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EFCC Vs Sylva: Playing Games with Justice

09 Jan 2013

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) claims it has confiscated choice properties belonging to the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva who is standing trial for alleged misappropriation of state funds during his tenure, Tobi Soniyi Ex-ray the issues.

When the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission issued a statement claiming that it has taken possession of 48 properties belonging to the former Bayelsa State Governor, Timipre Sylva, there were outbursts of emotion.  From those on the streets to the bed chambers of the aristocrats, emotions ran high. Could the ex-governor have stolen so much to buy 48 houses within four years?

Sylva himself cried foul. In a statement signed by his media aide, Doifie Ola, the former governor said he was surprised when he read in the newspapers that 48 houses belonging to him had been seized.

He accused EFCC of deliberately ditching out falsehood so as to condemn him before the general public. But in many ways, the public has held it as a general belief that politicians in Nigeria are corrupt, so not many people doubted the EFCC’s statement.

However, upon further investigation, it appeared that EFCC had deliberately misrepresented the fact. For the avoidance of doubt, the EFCC’s statement where it was alleged that Sylva’s 48 properties had been seized reads, “The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Thursday, January 3, 2013 took possession of 48 properties of the former governor of Bayelsa state, Mr. Timpre Sylva who is being prosecuted at a Federal High Court in Abuja for alleged misappropriation of N6.46 billion state funds when he was governor of the state.”

The statement was signed by the Acting Head, Media and Publicity for the EFCC,  Mr Wilson Uwujaren.

A copy of the Federal High Court’s order which showed the properties affected by the forfeiture order listed only nine properties. So where are the remaining 39 properties? Why did the EFCC choose to mislead the public?

Although, the anti graft agency had filed charges against Sylva, it is not part of prosecution to issue falsehood against the accused person.

To be sure, EFCC ought to apologise to Sylva and also issue a statement correcting the error otherwise discerning people will begin to doubt subsequent statement issue by the EFCC.

Suffice to point out that even the order was made to last for two weeks. When Justice A.R. Mohammed couched the order, he said: “It is hereby ordered as follows: That an interim order is hereby made temporarily attaching the properties listed in the schedule to this application to enable the applicant investigate the alleged complaint submitted to it against the Respondent in respect of the said properties listed in the schedule and attached to this order.

“That the interim order of attachment herein made shall however last for two weeks after which the applicant may seek for extension of same from this court, if need be, or if the investigation is not concluded.”

Although EFCC had since completed investigation and charged Sylva to court, it applied to court for the forfeiture order on the pretext that it was still investigating.

This is a crucial point to note because EFCC had applied to the court for: An interim order temporarily attaching/forfeiting the properties listed in schedule A to the Federal Government of Nigeria pending the conclusion of investigation and prosecution of the Respondent; An interim order of the court directing that all the accruable rent of the said properties due and yet unpaid or revenue generated there from be paid in an interest yielding account in the name of the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court.

However, the Judge refused to grant the order to last till Sylva’s prosecution. Secondly, the Judge declined to make an order for the payment of rents to the Chief Registrar.

Again, EFCC deliberately misinterpreted the court order by making it looks like it was meant to last till the prosecution of Sylva is concluded. The order was for two weeks and to enable investigation to be completed. Until the order is renewed, the properties automatically revert back to Sylva by the next adjourned date which is the 10th of January, 2013.

These misinformation and misinterpretation lend credence to Sylva’s claim that he was being persecuted. However, since this is a case of public interest EFCC will need to block all loopholes in its case against Sylva and concentrate on prosecuting rather than persecuting him.

The media must also take part of the blame for the state of affairs in the Sylva’s case. Had journalists insisted on having a copy of the interim order for forfeiture, they would have seen that the order covered only nine properties and not 48 as claimed by the Commission. Nevertheless, institution like the EFCC ought to be trusted. This is why the statement that EFCC had taken over Sylva’s 48 properties instead of nine covered by the court order leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

As it is now, there are two subsisting courts’ orders on the same subject matter.

Whereas an Abuja High Court had told EFCC not to tamper with the properties, EFCC claimed to have another order of a Federal High Court empowering it to take possession of the properties.

Both courts have coordinate jurisdiction and none is superior to the other.

Last Thursday EFCC said it secured a Federal High Court order on December 21 empowering it to take possession of Sylva’s houses.

Although EFCC claimed it got the order last December, it however did not make it public until last Thursday.

However, on Sunday December 30th, 2012, Sylva issued a statement wherein he claimed to have got an order of an Abuja High Court barring EFCC from taking over his houses.

The embattled governor said that  Justice M.M. Kolo of an Abuja High Court issued the order in his favour on  27 December 2012 while ruling on a motion filed by him.

At the resumed hearing of the case before Justice Kolo at an Abuja High Court last Friday, the judge refused to lift the order he granted in favour of Sylva even when EFCC applied to him to do so.

