Opinion

EFCC V Yahaya Bello: Triumph of the rule of the law

By Tunde Nasiru

According to the Co-founder of World Justice Project, William H. Neukom, “the rule of law is the foundation for healthy communities of justice, opportunity, and peace”.

The rule of law rates on globally acceptable four universal principles, namely accountability, just law, open government, and accessible and impartial justice.

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The most popular summation of the principles of the rule of law is : “No one is above the law”. No matter who you are, public or private individuals, corporate entities or even government, you are not above the operating laws enacted in a particular environment, state or nation.

Established on April 10, 2003, the functions of the EFCC include: investigation of all financial crimes including advance fee fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal fund transfers, futures market fraud, contract scam etc.; the coordination and enforcement of all economic and financial crimes laws; adoption of measures to identify, trace, freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from terrorist activities and adoption of methods to eradicate the commission of economic and financial crimes.

The EFCC was also created to statutorily collaborate with government bodies both within and outside Nigeria to ensure the eradication of economic and financial crimes; and to also engage in education and enlightenment campaign against the evil of economic and financial crimes within and outside Nigeria.

Recently, the EFCC has been confronted with praises and condemnations. Praises where it has made billions of naira in recoveries and prosecution of thousands of suspected fraudsters, most of who may not be as popular as some politically-exposed persons.

The Commission has, so far, secured 3,175 convictions and recovered N156,276,691,242.30 between May 29, 2023 and now . Foreign cash seizures are also as follows $43,835,214.24, £25,365.00, €186,947.10, ₹51,360.00, C$3,750.00, A$740.00, ¥74,754.00, R35,000.00, 42,390.00 UAE Dirhams, 247.00 Riyals and 21,580,867,631 Crypto Currency.

But, in the cases of top public office holders, who the fearless Chairman of the commission, Mr. Olanipekun Olukoyede has gone after, there have been resultant attacks sponsored in the mass media, especially in the pliable section of the social media. The affected “big”people facing investigations and prosecution by the EFCC not only have the inroads into the media, they also have the ‘war chest’ to prosecute simulated media attacks, sponsored solidarity protests against the EFCC by pseudo NGOs, better referred to as NGIs (Non-Governmental Individuals), and well-oiled court or forum shopping.

Court or forum shopping is the process by which a plaintiff or litigant chooses among various courts to approach based on which is seen to likely consider the case most favourably. It oftentimes, has to do with several reasons among which are, proximity to the court; proximity here is not only in the distance; also, the reputation of the judge, the relationships, formal/official and informal.

However, there are serious negative effects of forum shopping by litigants, among which are resultant contradictory rulings, judgments and orders by various courts, contests for superiority and the applicants and respondents deciding which of the courts to obey.

This is what was witnessed recently in the matter affecting the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello and the EFCC. There was confusion on what one court said and what it did not say. More dramatic, if not confusing, was the reported demonstration/procession of “500 lawyers” in support of the former governor. The demonstration was so unusual that not a few people wondered if the spontaneous demonstration by the men in black robes was actually and genuinely for the interest of the rule of law.

Of course, politics and political undertones were also intoned. Even the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), in which the President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the former governor are members, was lashed at by some emergency analysts/commentators for not protecting the former governor. Some said the former governor, who worked for the emergence of the President, was being prosecuted while the President seemed to have looked away. For those who had this thought, they were quickly reminded that President Tinubu once surrendered himself to prosecution by the Code of Conduct Bureau during which he was actually docked. They wondered what was preventing the ex-governor from appearing in court.

After a lot of rigmaroles by various interests groups, so-called CSOs, radio, newspapers and television analyses by experts and non-experts, on the matter, it was the lawyer to the former governor who eventually approached the court asking for an order of the court to stay execution of its previous ruling that asked that the ex-governor be arrested.

Bello’s lawyer, Abdulwahab Mohammed, SAN, on April 23, 2024 applied for the revocation of the arrest warrant issued by the court on the former governor and the determination of the court’s jurisdiction in entertaining the trial as well as the preliminary objection for the enforcement of Bello’s fundamental rights as ruled by Kogi State High Court, Lokoja.

Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court, Maitama, Abuja on Friday, May 10, was very blunt in his ruling when he posited that: “Yahaya Bello is acting in disobedience of the court. Anyone in contempt of the court is not entitled to be heard. The defendant should make himself available. He ought to make himself available in court. The defendant is taking this court for granted. The application of the defendant cannot be heard unless he is present in court.”

Lead prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN expressed his disappointment thus: “I expected my learned counsel to thread the path of honour and clearly show that his client should not treat his Lordship and the court with disdain. His Lordship’s ruling clearly forbids entertaining applications from the defendant. My Lordship should not entertain the application until the defendant is here.”

Justice Nwite told Yahaya Bello’s lawyer: “You are the one who is misleading the defendant. What is your fear? How many people have you heard that the EFCC killed? The EFCC is a law-abiding agency. Is your client the only past governor that has been invited by the EFCC? Bring him to court and I will entertain your applications,” he said.

The ruling of Justice Nwite is, no doubt, a triumph of the rule of the law. Now that the matter has been adjourned to June 13, 2024, for Bello’s arraignment and hopefully physical presence in the court, it would be seen if the defence counsel, a member of the inner bar, will be able to persuade his client to comply with the rule of the law.

‘He who comes to equity must come with clean hands”.

Tunde Nasiru, Public Affairs Analyst writes from Abuja

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