The acting chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, has said that the Commission is yet to prosecute former Rivers State governor, Dr Peter Odili, because of a perpetual injunction granted by a court which stopped the anti-graft agency from moving against the former governor.
It also averred that the Court of Appeal has further frustrated the EFCC by refusing to list its appeal against the above court order for hearing since 2008, thereby effectively stalling the case since then.
This came to light when the EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu, led a delegation of the Commission to the headquarters of LEADERSHIP newspapers yesterday in Abuja.
A member of the delegation and EFCC prosecutor, Johnson Ojogbene, explained that the Commission is handicapped when it comes to issue of injunctions as there is nothing anyone can do about a court judgement except to obey it.
It was reported that the Odili case started in January 2007 when the EFCC issued a report of its investigation into the finances of the Rivers State government under the then outgoing governor Peter Odili.
The “Interim Report of the EFCC on former Governor Odili” allegedly disclosed that “over N100 billion of Rivers State’s funds have been diverted by Odili.”
The report also contained serious allegations of fraud, conspiracy, conversion of public funds, foreign exchange malpractice, money laundering, stealing and abuse of oath of office against Odili.
But to stop Odili’s arrest following the indicting report, on February 22, 2007, the then attorney general and commissioner for justice for Rivers State filed a suit challenging the powers of the EFCC to probe the affairs of the state and claiming that the activities of the EFCC were prejudicial to the smooth running of the government of Rivers State.
On March 23, 2007, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, granted all the declaratory and injunctive reliefs sought by the plaintiff. These include a declaration that the EFCC investigations are invalid, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void; an injunction restraining the EFCC and the other defendants from publicising the report of the investigation, and an injunction restraining the EFCC from any further action in relation to the economic and financial crimes allegedly crimes committed by Odili.
And sensing that he would be arrested after his term in office, the former River’s State governor again filed a suit against the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice and the EFCC, seeking to enforce the judgment by way of an ex parte order barring the EFCC from investigating or arresting or prosecuting him.
Meanwhile, though Justice Buba declined to grant the prayers ex parte – by ordering that all parties be served notice of the motion, but on March 5, 2008, the learned judge held that his earlier judgement delivered in March 2007 was binding on all parties. He also granted a perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from arresting, detaining and prosecuting Odili for whatever may have transpired during his tenure as governor based on the purported investigation.
Buba was immediately afterwards transferred to Asaba and later Lagos divisions of the High Court.
Curiously, it was learnt, the EFCC failed to appeal Buba’s judgement immediately, but following widespread public outcries against the development, the EFCC later instituted an appeal before the River State Court of Appeal seeking to vacate the perpetual order of the Federal High Court presided over by Buba but the case had remain largely dormant.
It would be recalled that during this time, Odili was a frontrunner for president on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and hoping to replace former President Olusegun Obasanjo while his wife, Mary, was a notable justice of the Court of Appeal. She is now a justice of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.
It was observed that the anti-graft agency had not been able to vacate the perpetual injunction which was filed in 2008 when Justice Mary Odili was still serving as a Judge of the Court of Appeal, before her elevation to the Supreme Court.
When asked why the EFCC did not appeal against certain perpetual injunctions, since injunctions can only be given on temporary basis, the Commission’s prosecutor further noted that on the issue of Odili and every other persons with perpetual injunctions against prosecution, the EFCC had appealed the judgements, adding that Odili’s case is presently hanging at the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division.
He stated that there is the need for proper synergy between the judiciary and the anti-graft agencies in the anti-corruption fight as there is noting the EFCC or anyone can do to overturn the judgement of any court except to appeal and when the judiciary falls to cooperate, the cases could be stalled for ages.
While responding to a question on the propriety of having special courts to handle corruption issues, as it would help in dispensing judgements faster, the EFCC said the issue was very difficult to handle.
According to Ojogbene, the establishment of special court will necessitate a review and amendment of the constitution as any act of special court will not be recognised without having the backing of the constitution.
He further noted that the EFCC required the assistance and cooperation of all necessary key stakeholders – legislature, judiciary and even the executive – in order to tackle corruption effectively.
The commission also explained why files multiple charges against a suspect.
It said though it had started working on filing fewer charges and getting prompt conviction, the EFCC would not be pressured into overlooking some important charges just to avoid having a long list of charges.
It said, “Imagine where someone was arrested for alleged committing crimes for more than 20 times? It would be wrong for the Commission to just file one case and leave out the remaining 19 as the court’s judgement will be based on the one case filed instead of on the 20 different crimes.”
The EFCC, however, explained that with new laws and continued improvement in different aspects of the laws, the Commission will keep improving on the ways of handling cases.
When asked why the agency arrests accused persons before investigation and prosecution, it noted that it was clearly aware of the process of investigating and arraigning suspects before waiting on the court to decide on detaining suspects, but the problem is that some suspects tend to run away after getting a tip-off of EFCC’s plan. This, the Commission said, makes their cases difficult as the Commission is now forced to bring in suspects, and then get a court detention order so as to ensure that the suspects do not abscond during the period of investigation and prosecution.
Earlier, the chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, had sought media partnership in the fight against corruption, just as he noted that the Commission would continue to be open to criticism as far as the job of ridding Nigeria of corruption is done.