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EFCC Vs Yahaya: Rule of law on trial


On April 17, Nigerians woke up to the sordid spectacle of a large contingent of heavily armed operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission swooping on the Abuja resident of former Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello ostensibly to arrest him to face trial on charges that were still being disputed. The show of force by the anti-graft agency generated mixed reactions.

While a few people supported the Gestapo tactics deployed in the EFCC getting Bello to face a N8billion money laundering charges before a Federal High Court in Abuja, others condemned the incivility in the commission’s approach, insisting it ought to have followed due process in prosecution the former governor on the alleged offence.

Interestingly, both parties are laying claim to following the rule of law. While Bello claims the EFCC is not following the rule of law,  the commission insists that it was operating within its mandate.

Background

Before the April 17, 2023, raid, Bello believing that his fundamental human rights was being threatened,  approached a Kogi State High Court seeking an interim restraining order against the EFCC, pending the determination of a substantive suit before the court.

Satisfied with the grounds upon which the relief was sought, the trial judge, Justice Isa Abdullahi on February 9, 2024, gave an interim restraining order against the commission from taking any action against Bello, pending the determination of the substantive matter.

But the EFCC later approached the Court of Appeal on March 11, 2024, asking the appellate court to set aside the interim restraining order.

The EFCC further informed the appellate court that the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to assist Bello escape the deserved justice, saying that Bello could not use the lower court to escape its invitation, investigation and possible prosecution.

The Court of Appeal, Abuja, adjourned the Appeal to  April 22,  2024, while refusing to hear EFCC’s application for a stay of the order of interim injunction.  In further affirming its earlier interim orders, the Kogi High Court delivered judgment in the substantive suit and directed the commission to seek the leave of the Court of Appeal before taking further step against Bello.

In a dramatic twist to the imbroglio, EFCC abandoned its Appeal at the Court of Appeal, went before a Federal High Court in Abuja and secured an arrest warrant against Bello. Bello’s team promptly challenged the arrest warrant by the Federal High Court and  Justice Emeka Nwite, who is now handling the matter has fixed May 10, for his ruling on the propriety of his warrant of arrest against Bello.

While the outcome of Justice Nwite is being awaited, some lawyers, who spoke with Law and Human Rights opined that both the EFCC and Bello  should not recourse to extra judicial steps as parties were now before the court for its necessary adjudication. They stated that parties should allow the judicial process to take its normal course in line with the rule of law.

EFCC operations must be guided by law—Oshomah

In his contribution to the issue, Liborous Oshomah said that despite the laudable efforts EFCC has made in fighting corruption, the agency must adhere to the rule of law in carrying out its operations.

He said: “It is a notorious fact that Yahaya Bello approached the court shortly before he left office, when the harassment defamation and school fees payment became unbearable, and, on February 12, 2024, secured an interim order from the Kogi State High Court restraining the EFCC or its agents and persons related to it from continuing to harass, detaining, arresting or persecuting him, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive originating motion for the enforcement of his fundamental human rights. 

“The EFCC sought to vacate the order at the Appeal Court (Appeal No: CA/ABJ/CV/175/2024: EFCC v. Alhaji Yahaya Bello) and arguments on the Appeal Court was fixed for April 22.

“Despite the subsisting restraining order, the EFCC filed the same charges against him, already before other courts in another Abuja High Court without waiting for the hearing of the appeal which they filed and without vacating the order.

“On   April 17 at 12p.m., the Kogi State High Court gave full judgment enforcing his fundamental human rights and restraining EFCC or its agents from harassing, detaining, arresting or persecuting the applicant with respect to the charges without first obtaining the leave of a superior court a judgment for which they had file a fresh appeal. 

“Surprisingly, about 3p.m., of the same day, the EFCC went to another High Court in Abuja to obtain a warrant of arrest against the former Governor, still without waiting for the outcome of the Appeal Court and despite  an existing order by a court of coordinate jurisdiction.

“These are the contending issues begging for justice in the matter and no matter how you look at it, since we can only use the law to check the law, I state that EFCC cannot operate outside of the laws of the land.

“EFCC is doing a fantastic job and we need them around to ensure sanity amongst our public officials, but against that backdrop, EFCC cannot operate in isolation of the law, as if they are the investigators, prosecutors, judges and jury. Nobody is saying he shouldn’t face trial, but the EFCC should not persecute him before prosecuting him.

“When you hound a man using the media before prosecuting him, it destroys his reputation in the media before going to court, such a person can only run to the court for protection as the courts are not just the last hope of the common man, but the hope for all, hence the Latin maxim, Fat ikstitia ruat cælum, meaning “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.” signifying the belief that justice being a two way traffic must be realised regardless of consequences. 

“Once the person seek protection and such restraining orders are given by the courts for the protection of a party, you can’t turn around to blame the court for granting an order to protect such a person without blaming the agency that persecuted him and chase him into the hallowed chambers of the court for protection.”

EFCC must be tactical —Ufeli

Executive Director of Cadrell Advocacy Center, Evans Ufeli said:  “There are no efforts to stop the EFCC from prosecuting the former Governor of Kogi State, Yahaha Bello. The EFCC is in contempt of court for violating the restraining orders against it by the Kogi State High Court. Even when the EFCC had appealed against the order, submitting itself to the jurisdiction of the court of appeal, it still went ahead to the house of the former governor Bello to arrest him and meet a brick wall. In the face of a subsisting order against the EFCC not to arrest Bello and the subsequent move by EFCC, violating that order amounted to contempt of court.

“The EFCC must be tactical not to put suspects under threat by hounding them before arrest as this will force them to  naturally run to the court, seeking protective remedies and to enforce their fundamental rights, in which case, they’ll procure an order against the EFCC which was exactly what happened in this case. This will, therefore, become cumbersome for the EFCC to handle because they have by themselves created hurdles which will only work against them. This is one thing that is  working against the EFCC in its fight against corruption.”

Commission should stop media trial

Also reacting, an Abuja based lawyer, Obioma Ezenwobodo said, the anti-graft agency should know that its main task is to prosecute and secure conviction.  Ezenwobodo, who is the chairman of the Garki Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA, said, the EFCC should speak little in public and speak more in court with evidence.

According to him, “Anything otherwise will be viewed as media trial which is frowned at in any decent society. The case of former Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN) is a classical example of so much noise without conviction.”

EFCC must vacate interim order —Onokpasa

A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Jesutega Onokpasa, also advised EFCC not to act above the law in its efforts to arrest and prosecute Bello, saying that the commission must first vacate the existing court order restraining it from arresting and prosecuting the former Kogi governor.

He said that what the EFCC was doing at the moment could best be described as persecuting, rather than seeking to prosecute Bello.

He said: “Yahaya Bello  has been trending in the news in a manner that calls for concern with its ramification cutting across serious issues such as fundamental human rights, the rule of law, and then other matters of political significance. As far as we are aware,  Bello had obtained a court order restraining the EFCC from arresting, arraigning or prosecuting him.

‘We state categorically that it was perfectly entitled in law to place reliance on the protection of the law, indeed, the same law which binds absolutely all of us in a civilized society. The motto of the EFCC is that no one is above the law. Well, that starts with the EFCC itself, which is certainly not and cannot possibly be above the law.

“The remedy against an order of court is to vacate the order or to appeal the same, and most certainly not for law enforcement to thump its nose at the court and decompose into lawlessness and brigandage,” he added.

Credit: Vanguard News Nigeria

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