The House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions has directed six commercial banks to free accounts operated by former first lady, Patience Jonathan.
The committee chaired by Uzoma Nkem-Abonta (Abia-PDP), gave the directive on Tuesday in Abuja at a hearing on a petition by Mrs. Jonathan.
The affected banks are Union Bank, EcoBank, Diamond Bank, Fidelity Bank and Skye Bank.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had directed the banks to freeze the accounts over allegations of corruption in the sources of the funds.
Officials of Union Bank, led by a lawyer, Kenneth Otowo, had told the panel that the bank placed Mrs. Jonathan’s account under a ‘precautionary restriction’ following a directive by the EFCC.
“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,’’ he said.
But, the committee deplored the action, saying the bank could only take such decision if EFCC proved that it had obtained 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 committee chairman said.
The counsel to EcoBank, Afam Osigwe, said Mrs. Jonathan’s account could not have been on restriction because there was no court order to that effect.
He later said that the bank would cross-check its records and get back to the committee.
As for Diamond Bank, Mr. Jonathan’s lawyers said three of her accounts were frozen there.
However, Unoma Ndulue, who represented the bank, said two out of the three accounts were fully operative, while one was closed.
On Fidelity Bank, Mrs. Jonathan’s lawyers said they did not have a direct issue with the bank, but that it was through the EFCC.
Officials of First Bank and Skye Bank were not present at the meeting.
Meanwhile, the committee has given Ibrahim Magu, the EFCC acting Chairman, up to October 4 to appear before it or have arrest warrant issued against him.
Similarly, the panel asked Mrs. Jonathan’s lawyers and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to reconcile their positions on an alleged tax default of over N10 million.
FIRS had said that Aridolf Resort Wellness and SPA, owned by Mrs Jonathan, failed to pay taxes in spite of serial reminders.
However, her lawyers insisted that they had paid all their taxes to the agency.