Relief came the way of former first lady, Patience Jonathan, on Tuesday, when the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions directed six commercial banks to unfreeze her accounts following her petition.
The committee chaired by Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) representative from Abia State, issued the directive in Abuja at the hearing on Mrs Jonathan’s petition.
The banks involved are Union Bank, First Bank, EcoBank, Diamond Bank, Fidelity Bank and Skye Bank.
Recall that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had directed the banks to freeze the accounts over allegations of illicit sources.
The affected banks were represented at the hearing and made submissions on the status of the accounts, with the exception of officials of First Bank and Skye Bank who were not present.
Officials of Union Bank led by Kenneth Otowo, a lawyer, told the panel that the bank placed Mrs Jonathan’s account under a ‘precautionary restriction’ following the EFCC’s directive.
“We received a communication from EFCC to put a precautionary restriction on the account. The letter was dated March 21, 2016, so we had to act based on that”, Otowo said.
Responding, the committee condemned the action, saying the bank could only take such a decision if the EFCC had provided proof of a court order to that effect.
“Until EFCC proves otherwise, I’ll ask you to remove the precautionary restriction on the account. Let me tell you, whatever you’ll do, you must follow the law. A bank can’t hold a legal entity to ransom.
“I want to order all other banks that all the accounts that have no specific pending order from the courts, please release them”, the chairman of the committee said.
In his own submission, the counsel to EcoBank, Afam Osigwe, expressed surprise, stating that Mrs Jonathan’s account could not have been on restriction because there was no court order tendered.
He added that the bank would have to re-check its records and get back to the committee.
Mrs Jonathan’s lawyers had accused Diamond Bank of freezing three of her accounts.
However, Unoma Ndulue who represented the bank said two out of the three accounts were fully operational, while one was closed.
Mrs. Jonathan’s lawyers said they did not have a direct issue with the Fidelity Bank, noting that it was through the EFCC.
The committee also gave Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of the EFCC, up to October 4 to appear before it or have an arrest warrant issued against him.