By Ayo Kehinde
Justice Babalakin Quadri of an Abuja High court has summoned the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu to appear before it on August 28 over the frozen accounts of the Benue State government.
In a hearing of an exparte motion filed by Emeka Ikayan, counsel to the state government, the court on Thursday restrained the EFCC, from freezing the account of the state.
To buttress his action, Justice Quadri cited section 128 and 129 of the Constitution, both of which confers on the legislature of a state the powers to “make laws, expose corruption, inefficiency in the executive or administration of the laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it …” and its powers to set up a committee for that purpose of investigation.
He directed that the summons be served also on the Speaker of the House of Assembly, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice and Local Government Chairmen of Benue State before the next hearing of the case fixed for August 28.
Earlier on the day, it was reported that the EFCC had lifted the siege on the Benue State account.
But just as officials of the state were heaving a sigh of relief, news broke that the EFCC had struck in Akwa Ibom state, Thursday.
According to Charles Udoh, the state Commissioner for Information, the state was denied access to its bank accounts by officials of the banks on the grounds that the accounts cannot be operated for now, citing directive from the EFCC.
He said” On Tuesday morning, we received a request from our bankers that certain accounts of the state has been placed under suspension by the orders of the EFCC”
Explaining further, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemenduo Nwoko said they received notification from the state bankers citing security issues.
“When we asked for warrants from the courts, we were given none. Honestly, we do not know what to say, but I promise you, all those who have hands in this matter will be made to face the wrath of the law”.
Meanwhile governors have risen in defense of their besieged counterparts in the affected states, flaying the EFCC for flagrant disobedience to the rule of law.
Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum and governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, his Kano and Rivers counterparts, Umar Ganduje and Nyesom Wike, respectively, have separately condemned the agency’s action.
While Yari said EFCC was acting unconstitutionally in the matter and called on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene, Ganduje tasked the crimes commission to stop it actions forthwith. For Wike, the EFCC by its illegal action is trying to “overthrow the governments of those states.”
“Until the Benue governor defected from the ruling APC to the PDP, nothing about freezing its account was heard, Now that a former governor of Akwa Ibom state has defected to the APC, it is the turn of the state government account to be frozen. I call on the Federal Government to sack Ibrahim Magu,” said the Rivers state governor.
Assessing the action by the EFCC, a legal expert and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Oladipo Lamikara stated that what the crimes commission was doing violates the principle of separation of powers.
Speaking in an Africa Independent Television, AIT, programme, monitored in Lagos on Thursday, Lamikaran said “ the EFCC is violating the principles of separation of powers. What it has embarked on, freezing state accounts, is a matter for the state legislature. A government cannot steal from the state but individuals can do so, whether elected or appointed”
EFCC, under money laundering offense in sections 6 and 7 of the 2004 Act setting it up, can proceed to do what it is doing only if it has a court order duly obtained in a court of competent jurisdiction, which it must serve to the appropriate authorities. Moreover, the accounts so affected must be under investigation.
In a similar case involving the Ekiti state government and the agency in 2017, Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Ado-Ekiti, said the EFCC, would be usurping the powers of the state legislature by acting extra-judicially if it chooses to freeze a state account that is not under criminal investigation by the lawmakers.