The Federal High Court sitting in Gusau, Zamfara State, has restrained the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC from further inviting, arresting or detaining present or past officials of the Zamfara State government including the outgone governor Bello Matawalle with respect to how funds meant for security votes, estacodes, traveling allowances or any similar facts were expended by the administration.
A copy of the court Judgement dated May 31 by Justice A. B. Aliyu was made available to THE WHISTLER.
The suit was filed by Prof. Mike Ozekhome, SAN, on behalf of the Government of Zamfara State with SUIT N0: FHC/GS/CS/30/2021, against the EFCC and the Attorney-General of the Federation, on the 16th of November, 2021.
Lately, it became public knowledge that the EFCC was tracking Matawalle over allegations of diverting public funds to the tune of N70 billion.
The ex-governor had also alleged that the EFCC Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, wanted him to pay a 2 million dollars bribe for his investigation to be stepped down.
Ozekhome, who approached the court, contended the constitutional overriding powers of the anti-graft agency to investigate state government officials over the use of public funds appropriated by lawmakers.
He argued that the power to interrogate the disbursement and utilization of state funds appropriated is constitutionally vested in the State House of Assembly and the Auditor-General of the State, not the EFCC.
The Plaintiffs’ lawyer argued that based on the doctrine of separation of powers, the EFCC was trying to usurp the powers of lawmakers and the auditor-general of the state.
But EFCC’s counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, had opposed the application, contending that the EFCC (Establishment) Act, LFN, 2004, empowers the anti-graft agency to investigate state officials’ utilization of state funds, while the Constitution only grants the power to audit the funds and expenses of the State to the Auditor-General of the State.
He maintained that there is nothing stopping the EFCC from investigating and prosecuting financial crimes in any part of Nigeria.
The Attorney General of the Federation also aligned by the submissions of the EFCC counsel.
But in his judgment, Justice A. B. Aliyu held that the current or outgone public officials can only be probed through the House of Assembly of Zamfara State and in strict compliance with the 1999 Constitution.
He held that the EFCC does not have the powers to direct past and present officials of Zamfara state government for the purpose of superintending over them or exposing any waste in the management of the government’s consolidated fund and its general finances.
Part of the order reads, “An order of injunction is made restraining the EFCC whether by itself, its agents, employees, servants, operatives, detectives, privies, investigating officers and other persons by whatever name called, from inviting or further inviting, intimidating, harassing and threatening to arrest or detain or from arresting or detaining any past or present official of the government of Zamfara state on the basis of the same facts or similar facts as herein stated.”
“An order is made setting aside EFFC’s letter of invitation to past and present officials of the Zamfara state government dated 28th, September, 2021 or any other date same being ultra vires (beyond) the powers of the EFCC, and therefore, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.”
The court held that by the proper interpretation of Sections 120,121, 122,123 of the 1999 constitution, the EFCC other than the House of Assembly of Zamfara state does not have the constitutional authority to exercise powers and control over public funds of the state.