By Okon Bassey in Uyo
Akwa Ibom State Government has dragged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to court, demanding N50 billion as damages over recent freezing of the state’s accounts.
Joined in the suit with reference No: FHC/UY/CS/137/18 as co-defendants are the Attorney General of the Federation, Zenith Bank Plc, Skye Bank Plc and United Bank for Africa Plc.
The state government is complaining that the recent freezing of its accounts by the anti-graft agency for about 72 hours was unlawful and had crippled both the economy and reputation of the state.
The court is being asked to determine, “Whether the accounts of Akwa Ibom State Government held with banks or financial institutions fall within the financial crimes enforcement purview of section 34 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Established) Act 2004.
And, “Whether the account of Akwa Ibom State Government with a bank or financial institution can be subjected to a freezing order pursuant to section 34 of the EFCC (Established) Act 2004″
The applicant or claimant, in a writ of summons dated August 17, 2018, filled by the counsel, Chief Assam E. Assam (SAN) of Lex Fori Partners is urging the defendants to cause an appearance to be entered within 30 days after service or risk judgement given in their absence.
Reacting to the suit, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of the State, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, argued that the EFCC had no constitutional powers to freeze the account of the state government.
“There is no basis even in the constitution of Nigeria or any other enabling law made by anybody whether the National Assembly or the state Assembly or any other convention that authorises any federal agency or any agency to shut down the account of a state government as done by the EFCC.
His words: “I want to state clearly that even if there were to be an investigation that the EFCC was carrying out about whether there was any fraud committed against Akwa Ibom State in that circumstance, it should be the government of Akwa Ibom that should be the victim, so there was no basis for freezing the account they claimed that they were investigating a fraud against that state government.”
The Attorney General of the state who is representing the state government in the suit, stressed that the freezing of the state government account for 72 hours stalled the economic, security and business operations in the state.
This, he maintained, had caused some prospective investors in the state to diverted their investments elsewhere, thereby subjecting the state to huge economic loss and embarrassment.
“That singular attempt of freezing the account of the state government was shutting down the state. Akwa Ibom State was brought down on its knees, it was an attempt to paralyse and completely demobilise the activity of the state.
“We could not respond to economic, security and business exigencies. Most importantly, the investors that were coming to Akwa Ibom began to have a second thought and became worried about the status of their investment. Those who were on their way begun to go back, so we suffered unquantifiable losses,” he lamented
Nwoko dismissed the denial by the EFCC of freezing the state government account as after thought and face saving approach as the state government has every evidence to prove that its accounts were frozen.