A civic group, Change Nigeria Movement, on Tuesday slammed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for categorising a sitting Nigerian governor as a flight risk.
The group decried the measure as partisan, sloppy and unconstitutional, and demanded its immediate withdrawal.
Governor Ayo Fayose has been a target of EFCC investigation and potential prosecution for several months. The anti-graft agency recently notified the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to place the governor on a watch list, roughly a month before he leaves office, PREMIUM TIMES found on Sunday.
The EFCC in its September 12 to the NCS said Mr Fayose was being sought for infractions which include abuse of office, corruption and money laundering, and it was important to tighten surveillance on him as his exit from office draws closer.
The NCS headquarters in Abuja promptly asked all commands and formations across the country to comply with the directive and prevent Mr Fayose from exiting Nigeria via the air, land or even sea.
The Nigerian Constitution accords Mr Fayose, as the incumbent governor of Ekiti State, an absolute immunity from criminal prosecution. The governor has written to the EFCC that he will make himself available in the afternoon of October 16, the day he will hand over to Kayode Fayemi, whose victory in the July 14 governorship election flipped the state to the All Progressives Congress.
Mr Fayose has accused the EFCC of hounding him because he belongs to the Peoples Democratic Party, saying he would not be cowed into denouncing his political affiliation. Olusola Eleka, My Fayose’s deputy governor and the PDP candidate in the election, is currently challenging Mr Fayemi’s victory at the election petitions tribunal.
‘A non-partisan intervention’
In a statement to PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday morning, the CNM said the EFCC and NCS displayed brazen pettiness and partisanship by placing Mr Fayose on a watch list while still a serving governor.
The group, which described itself as non-partisan, said categorising Mr Fayose as a flight risk amounted to a punishment, an action the Constitution prohibits.
The circular was deliberately leaked to the media to “embarrass the governor”, Abubakar Usman, leader of the group, said.
Inadvertently, however, “they are embarrassing the sovereignty of Nigeria before the international community and also creating bad precedent for the generation yet unborn,” Mr Usman added.
“We say very expressly that this is not about Fayose, the governor should face the full wrath of the law if he has stolen the commonwealth of his people; this is about safeguarding our law; an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.
“We call on the Nigerian Governors Forum to speak against this tyranny. It is Fayose today, it may be another person tomorrow. Thus, we consider the actions of EFCC and NCS as a declaration of war against the constitution and sovereignty of Nigeria,” he added.
Customs or Immigration?
The CNM also raised serious concerns about the confusion which the EFCC appears to have thrown Nigerians into by writing to the NCS which is responsible for the movement of goods across borders.
“Also, just like other well-meaning Nigerians, we are embarrassed that the Ibrahim Magu-led EFCC could not differentiate between the constitutional functions of the Nigeria Customs Service and that of the Nigeria Immigration Service,” the statement said.
The CNM asked Mr Magu to explain whether the function of Customs is to check the movement of goods in and outside the shores of Nigeria or the movement of people in or outside the nation of Nigeria.
Mr Usman accused the EFCC of escalating its partisan pursuit of Mr Fayose, saying the agency first showed its hands when it fawned over the PDP loss in Ekiti governorship election and grandstanded about prosecuting Mr Fayose. The EFCC later retracted the statement and apologised to Nigerians.
He also wondered why security agencies allowed Nigeria’s former finance minister, Kemi Adeosun, to leave the country when she should have been apprehended to face charges for forging her youth service scheme certificate.
PREMIUM TIMES sought further clarification from the EFCC about why it contacted Customs for a task ordinarily expected to be carried out by immigration authorities, but the anti-graft office’s spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, declined comments over two days. A spokesperson for Customs also declined comments to between Monday and Tuesday.
A senior official at NIS headquarters in Abuja who did not want to be identified because he was not authorised to speak on the position of the agency told PREMIUM TIMES there was no alert from the EFCC for a surveillance on Mr Fayose at immigration checkpoints.
The CNM gave the EFCC and Customs 24 hours to reverse the leaked directive and apologise for embrassing Nigerians for the sloppy manner it was handled.
“We warn that failure to do as advised would be greeted by a mother of all mass action at the premises of EFCC office in Lagos and Abuja,” said the group, which described itself as “apolitical” and only working to “promote good governance, expose fraud in public service and hold representatives and government institutions accountable to the people.”
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