The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has countered the claim by Olisa Agbakoba, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), over his criticism of the commission’s investigation into the finances of the Kogi State Government.
In a statement by its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, on Monday, EFCC said Mr Agbakoba failed to provide evidence to support his claims of the commission’s alleged lawlessness in the said probe.
The commission added that the lawyer also failed in his statement to cite any law to back his claim.
Mr Agbakoba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had criticised the EFCC, saying it had no constitutional right to probe how a state spent its money.
The lawyer said this while speaking with journalists in Lagos on Sunday.
Mr Agbakoba, who described the EFCC’s investigation into the Kogi government’s affairs as an “unwarranted media trial,” noted that only the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and state assemblies had the authority to look into state spending.
Mr Agbakoba made the remark in response to the recent arraignment of a nephew of the Kogi State governor in Abuja on money laundering charges allegedly involving N10 billion belonging to the state government.
Agbakoba’s claims lacks facts
The EFCC, in its statement, said Mr Agbakoba mentioned a Supreme Court judgement to support his assertion without providing any context.
The commission further stated that there had never been a ruling by the Supreme Court preventing it from looking into fraud cases involving state governments.
According to the EFCC, the appellate court ruled in a 2010 case involving Jolly Nyame, a former governor of Taraba State, that the “claim that the money belongs to Taraba State and that the state has exclusive claim on it to the exclusion of any other authority by virtue of section 120 of the 1999 constitution cannot stand.”
The EFCC stated that the decisions of the appellate court had demonstrated that while state assemblies had the authority to look into their own states’ finances, they lacked the power to investigate and pursue fraud charges; rather, such power belonged to agencies like the EFCC.
It said it was “morally reprehensible“ for Mr Agbakoba to “promote the view that state governments cannot be questioned on how they use the resources of their states, and that law enforcement organisations cannot investigate cases of alleged wanton theft of Kogi State’s resources particularly where the alleged thieves do not report themselves!”
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“Had this view been promoted by any other lawyer than Agbakoba who rose to national prominence as advocate of civil liberties and anti-corruption, it would have been pardonable,” it added.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported on Friday how the Kogi State Government attacked the anti-graft agency for conducting a ‘media trail’ campaign regarding the commission’s investigation and trial of the state governor’s nephew as well as the state’s bailout funds.
The state Commissioner for Information and Communication, Kingsley Fanwo, said the intention of the EFCC to investigate the governor’s nephew was to embarrass the government and to save its face after the commission’s investigation into a N20 billion Sterling Bank bailout loan, reportedly met a roadblock.
He insisted that the commission was engaging in a media trial in the governor’s nephew’s case.
But his statement shies away from the fact that the defendants have been arraigned in court.
Read EFCC’s reaction to Mr Abgakoba’s statement below
Kogi: Agbakoba Goofed on EFCC’s Power to Probe States Finances
The attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, been drawn to comments credited to Olisa Agbokoba, SAN, in media reports of Monday, December 19, 2022, wherein he cast aspersion on the Commission’s commitment to rule of law and its investigation of the finances of the Kogi State Government. According to Agbakoba, EFCC not only disregards the rule of law, but has no business inquiring into how the Kogi State Government spends its funds.
The Commission takes great exception at the indecorous and utterly irresponsible attempt by Agbakoba to dress it in the borrowed garb of a lawless entity and a meddlesome interloper, who has no business probing the stealing of Kogi State resources. In all his tirades, no evidence was presented to support his claim that the EFCC has been lawless, nor did he mention any law which the Commission’s investigation of the finances of the Kogi State Government violated.
Instead, his refrain was to a non-extent decision of the Supreme Court which he also failed to electorate upon. But it is important to state that contrary to the views of Agbakoba, the Supreme Court at no time delivered any judgement which forbids the EFCC from investigating fraud cases involving a state government. The Learned counsel ought to have known that the Apex Court of the Land as far back as 2010 in JOLLY TEVORU NYAME V FRN (2010) 11 NWLR (PT.1193)344 held that the “claim that the money belongs to Taraba State and that the state has exclusive claim on it to the exclusion of any other authority by virtue of section 120 of the 1999 constitution cannot stand.”
