Amid Conflicting Court Orders, Tension, EFCC Moves to Arrest Yahaya Bello

•Appeal Court to hear case April 22 

•Ex-gov urges Tinubu to call anti-graft operatives to order

•We’ll no longer tolerate obstruction of our operations, agency warns

Kingsley Nwezeh, Alex Enumah in Abuja and Ibrahim Oyewale in Lokoja

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), yesterday, laid siege to the Abuja residence of a former governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, in a bid to arrest and arraign him for alleged fraud and corruption, committed during his tenure which ended few a few months back.

Gunshots were heard at the Wuse Zone 4 residence of Bello, after his successor in office, Ododo,  visited him at a time the EFCC laid siege to the Wuse, Abuja, residence of the former governor.

The serving Kogi State chief executive was alleged to have smuggled Bello out of his residence, which gave rise to the confrontation between the EFCC operatives and the security personnel guarding the governor.

There were reported gunshots around the former governor’s premises

THISDAY gathered that operatives of the commission barricaded the residence of the former governor early in the day.

It was gathered that the anti-graft agency restricted movement  around the house located at Benghazi Street, Wuse Zone 4 in the nation’s capital.

“EFCC barricades Bello’ house in Abuja. No movement in the area. They are yet to gain access,” a source said.

Another competent source close to the investigation earlier told THISDAY  that operatives of EFCC  were at the Wuse Zone 4 residence of the former governor.

“We are at his residence. We know he is there so we are waiting”, the source said.

The move, however, came on the heels of two conflicting judgements of courts for and against his arrest.

While Justice I. A. Jamil of a Kogi State High, Court had in a judgement restrained the EFCC from harassing, detaining or prosecuting the former governor, Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in a ruling delivered same day, ordered the anti-graft agency to arrest and produce Bello for arraignment in court today.

The Commission had mentioned Bello as one “at large” in an ongoing trial of the current Chief of Staff to Governor Usman Ododo and one other.

Meanwhile, hearing in the appeal by EFCC against Justice Jamil earlier order is expected to come up on April 22, at the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal.

Before the substantive judgement delivered yesterday, Justice Jamil had while ruling in an exparte application on February 9, 2024, restrained the anti-graft agency from taking any action against the governor.

The Kogi State High Court judge issued the order while delivering judgement in a suit marked: HCL/68/M/2020.

“By this order, the EFCC is hereby restrained from arresting, detaining and prosecuting the applicant,” he said.

But Justice Nwite in a ruling in an ex-parte application filed by the Commission on April 17, 2024, issued a warrant of arrest on the former governor.

In the motion marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/98/2024, EFCC prayed the court to permit the service of the charge and the proof evidence on Bello through a substituted means.

In addition, the Commission sought another order seeking the immediate arrest of Bello for arraignment.

EFCC’s reliefs partly read: “An order granting leave to the complainant/applicant to effect service of the charge together with the proof of evidence on the defendant by substituted means to wit; by pasting the charge at the last known address of the defendant within the jurisdiction of this honourable court being: 9, Benghazi Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja.

“An order directing and/or issuing an arrest warrant for the immediate arrest of the defendant for the purpose of bringing him before this honourable court for arraignment.”

Delivering ruling, Justice Nwite, granted the request of the anti-graft agency and ordered the immediate arrest of Bello.

He also directed that the former governor be produced before him on Thursday April 18 for arraignment.

“It is hereby ordered as follows:  That an order of this honourable court is hereby made directing and/or issuing a warrant for the immediate arrest of the defendant to bring him before this honourable court for arraignment. That case is adjourned to the 18th day of April 2024 for arraignment,”Nwite said.

The EFCC, beside appealing the ruling barring it from arresting Bello, had also asked the appellate court to vacate the order.

“Your lordships will find that the Ex-parte interim orders of injunction which restrained the Appellant from performing its statutory functions under the EFCC Act 2004 as amended was made without jurisdiction, in that the learned trial Court did not have jurisdiction to issue the said orders against the Appellant, on the grounds that the respondent has no fundamental right from arrest and prosecution for corruption and corrupt practices,” the Commission had said.

In the motion on notice marked CA/ABJ/PRE/CV/165MI/2024, dated February 27 but filed February 28, the appellant, faulted the decision of the trial court, on the grounds that it was a body created by statute to carry out functions specified in its Establishment Act.

