- LGs caretaker committees illegal, says ex-NBA scribe
Victor Ogunje in Ado Ekiti
A Federal High Court sitting in Ado Ekiti tuesday ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to lift the restriction placed on some accounts belonging to Governor Ayodele Fayose in a new generation bank.
The court also set aside an earlier order of a Federal High Court, Lagos empowering the EFCC to freeze two accounts domiciled in the new generation bank.
The court consequently ordered the anti-graft commission to immediately defreeze the two accounts belonging to the governor without further delay, on the account that it did not follow due process in freezing them.
The EFCC on June 21, 2016 froze the two accounts having allegedly contained a sum of N2.99billion out of the N2.3 billion arms money allegedly drawn by the governor from the office of the former National Security Adviser, Col Bello Dasuki (rtd), to prosecute his governorship election in 2014.
The highly devastated Fayose had through his lawyer, Mr. Mike Ozekhome approached the court and sought the enforcement of his fundamental rights, which involved the de-freezing of the two accounts.
Delivering his judgment, the presiding judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, said the rights of the governor had been unconstitutionally infringed upon, considering the circumstance of his office.
Justice Taiwo declared that apart from the immunity which Fayose currently enjoys as a sitting governor under Section 308 of the Constitution, it was wrong for the EFCC to have gone ahead to seize his two accounts in apparent perpetuity without first investigating him or making him a party.
He averred that rather than the EFCC freezing the governor’s accounts directly through the third party who did not enjoy any mandate from him , the governor himself ought to have been first investigated and brought into the picture.
The judge described Fayose as “a genuinely deprived person who rushed to the court to seek constitutional protection,” the judge thereby gave a mandatory order the de-freezing, unblocking and ma ke operational the two accounts by the respondents.”
He said it was also the duty of any presiding judge to protect the said constitution and its interpretations whenever the need arises.
“The plaintiff is entitled to be heard before his property or money can be seized, doing otherwise will amount to denying him fair hearing and constitutional rights,” he said.
The judge however refused to grant other relief sought by the governor, including a perpetual injunction restraining EFCC or its agents from further tampering with his property, and another one asking for payment of N5billion as exemplary damages.
“This court will not shield any person from due investigation and since police cannot be stopped from investigating a crime, same goes for the First Respondent so as not to whittle down its functions,” the judge said.
EFCC lead counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, was absent at the court but Fayose’s lead counsel, Ozekhome in his reaction described the judgment as the best to be so made the EFCC in history, saying it would checkmate the agency against years of brazen arbitrariness and excesses.
However, the EFCC has promised to appeal the verdict.
A statement by its Head of Media and Publicity, Wilson Uwujaren, said the commission, would await the certified copy of the ruling.
“It is important to point out that this order contradicts another order by Justice M. B Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos which gave the commission the nod to freeze the accounts pending the conclusion of investigation.
“This order from a court of coordinate jurisdiction was not set aside by Justice Taiwo. In spite of this, the commission has taken immediate step to appeal the order by Justice Taiwo.”
Meanwhile, a former General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Obafemi Adewale, has said the recent judgment on the dissolution of democratically-elected local government officials in Ekiti State, the Supreme Court has again reaffirmed illegality in the use of caretaker committees to run the existing 774 councils in the country.
Adewale, who was the counsel to the plaintiff in the case, spoke in Ado Ekiti on the implications of judgment, maintaining that the trend which was prevalent among many states of the federation was ultra vires to the spirit of the Constitution.
He contended that any law enacted by any state House of Assembly that gave power to a state governor to appoint caretaker committee is at variance with the provision of the 1999 Constitution as amended in section seven thereof.
Adewale, who was the counsel to the dissolved council officials, urged state governors that are still promoting appointed loyalists in the councils to, “as of necessity take immediate steps to ensure that elected local government structure are put in place.”
“The assertive judgment of the Nigeria’s highest court will automatically stop the impunity demonstrated by many state governors who upon assumption of office dissolve democratically elected local government officials, just because they are not from the governor’s political party.
“In the same manner that the former governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi dissolved elected council officials on October 29, 2010\ which has now been reversed by the apex court.”
The ex-NBA scribe affirmed that the Supreme Court’s verdict implies that using caretaker committee or arbitrarily dissolving elected council officials is a fundamental breach of the constitution on the part of governors who sworn to uphold the tenets of the law and such is punishable as provided for by the same constitution.