Court bars EFCC from unilateral indictment of state govts


…we’ll appeal court ruling, says EFCC
A Federal High Court, Ado Ekiti, on Tuesday declared that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) could not probe states’ finances without a report of indictment from states’ Houses of Assembly.
The court made the declaration in a judgment delivered in a suit filed by the Ekiti State Government against the EFCC, the Inspector-General of Police, the Speaker, Ekiti State House of Assembly, the Clerk, the state’s Auditor General and the Accountant General.
Other defendants are the chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board, Skye Bank, Access Bank, Zenith Bank, First City Monument Bank, Diamond, Keystone, Heritage, Fidelity, First Bank and Union Bank.
The state’s Attorney General filed the suit after the commission sent invitation letters to some government’s officials seeking details of some of the state’s financial transactions.
The EFCC also sent letters to the banks seeking financial books of the state in their custody.
In a counter-move, the state wrote letters to the banks asking them not to oblige the commission with the information.
Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo held that the financial institutions were not entitled to submit, to release to, or in any manner whatsoever to disclose to any person, body or agency, including the EFCC and the IG, or any other investigating body, any document, financial information relating to the bank accounts of the state government.
The court also held that the EFCC could not usurp the oversight functions vested in state House of Assembly under Sections 128 and 129 of the 1999 Constitution to initiate a probe or criminal proceedings against a state official.
According to him, only the state legislature is vested with oversight and investigation roles over state finances, appropriation and implementation after receiving a formal report from the Auditor General based on financial records from the Accountant General.
Referring to section 125 (c) of the constitution, Justice Taiwo agreed that, “In a federation, the component states do not play the role of an errand boy to the Federal Government. Each government exists not as an appendage of other government.
“It is unassailable that there is the separation of powers. Under a federal system, sections 4, 5 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution provides the separation of powers which guarantees independence and disallows encroachment of powers.
“The power for control of fund, financial outflow, appropriation is vested in the House of Assembly. It is the Auditor General of the state that has the power to conduct check on all government corporations and to submit his report to the assembly.”
Justice Taiwo emphasised that nobody including the court could read other meaning into the clear provision of the constitution.
“The assembly has the responsibilities on the management of funds by the executives. They have the responsibility to ensure fund management, cut wastages, reject corruption and ensure probity.
“The first defendant (the EFCC) is bound to operate within the constitution and cannot operate like the ‘lord of the manor.’ Its statutory duty is not a licence to contravene the constitution.
“I can’t by any stretch of imagination see how the statutory functions of the (the EFCC) can extend to a state in a federation under any guise to the extent that the eight to 18 defendants (banks) will be directed to submit bank details.
“Yes, the first defendant can investigate any person or corporate organisation, what it can’t do is to usurp the powers of the assembly.
“The Federal Government cannot impose its statutory duties on a state in flagrant disobedient of the constitution. The prosecution should not ride roughshod of the constitution. It is the duty of judges to ensure they don’t listen to sentiment of the public.
“I resolve all issues in favour of the plaintiff. I grant all reliefs sought by the plaintiff in view of the facts that they are live issues.”
Reacting to the judgment, counsel for the Speaker, House of Assembly and the clerk, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said the judgment had made it clear “that the EFCC is not an omnibus, rampaging policeman or guardian agent that monitors state’s finances, receipts, expenditure and use of state finances and that, that is the job of the state House of Assembly in line with the doctrine of the separation of powers, horizontally and vertically.
“I also advise the EFCC to always toe the path of  the law in discharging its duties.”
The EFCC, however, rejected the court judgment,  insisting that it would take the matter before the Court of Appeal.
In a terse text message, the spokesman for the EFCC,  Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said, “The commission has applied for a certified true copy of the ruling of the Federal High Court, Ado Ekiti.
“We will study it and avail ourselves of the right of appeal. The EFCC is confident that the judgment cannot stand.”

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