Their lead counsel, Chief Jibrin Okutepa, SAN, argued that under the Act, the EFCC is empowered to investigate and prosecute economic crimes as set out under sections 6 and 7 of the EFCC’s Act.

The EFCC in the appeal, apart from insisting that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to restrain it from arresting Bello, claimed that the judge by the order intended to “castrate” it and by so doing “now constitute a clog in the progress of the Appellant/Applicant’s performance of its statutory functions and duties under the EFCC Act 2004 as amended.

The anti-graft agency argued that by its establishing act, its powers, “include the powers of the police and they are wide and cuts across several legislations promulgated to fight financial crimes.”

It pointed out that by going to court to be shielded against criminal investigation and prosecution the respondent is interfering with the powers given by the Constitution to law officers in the control of criminal investigation.

“No amount of semantic or using judicial process can grant safe landing. Whatever orders made when the court lacks jurisdiction is a null and void orders.

“We, therefore, most respectfully urge this honourable court to allow this appeal and to set aside the interim orders made by the trial Court on February 9, 2024 in the interest of justice,” the EFCC said.

Meanwhile, Bello’s media office has called on President Bola Tinubu to the Anti-graft agency to order and obey the rule of law.

In a press statement, it stated that despite the subsisting court order by a Lokoja High Court, the operatives of EFCC had consistently wanted to embarrass the former governor.

It recalled that, “About 9:30am today, the 17th day of April 2024, persons who described themselves as officers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrived the Wuse Zone 4 Residence of His Excellency, Alhaji Yahaya Bello to effect his arrest.

“This is despite a subsisting Order of injunction granted on 9th February 2024 by the High Court of Justice, Lokoja Division in Suit No. HCL/68M/2024 between Alhaji Yahaya Bello v. Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, restraining the Commission either by itself or its agents from harassing, arresting, detaining or prosecuting Alhaji Yahaya Bello, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive fundamental rights enforcement action.

“The EFCC was duly served with that Order on 12th February 2024 and on 26th February 2024; the EFCC filed an Appeal (Appeal No.: CA/ABJ/CV/175/2024: Economic and Financial Crimes Commission v. Alhaji Yahaya Bello) against the said Order to the Court of Appeal Abuja division.

“The Appeal was accompanied by a Motion for Stay of Execution of the Order of the High Court which the Court of Appeal adjourned for hearing till the 22nd day of April 2024.

“Furthermore, judgment in the substantive case between Alhaji Yahaya Bello and the EFCC is to be delivered at noon today in Lokoja.

“Contrary to all of the above, the EFCC has now laid siege to the home of H.E Yahaya Bello seeking to arrest him in contravention of the extant orders!

“It is a surprise that an agency led by a lawyer could flagrantly disobey a subsisting court order by taking actions contrary to the reliefs granted.

“We are aware of the total commitment of the current administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to the rule of law and can say categorically that the leadership of the EFCC might have offered the agency on a platter of gold to desperate politicians to convert to their score settling tool without minding the effect on its integrity and the image of Nigeria as regards the rule of law.

“A situation where law enforcers disregard the rule of law is a definite recipe for anarchy, which will adversely affect every aspect of the nation’s economy.”

Responding, the EFCC, yesterday, warned it would no longer tolerate the obstruction of its operations.

In a statement last night, it  stated: “The Economic and Financial  Crimes Commission wishes to warn members of the public that it is a criminal offence to obstruct officers of the Commission from carrying out their lawful duties.

“Section 38(2)(a)(b) of the EFCC Establishment Act makes it an offence to prevent officers of the Commission from carrying out their lawful duties.  Culprits risk a jail term of not less than five years.

“This warning becomes necessary against the background of the increasing tendency  by persons and groups under investigation by the commission to take the laws into their hands by recruiting thugs to obstruct lawful operations of the EFCC,” it said.

The statement noted that, “On several occasions, operatives of the commission have had to exercise utmost restraint in the face of such provocation to avoid a breakdown of law and order.

“Regrettably, such disposition is being construed as a sign of weakness.

“The commission, therefore, warns that it will henceforth not tolerate any attempt by any person or organisation to obstruct its operation as such will be met with appropriate punitive actions.”

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