Supreme Court has described as illegal, the prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) of state governors who allegedly stole while in office.
The court which also held that the EFCC has no power to look into the finances of states, removes the powers of the agency to prosecute a governor who stole money from his state and also barred the anti-corruption agency from investigating state government’s contractors or anybody that was complicit in stealing or embezzlement of state money.
The ruling delivered last week by the apex court in the country has therefore given a reprieve to former Abia state governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, Rochas Okorocha, former Imo governor, and other state governors that are currently under prosecution by the anti-graft agency for allegedly stealing their states’ money while in office.
Recall that Abdullahi Adamu, a former governor of Nasarawa State and the current national chairman of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) is also being prosecuted by the EFCC over alleged illegal financial dealings and misappropriation of funds.
This development may have dealt a blow to the anti-corruption stance of the Nigerian government as the apex court has now cleared the way for state governors to loot their states dry.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration established the EFCC in 2003, in response to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), which named Nigeria as one of 23 countries non-cooperative in the international community’s efforts to fight money laundering, fraudulent banking transactions, miscellaneous offences, advance fee fraud, and other criminal acts that are financial and economic in nature.
The agency also strives to put an end to any act that breaks the penal and criminal codes.
However, in the suit numbered SC/CR/161/2020 and filed by Joseph Nwobike SAN against the Federal Government, the supreme court held that the EFCC being a creation of federal law, does not have the powers to prosecute offences that are not corruption cases and that the only corruption cases it can investigate are cases involving the movement of cash from Nigeria to foreign countries and corruption cases involving federal finances.
The governors, according to the ruling can only be prosecuted by the attorney general of the state or the Nigerian police, or any other agency that is covered by the Criminal Code, Penal code, or any other law.
With this development, the EFCC can no longer cite sections 12 to 18, and section 46 of the EFCC Amended Act 2004 in the prosecution of all kinds of cases whether emanating from the state or federal government, as its powers are regulated by the global action against corruption as regulated by the United Nations conventions which Nigeria is a signatory to.
The ruling also forbids the federal government from using the EFCC to control the governors of a state and also to persecute any politician that is not in its good book.
States are now free to make their own laws to establish anti-corruption agencies to deal with corruption cases emanating in the states, though the Criminal Code and penal code have provisions that deal with corruption.
Also, the ruling voided the powers of the EFCC to prosecute some former governors of Abia state who are placed on a travel watch list and their children that are also being investigated for corruption because the subject matter is money belonging to Abia State.
By virtue of the Criminal Code law of Abia state, the police or the Attorney general of Abia state are now empowered to prosecute those former governors and their children for stealing Abia state money.
Also, in states like Imo State where the sitting governor believes that former governor Rochas Okorocha stole from Imo State, the police can investigate Okorocha and prosecute him in the state High court for stealing the state money, if the investigation reveals that he stole money.
The implication of the Supreme Court ruling is that a governor and his cronies can now steal as much as they want from the state, and all the governor needs to do is to install a successor who would watch the back of the old governor, although this is subject to the powers of the police to charge anyone to court.
However, the powers of Nolle prosequi of the Attorney general of the state under section 179 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 and under the Criminal Code and penal code are still supervening and all-embracing.
EFCC which act was re-enacted in 2004 had docked a number of governors that finished from office either at the end of their first term, the second term or were impeached over one corruption charge or the other.
By the time they completed their first and second tenures in office in 2003 and 2007 respectively, the anti-graft agency began to dock Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Jolly Nyame (Taraba), Abubakar Audu (Kogi), Saminu Turaki (Jigawa), Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti), Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu), James Ibori ( Delta) and Lucky Igbinedion ( Edo), beginning with Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (Bayelsa) in 2005.
Subsequently, Boni Haruna (Adamawa), Rasheed Ladoja (Oyo) and Michael Botmang (Plateau), Attahiru Bafarawa (Sokoto), Ahmed Sani (Zamfara), Peter Odili (Rivers), Adamu Abdullahi (Nasarawa), Ibrahim Shekarau (Kano), Danjuma Goje (Gombe), Ikedi Ohakim (Imo), Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Gabriel Suswam (Benue), Martin Elechi (Ebonyi), Obong Victor Attah (Akwa Ibom), Gbenga Daniel (Ogun), Jolly Nyame (Taraba), Adebayo Alao-Akala (Oyo) followed.
Former governors that were marked for prosecution by other anti-graft agencies like the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), include Senator Bukola Saraki, Senator Bola Tinubu and Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan (as the then Governor of Bayelsa state).
This followed the resolve of the Joint Task Force empanelled by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in June 2006 comprising of ICPC, EFCC, CCB, the Department of State Services (DSS), and the Nigerian Police headed by Ribadu which named 15 former governors found to have breached the code of conduct for public officials and recommended them for prosecution in line with the Code of Conduct Bureau Act.
Those listed were James Ibori (Delta), Lucky Igbinedion (Edo), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti), Boni Haruna (Adamawa) Olugbenga Justus Daniel (Ogun), Olagunsoye Oyinlola (Osun), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi), Atahiru Bafarawa( Sokoto) Ibrahim Saminu Turaki (Jigawa), Ahmad Makarfi (Kaduna), Goodluck Jonathan (Bayelsa), Chimaroke Nnamani ( Enugu), Achike Udenwa ( Imo), Sam Egwu ( Ebonyi) And Bola Tinubu (Lagos).