Why is Yahaya Bello Running from EFCC?

By refusing to submit himself to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to prove his innocence of the allegations against him, and also using Governor Usman Ododo of Kogi State to prevent the anti-graft commission from arresting him, former Governor Yahaya Bello, having turned himself to a fugitive, is on a knife-edge of which the result may potentially damage his case, Ejiofor Alike reports

Former governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello was on the news again last week for wrong reasons.

However, the news was not on issues that were related to election rigging and electoral violence, or hounding of political opponents, neither was it about the unpaid salaries of Kogi workers.

The news was that the incumbent governor of the state, Usman Ododo, last Wednesday helped his embattled predecessor to escape arrest by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The anti-graft agency had named Bello in an amended N80 billion money laundering charge filed against Governor Ododo’s Chief of Staff, Alli Bello.

While it is not on record that the commission had invited the former governor, his refusal to submit himself has shown that he is actually evading arrest.

This perhaps has made it operatives to storm his home on Benghazi Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja, on Wednesday morning.

But the operatives were prevented by some policemen and other armed men guarding him from entering the house.

Governor Ododo later arrived with heavy security in the afternoon and later drove out with Bello in his car.

The development forced the helpless EFCC operatives laying siege to Bello’s home to retreat from Benghazi Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja.

While the siege to Bello’s residence was still on, two conflicting court rulings emerged in respect to the attempt to arrest the former governor by the EFCC.

 One of the rulings, which came from Justice I.A Jamil of Kogi State High Court sitting in Lokoja, on Wednesday restrained the commission, from arresting, detaining or prosecuting him.

But Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja granted permission to the EFCC to arrest the ex-Kogi State governor in preparation for his arraignment last Thursday.

In its official reaction to Governor Ododo’s action, the EFCC had warned  that it is a criminal offence to obstruct its officers from carrying out their lawful duties.

In a statement on Wednesday, the spokesperson of the agency, Dele Oyewale, said the warning became necessary due to the “increasing tendency of 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.”

“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,” the statement said.

Governor Ododo’s action was not the first attempt by an incumbent governor to stop a security agency from arresting an influential Nigerian.

When the DSS was raiding homes of judges at ungodly hours in 2016, the then Governor Nyesom Wike had also prevented the secret police from arresting Justice Mohammed Liman of Federal High Court, Port Harcourt.

Wike foiled the attempt by the DSS to arrest Liman on October 8, 2016.

Operatives of the DSS had stormed 35, Forces Avenue, Port Harcourt, the residence of Liman.

But Wike rushed to his residence to rescue him, accusing the security agencies of not following due process in the discharge of their duties.

Wike had also rescued the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Joi Nunieh, from forceful arrest.

Policemen had stormed Nunieh’s residence hours before she was to appear before a House of Representatives’ panel probing the alleged fraud at NDDC.

Nunieh had spoken of illegalities at the commission, levelling many allegations against the then Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, whom she accused of sexual harassment.

But for the arrival of Wike, Nunieh, who joined Wike’s convoy to Government House, Port Harcourt, would have been taken away from her residence in Port Harcourt by the policemen, who according to her, pulled down the gate and attempted to break down the security door.

But Bello’s case has generated more interest than Justice Liman and Nunieh’s cases given his position as a former governor and his unimpressive performance as a governor, which his traducers believe brought shame to the Nigerian youths.

Bello has since been declared wanted by the EFCC, which alleged that the former governor, alongside the chief of staff to Usman Ododo, and one Daudu Suleiman, diverted about N80.2 billion belonging to the Kogi State government.

 Reacting to Bello’s attempt to evade the law, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), had asked the former governor to turn himself in to the commission.

Fagbemi said in a statement on Thursday that the EFCC has statutory powers “to invite any person of interest to interact with them in the course of their investigation into any matter regardless of status.”

“A situation where public officials who are themselves subject of protection by law enforcement agents will set up a stratagem of obstruction to the civil and commendable efforts of the EFCC to perform its duty is to say the least, insufferably disquieting,” Fagbemi said.

Meanwhile, Justice Nwite of the Federal High Court Abuja on Thursday adjourned the suit instituted by the EFCC against Bello to April 23, 2024.

The adjournment is for substituted service and possible arraignment of Bello for alleged money laundering.

At the resumed sitting, counsel for the EFCC, Kemi Pinheiro, told the court that the immediate past governor of Kogi State was absent from court for his arraignment because he was being protected by someone with immunity.

Pinheiro said the anti-graft agency might seek the help of the military to fish him out to come face his arraignment.

But responding to this submission, Bello, through his counsel, Abdulwahab Muhammad, told the court that there is an order restraining the EFCC from arresting him.

Following the stand-off between the EFCC and policemen guarding the former governor, the Inspector General of Police, Olukayode Egbetokun, has withdrawn all police officers attached to Bello, according to a police wireless message seen on Friday.

The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has also placed the former governor on a watchlist, according to a statement signed by Assistant Comptroller of Immigration, DS Umar, on behalf of the Comptroller-General of the NIS, Kemi Nandap.

Why is Bello running away from the EFCC instead of submitting himself to prove his innocence?

Is it a case of the guilty being always afraid?  Won’t Bello’s action jeopardise his chances of bail in the likely event that he is arrested and arraigned? Is he not giving the court and the prosecution the impression that he is a flight risk who will jump bail when it is judicially and judiciously granted?

These are the questions agitating the minds of many Nigerians.

Beyond the media frenzy, the EFCC should ensure that they have rock-solid evidence against the former governor. Let it not be that after arresting him, it is then they will begin to shop for evidence.

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