Instead Kolo chose to remit Sylva’s case to the Chief Judge of the court because  yesterday was his last sitting day as a vacation judge.

Sylva’s counsel, Benson Ibezim had earlier told the court that both the EFCC and the Attorney General of the Federation AGF just served him their processes in court and that he would need time to respond to them.

Counsel to the AGF, B.A Saheed told the court that he has filed an objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit.

Counsel to the EFCC,  O.O Otemu submitted that pending the response of the applicant, the court should allow for an oral argument on the jurisdiction of the court.

He further submitted that such would save the judiciary from mockery because of the two conflicting orders.

Otemu also told the court that Justice A.R Mohammed of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on December 21 granted the commission an order of seizure and that the order was yet to be vacated.

He argued that it was an abuse of court process for the applicant to have approached the high court during the pendency of a Federal High Court order.

Counsel to Sylva however told the court that the Federal High Court order was not served on his client and hence the need to approach the court for a restraining order.

Otemu however responded that the December 21 order was pasted on all the affected properties and that it was also served on Sylva himself adding that the high court should have been informed of the pending order before the ex parte order was granted.

He therefore urged the court to vacate its December 27 order restraining the EFCC as the properties in question had already been seized by the anti graft agency.

Justice Kolo held that he could not vacate the order and that the court was not aware of a pending order of the federal high court before granting the ex parte order.

He further said that he could not sit over the matter any longer because he was a vacation judge and that Friday was his last sitting day as he would proceed on vacation today.

Justice Kolo stated that he would remit the case file back to the Chief Judge of the high court to re assign it to another judge with an order of accelerated hearing due to the nature of the case.

Sylva had on 24 December 2012 filed a suit at the court for the enforcement of his fundamental human rights.

The EFCC had on Thursday taken possession of a mansion at 3 River Niger Street, plot 3192 Cadastral zone AO, Maitama District Abuja; nine units (comprising six one bedroom and 3 two bedroom apartments) at 8 Sefadu Street Wuse zone 2, plot 262 Cadastral zone AO2, Wuse Abuja; 2 units duplexes at 5 Oguta Street, plot 906 Cadastral zone Wuse 11 Abuja.

Others are a duplex at Plot 1271 Nike Street Cadastral zone AO5, Maitama District Abuja; a duplex at Phase 1 Unit No. 1 (Villa 1) Palm Springs Gold Estate, Cachez Turkey Projects Limited, Mpape, Abuja;

10 units of one room apartments at 8 Mistrata Street plot 232 Cadastral zone Wuse 11 Abuja;

5 units duplexes at Plot No 1070 Dakibiyu District Cadastral zone B10, Abuja; 16 units service apartments at Plot 1181 Thaba Tseka Crescent, Off IBB Way, Wuse 11, Abuja and 3 units of three bedroom flats at No. 1 Mubi Close, Plot 766. Cadastral Zone A01, Garki, Abuja .

Sylva had in a sharp reaction said that the seized properties were not his own and that the Federal High Court did not grant EFCC order of temporary seizure but rather said that the anti graft agency should put him on notice.

Hearing in the suit before the Federal High Court will come up on January 10.

Sylva is being prosecuted at a Federal High Court in Abuja for alleged misappropriation of N6.46 billion state funds when he was governor of the state.

The first three of the six count charge against him reads: “ That you, Timipre Sylva, as Governor  of Bayelsa State, with others now at large, sometime between October, 2009 and February, 2010, at various places in Nigeria, including Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court did conspire to commit a crime to wit: conversion of properties and resources amounting to N2,000,000,000.00 (Two Billion Naira) belonging to Bayelsa State Government and derived from an illegal act, with the aim of concealing the illicit origin of the said amount and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 17(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act), 2004 and punishable under Section 14(1) of the same Act.

“That you, Timipre Sylva, as Governor  of Bayelsa State, with others now at large, on or about the 22nd of January, 2010, at Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, converted the sum of N380,000,000.00 (Three Hundred and Eighty Million Naira), property of the Bayelsa State Government, through the account of one Habibu Sani Maigidia, a Bureau De Change Operator with Account No. 221433478108, in Fin Bank, Plc, which sum you knew represented the proceeds of an illegal act with the aim of concealing the nature of the proceeds of the said illegal act and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 14(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act) 2004 and also punishable under section 14(1) of the same Act.

“That you, Timipre Sylva, as Governor  of Bayelsa State, with others now at large, on or about the 5th of February, 2010, at Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, converted the sum of N50,000,000.00 (Fifty Million Naira), property of the Bayelsa State Government, through the account of one Enson Benmer Limited with Account No. 6152030001946, in First Bank, Plc, which sum you knew represented the proceeds of an illegal act with the aim of concealing the nature of the proceeds of the said illegal act and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 14(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act) 2004 and also punishable under section 14(1) of the same Act.”

Though Sylva had pleaded not guilty to the charges as always the case at the beginning of hearings, the EFCC has also continued to move one step ahead of justice. It all sends a signal of games over justice.

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