affected accounts by the Central Bank of Nigeria has not been complied with Yor over nine (9) months. To crown it all, leg seven (7) of the order sought to be set aside reads: “That the grant of this order is conditional to the Applicant filing progress report to be made on the recovery of such proceeds of crime at any period not later than 90 days from today 6 August 2021, otherwise this order lapse unless the court is satisfied of the reasonableness of any such default.”

“The order for the filing of report lapsed on the 7 of November, 2021. The report was however file 4 belatedly on the 224 of March 2022 almost about three (3) months after its lapse. It is curious to observe that there is no application to extend the time to enable the Plaintiffs/Respondents comply with that order. Moreover, the order of 6th August, 2021 gave 6th December, 2021 as a return date. On the said 6th December, 2021, no reason was given by the Plaintiffs Counsel as to why leg seven (7) of the order requiring the filing of progress report was not complied with. Suffice it to say that by the tenor of the entire order, it has automatically lapsed as at then.

“In my considered view therefore, since the condition given by the Court was not met, the order had automatically abated in operation as at 6 December, 2021. Assuming the progress report filed on the 22nd March 2022 is anything to go by, it does not contain any evidence of recovery of such alleged proceeds of crime.

“By Order 56 (1) of the Rules of this Court 2019, any order deemed necessary to further the course of justice in any given case or matter can be made by the Court.

“The prayers sought by the Applicants are discretionary. Such discretion judicially and judiciously applied must have the foundation of facts and principles of law as a pedestal and platform in law. The argument of the Plaintiffs/Respondents in my considered view lack such foundation or pedestal.

“In line with the foregoing, the two applications succeed and it is hereby ordered as follows:

  1. That the Applicants are necessary, proper and desirable parties in this suit to enable its effectual determination. Hence, the Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited is hereby joined as the 18th Defendant and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation as the 1st Defendant.
  2. That all court processes shall be amended to reflect this joinder.
  3. The interim orders made on 6 August 2021 are hereby discharged.
    Ruling is so entered.

HON. JUSTICE P.O. LIFU (JP) JUDGE
27th MAY, 2022.”

The judge thereafter adjourned the matter till September 26, 2022.

However, the court did not sit on the adjourned date, as the judge was on official assignment. Consequently, the matter was adjourned to November 29, 2022, for hearing

But the matter could not go on as scheduled, because of the pre-election cases which were time bound.

It will be recalled that the Honourable Chief Judge of Federal High Court, Justice John E. Tsoho, constituted a Task Force judges to handle pre-election matters within four weeks between November 7 and December 7, 2022.

The Chief Judge made it mandatory for all judges that are parts of the Task Force team, which Justice Lifu, was one of them, not to attend to any matter except the pre-election cases during the period.

Consequently, the case could not hold on November 29, as earlier scheduled, the matter was subsequently adjourned till March 6, 2022.

With the chain of event narrated above, it could not have been said that the trial judge, Honourable Justice Lifu, deliberately adjourning the case without any reasonable cause.

Going by the antecedent of the judge, Justice Peter Lifu, remains one the dutiful, courageous and fastest juris with an impeccable character.