EFCC has no right to delve into security matters— Lawyers

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Reacting to the development, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN, said asking the state government to release the details of its security meetings was not the core duties of the EFCC.
He said: “That is the work of other security agencies that are in charge of the general security of Nigeria. If in the process of carrying out their jobs, the security agencies now discover any financial crime, that is the only situation that will make them to call for investigation of any crime committed.
‘’The EFCC certainly does not have veto power to ask a state government to release or give details of its security meetings. It is ultra vires the power of the EFCC, going by the law that established the commission.
“However, if the appropriate federal government security agency decides to investigate the state and discovers that there had been an economic crime committed by any official of the state, only then can the EFCC come in to investigate such financial crime that was committed.
‘’The EFCC certainly doesn’t have a general veto power to make such request to any state government in the country. I believe that the police should be in a better position to make such request and certainly not the EFCC.
In his reaction, another legal practitioner, Chuma Otteh, said: “The EFCC, by virtue of the law establishing it, has mandate and powers to investigate criminal matters relating to economic and financial crimes.
‘’Except, the body is requesting for such information relating to economic issue, I find it very strange for it to ask FEC to give information about security meeting. In effect, such request has no basis, so far it is issue bordering on security. Also, EFCC as an arm of government can only rely on information given by the government.”
Another lawyer, Dr Allen Richard, said: “The EFCC mandate is to deal with issue of corruption and any economic infractions. It can investigate and prosecute anything bordering on economic sabotage.
“However, if you said it is on security matter, anything done by the body outside economic and financial crimes is ultra vires and it becomes illegal.
“To this end, its request and demand is irrelevant. It does not need it and it doesn’t possess such powers.”
Second Vice President, Nigerian Bar Association, Monday Ubani, said: “That is a strange request. Why should the EFCC be asking a state government to release the details of their security meeting? I have read through the EFCC Act and I have not seen any portion to empower the agency to make such request.
“Another question that one must ask is why is the EFCC singling out just Benue State? There is something certainly suspicious about that request.”
Reacting in a similar vein, another legal practitioner, Destiny Takon, said: “Everybody knows that the power of the EFCC is limited to economic crime. The EFCC lacks the competence to ask an arm of government to make disclosure of its security meeting.
“As a matter of fact, the governor of Benue State is the chief security officer of the state and can hold any meeting concerning the affairs of the state, especially in light of the senseless killing in the state.
“The EFCC is certainly overshooting its powers and in simple terms, what it is doing amounts to witch-hunting which has been known to be the character of this government.
“The agenda clearly appears to be a sinister motive inquiry into any move that Benue State government is making to protect the people of the state. That simply is the only explanation for this.”
Also Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, yesterday, maintained that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was bereft of the constitutional powers to compel officials of Benue State Government to furnish it with details of all security meetings that have been held in the state since inception of Governor Samuel Ortom’s administration.
The senior lawyers, in separate interviews with Vanguard, further contended that under the prevailing situation, the anti-graft agency, could not also investigate how state governments utilize their security votes.
Among those that expressed legal opinion included a professor of law, Mr. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN, as well as vocal constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozehkome, SAN.
Both senior lawyers made reference to decided case laws which they said barred the EFCC from supervising or investigating issues bordering on security expenditure of states.
They both insisted that no state could be legally compelled to submit such report to the EFCC.
Prof. Ojukwu, SAN, said: “We have had some decided cases on this matter, but I wouldn’t know if it is the account that they are looking into or they are investigating a suspected crime.
“There are subsisting decisions that, while a serving Governor has immunity against prosecution, he can be investigated. However, as a defendant in a criminal investigation, it should be your decision to submit or not submit information to the agency, which is like writing a statement. The constitution permits you not to say anything. So it is not a mandatory thing that Benue State government must comply.
“It is left for the state government to decide on whether it will comply or not. In law and under the constitution, a defendant in a criminal investigation has a right not to say anything. It is for the agency to prove what it wants.”
According to Ozehkome, SAN: “This requisition is nothing but a vile political instrument to muscle the governor because he refused not to defect from the APC after the Presidency and the APC government had begged him not to decamp. The state governor is the Chief Security Officer under Section 215 of the 1999 Constitution and security votes across Nigeria have never been known to be accounted for or to be disclosed by any of the governors since 1999 when we started this journey in a fresh democratic experimentation.
“The governor cannot be required to disclose security matters of the state, as if Benue State was a parastatal of the Federal Government. We operate a federal system of government where the Federal Government at the centre has no sovereignty or imperial control over state governments as if they were an appendage.
“Various decisions by the courts affirmed that EFCC cannot investigate state accounts. One of them is the case I won for the Ekiti State Government earlier in the year, where the Federal High Court sitting at Ado-Ekiti declared that under Sections 6,7,28, 32 and 34 of the EFCC Establishment Act of 2004, it has no power to act as a Monitor General or as a Senior Prefect to oversee the account of state governments or to ask state officials to produce accounts of Ekiti State Government.