Furthermore, Agbakobas erroneous views ought to be tempered by the decision of the Supreme Court in A.G ONDO STATE v. A.G., FEDERATION (2002) 9 NWLR [pt.772] page 222 at page 308 where the Honourable Court held: “It has been pointed out that the provisions of the Act impinge on the cardinal principle of federalism, namely, the requirement of equality and autonomy of the State Government and non-interference with the functions of State Government. This is true, but as seen above, both the Federal and State Government share the power to legislate in order to abolish corruption and abuse of office. If this is a breach of the principle of Federalism, then, I am afraid, it is the Constitution that makes the provisions that have facilitated the breach of the principle. As far as the aberration is supported by the provision of the Constitution, I think it cannot rightly be argued that an illegality has occurred by the failure of the Constitution to adhere to the cardinal principles which are at best ideals to follow or guidance for an ideal situation.”
Lastly, the learned Silk should also know that his views are totally unsupported by the facts, circumstances of Kogi’s case and the decision of the Court of Appeal in KALU V FRN & (2012) LPELR- 9287 (CA) which decision knocked the bottom out of the contention of Agbakoba.
From the decisions of the Appellate Court it is clear that whilst the State Assemblies can investigate finances of their states, they are not empowered to investigate and prosecute fraud cases; that responsibility lies with agencies such as the EFCC.
It is therefore morally reprehensible for a learned Silk of Agbakoba’s calibre to promote the view that state governments cannot be questioned on how they use the resources of their states, and that law enforcement organizations cannot investigate cases of alleged wanton theft of Kogi State’s resources particularly where the alleged thieves do not report themselves! Had this view been promoted by any other lawyer than Agbakoba who rose to national prominence as advocate of civil liberties and anti-corruption, it would have been pardonable.
When men who are seen as conscience of the nation begin to approbate and reprobate on an issue, it is almost certain they are driven by motives which could be far from altruistic.
The manner in which Agbakoba delivered his message in the so-called media briefing, he sounded more like a spokesperson of the Kogi State Government than an advocate of the rule of law. By his demeanor, any citizen who thought the briefing was only a smokescreen to vilify the EFCC at the pleasure of the Kogi State Government, would be forgiven.
But Agbakoba is not counsel to the Kogi State government, at least not publicly. But even Kogi state lawyers whom he offered his free counsel on how to handle the EFCC at the briefing would not have put up a better performance. Despite not being counsel to the Kogi State Government, Agbakoba had no scruples using the media to pontificate on a matter that is currently before a court of competent justification. This, to him, does not amount to a media trial of the EFCC!
In his game of ostrich, Agbakoba continually harped on Section 46 of the EFCC Act but ignores the provisions of Section 7 of the same Act and various provisions of the Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Act, the Advance Fee Fraud Other Fraud Related Offences Act, etc., which gives the Commission power to investigate all fraud cases.
Why is Agbakoba so jittery about the robust response of the EFCC to corruption that he would openly incite the next administration against the Commission? That essentially was the agenda when he said: “So the candidate (2023 election candidates) must tell us what they are going to do with all these agencies because we need to know if they are going to allow the EFCC to continue to engage in media trials and carry on as the attack dog of the Federal Government against other arms and levels of governments.”
Is the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari against Yahaya Bello Administration of Kogi State? Where does Agbakoba get his logic of attack dogs? What is a media trial, when a case has been filed in court and the defendants have taken their pleas? Should Nigerians have been kept in the dark that a certain nephew of Yahaya Bello is facing a N10billion fraud trial?
EFCC is not averse to criticisms but it will not ignore jaundiced views masked as advocacy for rule of law. No amount of intimidation and sponsored attacks will deter the Commission from investigating cases of corruption in any level of government, or involving any individual however well placed, until we rid our nation of this monster.
Head, Media & Publicity
19 December 2022
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