The EFCC must act within the law at all times

Two weeks ago, Justice Yusuf Haliru of the FCT High Court, sitting in Jabi, Abuja, had this to say about the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC): “The EFCC is a creation of the ‎law. The court will not allow it to act as if it is above the law. It is remarkable to note that the motto of the EFCC is that nobody is above the law, yet they are acting as if they are above the law. The EFCC Act is not superior to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The respondents in this matter have not behaved as if we are in a civilised society. They have behaved as if we are in a military dictatorship ‎where they arrest and release persons at will.”

The judge’s angry comment arose from EFCC’s serial disobedience to his order that Colonel Nicholas Ashinze, a former aide to the ex-National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), who had been in detention since December 23, 2015 be released on bail on self-recognition. Rather than obey the court, the commission transferred the suspect to a military detention facility, claiming to have released him to his employer, the Nigerian Army. Of course, Justice Haliru saw through the pranks and declared Ashinze’s detention as illegal, wrongful, unlawful and a blatant violation of his fundamental rights.

Also last Wednesday, an Abuja High Court judge, Justice Peter Affen, berated the EFCC for allegedly intimidating his court. “This is not EFCC office. You must comport yourself. The problem is that you people (EFCC) have too much physical power and you carry it everywhere. This is not a motor park and you must not be throwing your hands anyhow. You owe the court a duty of deference. Leave your policeman or EFCC powers at the door. Didn’t they teach you that in Law School?” an angry Justice Affen asked the EFCC lawyer.

To the extent that Nigeria is consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world and this affects not only the image of the country but hinders investment in our economy, we appreciate the fact that the EFCC is saddled with a most difficult assignment. However, we do not think their cause is being helped by the growing perception, especially coming from the bench, that the anti-graft agency has scant regard for the law.
The disposition of the EFCC to court orders perhaps stems from the thinking that high profile suspects, who most often hire influential Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), tend to have their way with judges. Indeed, EFCC acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, has publicly complained about the corrupting influence of some senior members of the bar on the bench, leading not only to the release of suspects on bail, but also to the frustration of cases through the grant of all manner of injunctions by the courts.

We do agree that corruption is a cankerworm that is threatening to destroy our nation and must be fought with all that we have. Indeed, this newspaper has on many occasions underscored the challenges before the anti-graft body and has repeatedly called on the federal government to cater to its needs, including the provision of better funding and improved training and equipment that would upscale its capacity for investigation and prosecution of corruption cases. We have also called for a reform of the judiciary to rid it of bad eggs. But the EFCC must also, at all times, act within the law.

By respecting the rights of suspects and complying fully with the orders of courts, it will be far easier for the EFCC to sustain and institutionalise the war against corruption for which, we dare say, the current leadership at the commission must be commended.