A Federal High Court judge in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, has criticised the alleged harassment of the officials of the state government by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC.
The EFCC is currently investigating the former governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio, over the alleged looting of N108.1 billion belonging to the state while he was the governor.
Mr. Akpabio, who is an influential member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the Senate Minority Leader, has been arrested and detained at least twice by the EFCC.
The current administration in Akwa Ibom, headed by Governor Udom Emmanuel, a protégé of Mr. Akpabio, has been accused by the anti-graft agency of blocking it from having access to the financial records of the state government.
In an ongoing suit filed by the state at the Federal High Court, Uyo, which seeks to restrain the EFCC from investigating the state finances, the presiding judge, F.O. Riman warned the EFCC not to take any action against any official of the state government, until the determination of the case before the court.
Apart from the EFCC, the government is also suing the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and the Inspector General of Police over the same allegations of harassment.
Curiously, Mr. Akpabio is listed as one of the 11 defendants in the case.
Five banks – Zenith Bank, Keystone Bank, Skye Bank, First City Monument Bank, FCMB and the United Bank of Africa, UBA are among the defendants.
Other defendants include the Speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, the Clerk of the state Assembly, the Auditor-General of Akwa Ibom State and the Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the judge’s remark was prompted by a complaint from the state government through its Attorney-General, Uwemedimo Nwoko, that the operatives of the anti-graft agency were “harassing” the officials of the state government.
“I have listened with rapt attention to the learned Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Uwemedimo Nwoko Esq. on the attitude of officers of the 11th defendant (EFCC) who have continued to invite and harass members/officers of the plaintiff even when this matter is still pending before this court,” Mr. Riman said in a ruling on July 6, according to a court document obtained by PREMIUM TIMES.
“It is appropriate to warn that it is the duty of every party in a suit to respect the proceedings pending in a court, whether there being an order or not, until the determination of the matter.”
The judge said that the country’s security agencies must respect the rule of law and allow the court to take a final decision on matters brought before the court.
“This court will not hesitate to take appropriate action to deal with any act by any party which seeks to undermine the integrity of this court,” the judge said, adding that “the kind of situation painted by the learned Attorney-General by the 11thdefendant (the EFCC) leaves the people with no choice but to resort to lawlessness when those in power or the powerful erect legal bumps in the judicial process to delay justice.
“I, therefore, warn all the parties to respect the law and the proceedings of this court until the determination of same.”
The case comes up on October 3 for definite hearing.
The state government had earlier filed a similar suit and obtained a restraining order in April at a state high court in Ikot Ekpene against the EFCC and others.
The state judge, N.F. Ntong, however, later vacated the order.
Mr. Nwoko told PREMIUM TIMES then in April that the government went to court because EFCC wrote letters to banks requesting documents on state government transactions.
Mr. Nwoko said Akwa Ibom is a federating unit in the Nigerian federation, and that EFCC, being an agency of the federal government ”is not empowered by the Nigerian Constitution to investigate the finances of the state.”
“It’s not about whether there’s anything wrong with the accounts of the Akwa Ibom state government! Why should the EFCC look into it? Is the state looking into the federal government account?”
Mr. Nwoko said other state governments that allowed EFCC and other federal agencies to investigate them ”may not have had the wisdom and courage to challenge the federal government.”
“As the attorney-general of Akwa Ibom state, I am setting a precedent,” he said.
The EFCC has accused the government of refusing to release some state officials for questioning, according to a report published on Thursday by the Nation newspaper.
The Nation also reported that Effiong Efiakedoho, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Special Duties, was among the state officials invited for questioning. He was invited in connection with a five-star hotel, Four Point by Sheraton Hotel, built in Ikot Ekpene by the Akpabio’s administration, the paper reported.
The Nation reported that the accountant-general, the commissioner of works and some civil servants in the state have also been invited by the EFCC, but that the state government prevented them from honouring the invitation.
The paper said the EFCC was accusing the state government of using court cases to stall the investigation into the allegations of corruption in the state.
It also quoted an unnamed EFCC source as saying that the investigation against Mr. Akpabio would go on even if the persons whose petitions prompted the investigations decide to withdraw them.
The anti-graft agency is investigating Mr. Akpabio for reportedly giving N1.4 billion as a gift to an unnamed bank, as well as allegedly acquiring several high-priced properties in Lagos and Abuja.