The good; the bad and the ugly. EFCC VS FAYOSE:





An abridged legal opinion written by Inibehe Effiong

"Freezing of accounts serves principally two purposes. First, by freezing a suspect's account, the commission prevents the suspect from accessing, operating and drawing money from the account which may ultimately be forfeited to the government if the suspect is eventually prosecuted and convicted. Immunity clause cannot prevent the EFCC from securing and preserving monies found in the account of a governor provided the Chairman of the EFCC is satisfied that the money is proceeds of crime. Second, the money is freezed for preservation and use as evidence during trial.

From the foregoing, it is clear that there is no provision in Section 308 of the Constitution that is offended by the freezing of the account of a governor. There is no argument about the fact that freezing of bank accounts of persons who are under criminal investigation is merely an interim, precautionary and necessary step preparatory to arraignment and prosecution. Interestingly, an illustration was given by Justice Uwaifo J.S.C. (as he then was) in Fawehinmi's case of an instance where it is alleged that a governor "STOLE PUBLIC MONEY AND KEPT IT IN A PARTICULAR BANK". His Lordship in his prophetic wisdom rightly stated that a "monstrous situation" will be created if the police (in this case the EFCC) is unable "TO FIND OUT (IF POSSIBLE) ABOUT THE MONEY LODGED IN THE BANK" or "AND TO GET PARTICULARS OF THE ACCOUNT AND THE SOURCE OF THE MONEY".

According to an online newspaper, Sahara Reporters, "Sources at Nigeria's premier anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have revealed that a personal account at the Zenith Bank of Nigeria of Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, was frozen in connection with over N1.2billion he took in 2014 from the disgraced National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, to prosecute his re-election as governor." If this was the basis upon which the EFCC Chairman became satisfied that the money in Fayose's bank account is/was made through commission of an offence under the EFCC Act or other applicable laws, nobody can question him, except the court.

Governor Fayose has not been invited for interrogation by the EFCC; he has not been arrested or imprisoned; no criminal proceedings has been commenced against him, and clearly no process of court requiring or compelling his attendance in court has been issued or applied for. These are the only things and actions that Section 308 of the Constitution forbids. The Supreme Court in Fawehinmi's case supra declared that a governor can be investigated in any manner, provided it does not lead to any these limited situations. The Apex Court emphasised that these limited situations must not be extended under the guise of liberal interpretation of the Constitution.

The question then is? Has any of the protections given to Governor Fayose by Section 308 of the Constitution been taken away by the EFCC?

The answer is NO.

However, the EFCC must exhibit an order of the Court that empowered it to freeze Fayose's account. In the absence of such authorisation, the action is illegal, ultra vires, oppressive, undemocratic, null and void and of no effect whatsoever. If the condition precedent was not complied with, the account should be de-freezed immediately without delay with an apology to the governor. Fayose has the right to seek legal redress in the absence of an order of the court. In the case of Mobil v. LASEPA (2003) 104 LRCN 240, the Supreme Court held that failure to comply with a condition precedent is fatal and renders an action a nullity.

One does not need to be a lawyer to know that law enforcement agencies, including the EFCC, in the course of investigation of crime usually and are legally empowered to take possession of material evidence. Freezing of a suspect's bank account is undoubtedly an integral part of the investigation process and procedure. If it were not so, Section 34 (1) of the EFCC Act would only been invokable when a charge or an information has been filed. I submit however that the Court has the supervisory jurisdiction to examine, review and or revoke any freezing order issued by the EFCC chairman depending on the circumstances and the justice of each case. The order itself it interim in nature and not absolute or perpetual.

As a postscript, I further submit that any reference to the immunity clause in Section 308 of the Constitution that is outside the limited protection in the express provisions of that section is legally indefensible and baseless. The President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors only enjoy limited immunity. There is nothing dictatorial, "illegal" or "criminal" in investigating a governor for alleged offences.

Let it be known that immunity is not a license to commit crimes or engage in wanton corruption. Section 308 of the Constitution only offers limited protection. It was never the intention of the framers of the 1999 Constitution for the clause to be exploited as a weapon for impunity, executive lawlessness and self-enrichment."

About The Author: Inibehe Effiong is a Legal Practitioner and Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD) and can be reached at: inibehe.effiong@gmail.com

About Dunio Mabushi

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