The Rivers State Government has said that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has no power to investigate financial transactions of the state.
Reacting to statements credited to the Acting Chairman of EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Magu, the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, stated that EFCC can only investigate the government if it vacates the Federal High Court judgment that declared that it cannot investigate the financial transactions of the government.
Magu had during his visit to Port Harcourt on Monday described Rivers State as headquarters for corruption.
According to him, Rivers State is second to Lagos in money laundering, adding that corruption is high in the state due to oil activities in the region.
He said that the Commission is doing its best to fight the menace which has eaten deep into the system.
Magu stressed further that the court injunction obtained by former a Governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, to stop the Commission from further investigation and prosecuting him will not stand the test of time.
He said the EFCC will follow the matter up to its logical conclusion, stressing that despite the fact that the matter has been taking over by event, the Commission will not relent in carrying out its duties as regards the financial crime case.
He noted that the matter which is before the Supreme Court for over thirteen years will be followed up to its logical conclusion as the perpetual injunction can no longer hold.
In January 2007 the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in the exercise of its statutory powers under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2004 issued a report of its investigation into the finances of the Rivers State government under the then outgoing Governor Peter Odili.
The “Interim Report of the EFCC on Governor Peter Odili” disclosed that “over 100 billion Naira of Rivers State funds have been diverted by the Governor, Dr Odili” and contained serious allegations of fraud, conspiracy, conversion of public funds, foreign exchange malpractice, money laundering, stealing and abuse of oath of office against Dr Odili.
On February 22 2007, the then-Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice for Rivers State filed a suit (No. FHC/PHC/CSI78/2007: Attorney-General for Rivers State v the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission & 3 Others) challenging the powers of the EFCC to probe the affairs of the State and claiming that the activities of the EFCC were prejudicial to the smooth running of the Government of Rivers State.
The case was fast-tracked by the court and appeared to have been decided ex parte. Thus on March 23 2007, the trial judge, Honourable Justice Ibrahim Nyaure Buba, granted all the declaratory and injunctive reliefs sought by the Plaintiff.
These include a declaration that the EFCC investigations are invalid, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void; an injunction restraining the EFCC and the other defendants from publicising the report of the investigation; and an injunction restraining the EFCC from any further action in relation to the alleged economic and financial crimes committed by Dr Odili.
4The EFCC appealed the judgement but continued its activity in relation to Dr Odili, having taken the view that since he was not a party to the case he could not benefit from the reliefs.
Dr Odili then filed a claim against the defendants in suit no. FHC/PHC/CSI78/2007, including the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and the EFCC, seeking to enforce that judgment by way of an ex parte order barring the EFCC from investigating or arresting or prosecuting him. Justice Buba was said to have declined to issue the ex parte order but instead ordered that all parties be served notice of the motion.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, who is also the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and the Guardian of the Public Interest, failed to file any defence to this thoroughly outrageous claim.
The EFCC filed a preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to oust its statutory powers and informed the court that its investigations had disclosed a prima facie case against Dr Odili. However, leading Counsel for Dr Odili, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), argued that the earlier judgment of the court was a judgment in rem – that is, a subsisting order affecting not only the named parties in the case.
In the event, Hon Justice Buba rejected the EFCC’s submissions and agreed with Leading Counsel to Dr Odili.
In a ruling delivered on 5 March 2008, the Judge held that: “The subsisting judgment of March 2007 by this court is binding on all parties. Therefore there is a perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from arresting, detaining and arraigning Odili on the basis of his tenure as governor based on the purported investigation.”
But reacting to Magu’s statement on Wednesday, Nsirim said that: “Magu cannot claim that that judgement cannot stand, except he wants Nigerians to believe that he has started issuing instructions to the Supreme Court.
“It is unfortunate that in a democracy someone holding a public office would want to muzzle the Court, “the Commissioner said.
On the allegation that Rivers State is the second capital of money laundering in Nigeria after Lagos, the Information boss wondered how the EFCC arrived at that conclusion.
“To justify this allegation, the EFCC should make public the names of people they have arrested and prosecuted in Rivers State over money laundering. If this is not done, Magu’s statement would just be seen as mere playing to the gallery to enjoy cheap publicity”, he said.
He stated that the Rivers State Government will support EFCC to fight corruption within the ambit of the law, but will reject any attempt to subvert the rule of law in the state.
The Commissioner advised the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu to be patient and desist from the illegality of arrogating to himself the judicial powers of courts.
“The EFCC should desist from self-help and unnecessary political propaganda, as it will yield no results, ” he stated.