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On EFCC’s immunity to probe states

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On EFCC’s immunity to probe states

 

I ran into an old time friend, Musa recently during a professional conference that held in Jos, Plateau State. Amid our numerous conversations pertaining to politics and governance, he said he had learnt that at the moment various states’ legislators in Nigeria were merely aides to their respective governors.

Consequently, the fellow who resides abroad opined that the various law enforcement agencies in the country needn’t wait till a whistle is blown by such set of politicians before scrutinizing a sitting governor’s activities. In my candid response, I told him that my only fear and worry remained the fact that even the said enforcement agents could be pocketed by the states’ number one citizens, especially in situations where their statutory services are mostly needed.

It seems as if we foresaw what would be ruled soonest by a judicial council domiciled in the country. It’s not anymore news that on Tuesday January 30, 2018, a Federal High Court sitting in Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State declared that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) could not probe states’ finances without a report of indictment from states’ Houses of Assembly.

The ruling was informed by a suit filed by the Ekiti State Government via its Attorney General against the EFCC, Inspector-General of Police, the state’s Assembly Speaker and Clerk, Chairman of the state’s Universal Basic Education Board, as well as its Auditor General and Accountant General. Various financial institutions in the state were equally among the defendants.

The aforesaid suit was filed in reaction to invitation letters sent by the anti-graft commission to a few government officials in the state, seeking details of some of the state’s financial transactions. It’s also of note that the EFCC reportedly extended the gesture to the affected banks, requesting financial books of the state in their custody. It’s noteworthy that the government in question had earlier written the banks, urging them not to oblige the commission with the requested information.
The court presided over by Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo added that the banks weren’t entitled to adhere to such instruction.

It further held that the EFCC lacked the immunity to usurp the oversight functions vested in states’ legislatures under Sections 128 and 129 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, to initiate a probe or criminal proceedings against a state official when need be. It thus stated that only states’ Assembly was immune with oversight and investigation roles over state finances, appropriation and implementation.

Justice Taiwo’s order was a clear way of telling Nigerians that the EFCC, among other similar law enforcement agencies, lack jurisdiction at the state level. It suffices to say that, by his declaration, the commission had been told to restrict its activities to only within the federal ambit, which signifies that only institutions or parastatals owned and managed by the Federal Government could be probed by the anti-graft body.

If such a declaration holds water or anything to go by, I’m afraid, it’s high time we scrapped the EFCC and its likes. Of course, I see no reason the existence of the commission ought to continue if it cannot extend its tentacles to the various states and local councils across the federation as the ongoing anti-corruption war progresses, because graft is undoubtedly ubiquitous.

It’s then needless to reiterate that by the judgement of the court, the judge had not just ridiculed the jurisdiction of the ‘almighty’ EFCC but had as well questioned the legality behind its establishment let alone day-to-day activity.
A curious person may then ask or would want to know if the Acts binding the commission are in conflict with the country’s constitution, because everyone is arguably not unaware that the body was primarily instituted to tackle financial crimes across the nooks and crannies of the federation irrespective of where the culpable individual is coming from. The cases of late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and James Ibori, former governors of Bayelsa and Delta states respectively, were obvious proof to this affirmation.

Waiting until a nod is received from, or whistle blown by, the state lawmakers simply implies that the revered EFCC is no longer a watchdog over public servants in the country as regards corruption. Similarly, opining that the legislators’ oversight function is enough to probe the state’s accounts was a colossal error and an overstatement. I wonder what else is expected of members of a legislature, in a state where the governor has abruptly become an emperor, than to continually act as instructed by the number one citizen.

However, I wouldn’t stop pondering over the reason the EFCC and other related agencies would think it wise to focus only on a few states whereas the country is currently made up of 36 distinct states. Does it imply that graft, or corruption in general, is peculiar to a certain set of Nigerians or localities? For the sake of way forward, such a question doesn’t deserve to be ignored.

So, as the EFCC is headed for the Appeal Court to counter the judgement of the lower one having understood that the ruling is bizarre, unfounded and laughable, it must acknowledge that corruption is an ubiquitous societal cankerworm, hence the need to extend its proboscis to other territories that are more evil than its current preys. Think about it!

• Nwaozor, the Executive Director, Docfred Resource Hub, writes via: frednwaozor@gmail.com

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