Investigation of Accounts: Benue, EFCC to Know Fate October 8

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Alex Enumah in Abuja

Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court Abuja, will on October 8, 2018, deliver judgment in the suit filed by the Benue State Government challenging the powers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate its accounts.

Justice Dimgba gave the date for judgment yesterday after counsel representing the various parties to the suit adopted their briefs of arguments.

Before yesterday’s proceedings, the court had ordered the EFCC to stop further investigations into the finances of Benue State Government pending the determination of the suit filed by the state.

In an originating summons marked FHC/MKD/CS/42/18 filed by the Attorney General of Benue State, the state is challenging the powers of the EFCC to investigate or inquire into the accounts and /or appropriations, disbursements and administration of the funds of Benue State Government having regard to the clear provisions of sections 1(1) and (3), 125(2),(4) and (6), 128 and 129 of the 1999 constitution.

While adopting his brief of arguments on behalf of the Benue State Government, Emeka Etiaba (SAN) who was with Emeka Okpoko (SAN), urged the court to hold that the EFCC lacks the statutory powers to investigate the account of a state government.

He argued that by virtue of the provisions of sections   1(1) and (3), 125(2),(4) and (6), 128 and 129 of the 1999 constitution, it is only the Benue State House of Assembly and the Auditor- General, Benue State (4th and 5th respondents), has the power to investigate or inquire into the accounts and /or appropriations, disbursements and administration of the funds of Benue State Government having regard to the clear provisions of sections 1(1) and (3), 125(2),(4) and (6), 128 and 129 of the 1999 constitution.

He further informed the court  that the EFCC went beyond the investigation of top government functionaries to probing into sensitive financial documents of the state.

He listed some of the documents forwarded to the EFCC for investigation to include; Certified True Copies (CTC) of the approved budget for the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and those of all the 23 Local Government Areas (LGAs) from 2015 to date; approved budget of the state and the local government councils from January 2015 to date; details of the statutory allocations released to the state and local government councils from January 2015 to date; details of excess crude oil allocations released to the state and Local government from January 2015 to date and  details of Value Added Tax (VAT) allocations released to the state and local government councils from January 2015 to date.

Etiaba submitted that in the course of its investigation, the commission had interrogated some high ranking government officials, including the Permanent Secretary, Government House; Permanent Secretary, Bureau of Internal Affairs and Special Services; Mr. Kato Ijir; Secretary to the State Government; Mr. Agbo Omada (Assistant Director, Finance); Terwase Orbunde (Chief of Staff to the Governor); Dr. Dura Magdalene (Special Assistant Adviser on SDG’s to the governor) and Mr. Stephen Amase.

Besides government officials, the depondent further averred that the EFCC also invited and interrogated members of the State House of Assembly including Hon. Avine Agbum; Dominic Ucha; Ngohemba Agaigbe; Ngunan Adingi, among others.

Citing some legal authorities to buttress his points, Etiaba urged the court to grant the reliefs sought by his client as contained in the originating summons.

On his part, counsel for the Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly; the Clerk, Benue State House of Assembly; Benue State House of Assembly and the Auditor-General, Benue State (2nd to 5th respondents), Joe Abaagu aligned himself with the submissions made by Etiaba in urging the court to grant the reliefs sought by the plaintiff.

However, counsel to the EFCC, Slyvanus Tahir in urging the court to dismiss the suit, said the reliefs contained in the originating summons were misconceived.

He maintained that by the provisions of sections virtue of sections 6, 7 and 38(1) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act 2004, the commission has powers to investigate both the individuals of the state as well as the state’s accounts.

Tahir informed the court that the actions of the commission were informed by petitions written against the state by some indigenes of the state including Abubakar Tsav, alleging massive corruption by some state officials.

He argued that the powers conferred on the state House of Assembly under section 125 of the 1999 constitution and the State Auditor General under section 128 and 129 of the Constitution were merely oversight functions but not prosecutoral powers.
He urged the court to hold that it is only the EFCC that has the statutory powers to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.

The EFCC had earlier this month frozen the bank account of Benue State Government claiming it was investigating alleged fraud.