Though the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is feared by many, but Mr. David Edevbie, a former Principal Secretary to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and a former Delta State Commissioner for Finance during Governor James Ibori’s administration, does not seemed scared of the anti-graft agency. Recently, it took the battle right to the agency, Davidson Iriekpen writes
The Holy Bible says a good name is more desirable than great riches. For David Edevbie, former Principal Secretary to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, nothing could be far from the truth. Last week, the London-trained banker and finance manager did the unthinkable. He dared the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Unlike most politicians who would decide to play safe and lie low if they have any pending case with the dreaded anti-graft graft agency, Edevbie has challenged the anti-graft agency to a legal duel.
In a suit filed at the Lagos High Court “for the enforcement of his fundamental rights to fair hearing within a reasonable time, and the right to receive information without interference,” Mr. Edevbie is asking the court to either compel the EFCC to prosecute him for his alleged involvement in money laundering activities or in the absence of any concrete evidence against him, give him a clean bill of health.
Edevbie, along with five other persons, had since 2009 been the subject of investigation by the EFCC in connection with the sale of Delta State Government’s shareholding in Vee Networks Ltd (VNL) now Airtel Nigeria while he was Delta State Commissioner for Finance. But like most investigations by the EFCC, it has remained open-ended. There has been no formal charges brought against him, yet he has not been formally absolved of any wrong doing. Fed up with the uncertainty surrounding the case, Edevbie is now seeking the intervention of the court in a bid to clear his name.
The EFCC investigation was premised on a report by the Crown Persecution in the United Kingdom, which allegedly named him as a co-conspirator in the money laundering charges levelled against his former boss James Ibori. Others named as alleged co-conspirators in the money laundering case were Obong Victor Attah, Love Ojakovo, Professor Akpan Ekpo, and Henry Imasekha. The Crown Prosecution subsequently requested the assistance of the Federal Government in the prosecution of the case.
However, the Federal Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) cleared Edevbie of any wrong doing. In a letter to the British Home Office titled, “Request for Mutual Legal Assistance – Operation Tureen and Operation Augen (HAGF/HS/2009/VOL1/1) and dated August 6, 2009, the DPP, Alhaji Salihu Aliyu disclosed that “Dr. S.O Okpokpor was a signatory rather than Mr. David Edevbie as alluded to in the documentation in support of the request for mutual legal assistance. I am to further inform you that in view of the foregoing, we are of the informed opinion that Mr. David Edevbie is not connected with the above transaction as to require his investigation and/or prosecution.”
With the DPP absolving Edevbie of any wrong doing, it was naturally expected that the EFCC would declare the case against him closed. The failure of the anti-graft agency to do so, sources said, is a major source of concern for Edevbie who they said, is worried that the issue, if left unresolved, may come to haunt him in the future. Analysts point to the recent face-off between the Akwa Ibom State government and the former governor, Obong Victor Attah. Just recently the Akwa Ibom state government took out a two-page advertorial in the national dailies and dared the former governor of the state to go to England and clear his name of money laundering charges.
A source told THISDAY that the unwillingness of the EFCC to close the case may have to do with their plans to prosecute Ibori when he returns to Nigeria. The source revealed that the anti-graft agency plans to use Edevbie as a prosecution witness against his former boss. “They are leaving the charge hanging against him as a trump card they will use to get him to cooperate with them,” the source said.
The Managing Director of a company that was linked to an ex-governor in the South-east told THISDAY that the anti-graft agency “deliberately” does not clear any person/organisation it has investigated. The company was allegedly the recipient of laundered funds by the former governor who has varied business interests. Although no evidence of this was found, the company executive told THISDAY that the EFCC refused to close the case. “They simply told us to ‘keep quiet about it, and we will keep quiet about it’, he disclosed. “They always want to have something against you so that they can wave it in your face at any time and use it to keep you under control.”
However, Edevbie has taken the bull by the horns by daring the EFCC to prosecute him. In the motion filed before the court, he has charged the court to determine whether the anti-graft agency ought not to have prosecuted or exonerated him over financial crimes allegations following the sale in 2006 of the Delta State’s shareholding in VNL, in which Delta State was a substantial shareholder. He is praying the court to issue an order compelling the EFCC to disclose the results of its investigation into his involvement in the VNL transaction while he was the Delta State Commissioner for Finance pursuant to section 1(3) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
In addition, he wants the court to award him the sum of N500 million as damages for the agency’s “breach of his constitutional right to receive information without interference, as enshrined in section 39(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), 1999, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 1990, (‘the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right’) and sections 1, 4 and 7 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 which denial has brought about loss of business and goodwill to the applicant over the period of the time of the denial.”
Edevbie’s case rests squarely on the fact that he was not directly involved in the transaction that led to the sale of the Delta State’s shares in Vee Network. “After my resignation from the VNL board in August 2004,” he deposed in a three-page affidavit, “after which I was duly replaced by another appointee of Delta State Government – Mr. Onosode - and my departure from the Delta State Government as Commissioner for Finance in December, 2005, I was no longer entitled to receive information regarding the final negotiations that eventually led to the sale of Delta State’s shares in VNL in June 2006.”
However, by virtue of his position as the Commissioner for Finance and his role as a representative of the state government on the board of VNL from June 2001-August 2004, Edevbie was in 2009 curiously named along with five others as a co-conspirator in the alleged money laundering charges preferred against former Delta State Governor, James Ibori by the Crown Prosecution in the United Kingdom in 2009. This was shortly after he was appointed Principal Secretary to the late President Yar’Adua, replacing the previous Chief of Staff.
In his affidavit, Edevbie told the court that he wrote to the EFCC through his lawyers on February 24, 2011 and 1st April, “requesting the EFCC to carry out investigations into the allegations, with particular interest in my alleged role as the Commissioner for Finance.” Subsequently, he stated, he was invited by the EFCC for questioning in their Lagos office.
“As an honourable citizen of this country,” he said, “I honoured the invitation, and on August 10, 2011, I was interviewed by operatives of the first respondent at the first respondent’s Lagos office. Following further detailed investigations in Nigeria and the UK, I was again interviewed at its Abuja office in March 2012. The plaintiff further stated that on November 27, 2012, he caused his lawyers to write another letter to the EFCC demanding for action to be taken on the matter. In their letter to the EFCC, his lawyers Ajumogobia and Okeke demanded “written confirmation of the investigation” adding: “should your office determine that our client is still required to answer any criminal charges, we have instructions to demand that a charge be preferred within the next fourteen (14) days in the absence of which a written communication of ‘case closed’ with a determination of no criminal liability must be brought forward. Take notice that we remain under instruction to commence civil action against your office in the absence of the above written report within the next fourteen (14) days.”
Edevbie asserted that “the failure, neglect and or refusal” of the EFCC to prosecute him at the conclusion of its investigations is an indication that he has committed no offence for which he could be prosecuted. “Since the interviews with the EFCC and till date,” he said, “there has been no communication whatsoever from the 2nd Respondent informing me of the progress and or any further development in its investigation; neither have I been charged with the commission of any crime. This situation has left me in limbo, particularly as I have the desire to clear my name...”
Meanwhile, the nation waits for the response of the EFCC to this case, which promises to be groundbreaking as it is intriguing. What is clear is that the last may not have been heard of the Vee Network saga, which has spawned a lot of court cases. Analysts also wonder if by this action, Edevbie is not likely to open a can of worms.