• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Yahaya Bello: EFCC’s Gestapo tactics and the rule of law

Yahaya Bello: A white lion or a big cat?

Abdulakarim Bobade

Nigerians on Wednesday woke up to the sordid spectacle of a large contingent of heavily armed operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission swooping on an entire street in the nation’s capital, Abuja, and surrounding the home of former Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, ostensibly to arrest him to face trial on charges that are still being disputed.

That the EFCC staged its Gestapo-like operation despite the pendency of a court order restraining it from arresting or harassing the former governor betrays its desperation to nail him on charges that are basically flawed and brought to humiliate him at all costs.

Read also: Wanted by EFCC: Yahaya Bello or White Lion?

Right-thinking people cannot help but agree that the show at Bello’s house, which played out on social media and live TV, was a shameful and unnecessary spectacle, a throwback to the days when General Sani Abacha and his goons were not worth a penny.

It is disgraceful that the EFCC, which claims to be an expert agency in investigating and prosecuting corruption cases, alleged that Yahaya Bello stole about N80bn along with others from Kogi State’s coffers in September 2015, months before he was sworn in as governor in January 2016. Having realised its blunder, it reworked the charges to indicate the alleged offence was committed in February 2016, just three weeks after Bello took office on January 27, 2016.

It is worth reiterating that, going by the EFCC’s charges, the case against Bello raises more questions than answers, and it would be nothing short of a miracle to stand in court.

The question being asked is: How can someone steal N80 billion in less than a month in office? How much was in the state’s coffers? What was the entire budget for that year?

In its epic performance in the theatre of absurdities, the EFCC has also demonstrated its disdain for the rule of law by filing the same so-called charges before three different judges of the Federal High Court, Abuja division, as it continues fishing for a result similar to one sought by a football lottery player.

In a country governed by laws of which the EFCC is itself a creation, the basic minimum standard expected is that if it indeed has any case against the former governor, it should not resort to abuse of court processes and prosecutorial powers by jumping from court to court even when the person in question has filed processes to enforce his fundamental rights. The EFCC itself has appealed that ruling. In a decent environment, the EFCC ought to wait for a ruling on that matter before proceeding and not attempt to present the court with a fait accompli by his forceful arrest and detention.

Read also: Money laundering allegation: Immigration places Yahaya Bello on watchlist

To make matters worse, the EFCC, through its lawyer, Kemi Pinheiro, said in open court that it would enlist the military in effecting Bello’s arrest, even when most Nigerians had thought that those days were over. This only amplifies the suspicions that this whole saga is a deliberate political witch-hunt directed at the former governor, hitherto acknowledged as a rising star within the political landscape, especially within the ruling All Progressives Congress, and to truncate any attempt to further his career in politics.

With these disturbing turns of events, the EFCC seems to have unwittingly presented itself as a tool in the hands of unseen political forces orchestrating a scheme to achieve its own ends at great risk to its credibility.

The EFCC was well aware of an order given on Wednesday, April 17, by Justice I.A. Jamil of the High Court in Lokoja in a substantive judgement enforcing the fundamental human rights of the applicant and restraining the EFCC from arresting, detaining, or prosecuting Yahaya Bello based on the criminal charges pending before the said Federal High Court in respect of offences allegedly committed when he was not a governor.

The Commission had also listed his name in an amended charge at a Federal High Court. As if that were not bad enough, it has proceeded again to file the same charge already before two other judges of the Federal High Court before another judge in the same Abuja, even though it had filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal against the restraining order, which was slated for hearing on Monday, April 22, 2024. Why the rush?

Bello’s media office has demanded an explanation for a situation where three courts in the same Federal High Court, Abuja Division, are saddled with hearing the same charges simultaneously.

The EFCC boss, Ola Olukoyede, who himself is a lawyer, ought to know that blatant disobedience of court orders, abuse of court processes, forum shopping, and sundry underhand tactics in carrying out its mandate are a threat to social cohesion and public order, and a law enforcement agency should not be the poster child for such conduct.

Indeed, this whole episode contradicts Olukoyede’s promise upon assuming office last year to abide by the rule of law in the conduct of EFCC’s operations. He should know that the EFCC cannot afford to choose which orders of the court to obey and which to ignore, with the consequence of ridiculing the nation’s criminal justice system and the judiciary at large. Nigeria should not be made a laughing stock in the community of nations on account of the misdeeds of an agency saddled with enforcing the law.

Also, it is about time that the EFCC stops its unwholesome practice of invading homes with military-style force under the pretext of arresting people. Ordinary citizens, many of them innocent, including students, businesspeople, and politicians, have all fallen victim to the EFCC’s Gestapo operations that do little to portray it in a good light. A person of Bello’s stature could have been invited, and that would be it, but when trust is lost on account of seemingly frivolous charges, there is bound to be some pushback, hence his resort to the courts.

This is why the presidency is being asked to call the anti-graft agency to order and impress on it that it should not allow itself to be used as an agent of political persecution by a nest of vicious vipers within the system rather than pursuing genuine cases of corruption.

The political connection in all of these shenanigans and comedy of the absurd, as Bello’s media team pointed out, has been exposed by the composition of the legal team of the EFCC in their purported fresh case. Number two on the list of EFCC lawyers is J.S. Okutepa, SAN. This EFCC lawyer is also the lead counsel and kinsman to the candidate of the Social Democratic Party at the Tribunal.

The same Okutepa SAN is the EFCC’s lawyer in the civil suit filed against the EFCC by Yahaya Bello and is aware of the interim order the court issued against his client restraining it from arresting, inviting, and prosecuting him pending the determination of the suit before the Court.

Yet, during the pendency of that order, which he appealed against, he joined others in causing a charge to be filed against Yahaya Bello, an action contemptuous of the order of that court.

However, despite all its efforts to nail Bello, the Kogi state government has stated unequivocally on many occasions that all its financial records are clean and up-to-date and that there are no missing or stolen funds belonging to the state.

Nobody can say that the EFCC should not do its job, but it needs to put its house in order and conduct extensive investigations to build watertight cases before approaching the courts so that citizens will see that it is implementing its mandate in a fair, clear, and transparent manner. That is the essence of the rule of law mantra espoused by its boss.

Bobade, a political science lecturer, writes from Osun State