New Telegraph

EFCC/Yahaya Bello Saga: Placing facts on the table (2)

Introduction

We started this burning issue last week when we took a look at the accusations laid against Yahaya Ballo, the media trial, flaws of the EFCC, National Anti-Corruption Stakeholders’ Summit held in 2017, the matters at the front burner etc. Today, we shall continue and conclude the episode starting the matters at the front burner and matters arising. Please read on.

Matters at the front burner (continues)

By filing the Charge, the EFCC violated the Order of the interim order of the High Court of Justice of Kogi State which was still extant and subsisting and which effectively prohibited the EFCC from prosecuting Yahaya Bello! This was in this case, the 1st disobedience to Court Order.

It must be further noted that despite the new charge, the EFCC still alleged that the N80 Billion was allegedly embezzled within one month of his being in office as Governor. Mr. Dele Oyewale.on behalf of the EFCC has cleverly avoided the interim order of the Court, which the EFCC flouted, rather he has painted the scenario as if the only order the High Court of Kogi State made was the final Judgement of the Court, which he has reproduced extensively and which was only read out at 12:00 Noon on the 17th day of April 2024. From the above, it’s clear that as of 12:00 noon on 17th day of April 2024, the interim order of injunction restraining the EFCC from arresting, inviting, detaining, or prosecuting Alhaji Yahaya Bello was still extant as the Court had yet to finish delivering the judgment which Mr. Uwujaren selectively reproduced in his epistle. It therefore follows that the attempt to arrest Yahaya Bello on the 17th Day of April 2024 was a violation of the Order of the High Court of Justice of Kogi State granted on 9th February 2024.

This was the 2nd disobedience to the Court. It is also noteworthy that the Officers of the EFCC who had been loitering around the Zone 4 residence of Yahaya Bello since about 7:00am on the 17th of April 2024 were shown the Order and they were informed that they were on an illegal duty.

To counter it, EFCC hurriedly proceeded to file an Ex-parte Motion at the Federal High Court Abuja at about 8:24am praying the Court for a Warrant of Arrest against the Yahaya Bello despite the pendency of the Order of the Kogi State High Court of Justice. This was indeed the third act of disobedience!!! Mr. Dele Oyewale has cleverly but falsely tried to portray that it was after the Judgment of the Kogi State High Court of Justice of 17th April 2024 that the EFCC filed the Charge against Yahaya Bello and obtained the Ex-parte the Warrant for his arrest, this is absolutely false given that the Charge was filed over a month before the Judgment and the Motion Ex-parte was filed at 8:24 am on the morning of the day of arrest i.e. 17th April 2024 and when they were already in his home.

Nigerians can also see that Mr. Oyewale’s statement that it was the attempt to enforce the warrant of the Federal High Court that took them to Zone 4 is absolutely false as they were already in Yahaya Bello’s House to arrest him before they filed the application for Warrant of Arrest!!! Nigerians watched live! It must also be noted that the EFCC never produced the Warrant they obtained at Yahaya Bello’s residence before they dispersed. It was only in the news at about 4pm that we read of a Warrant of Arrest obtained by the EFCC for the arrest of Yahaya Bello. It must also be clarified, contrary to the claims of the EFCC that that the implication of the Judgment of the High Court of Kogi State, Lokoja was that Yahaya Bello should not be invited, arrested, and detained on any allegation of corruption unless the Leave of a Superior Court of Record is sought and obtained to that effect by the EFCC.

The EFCC should know that the leave referred to in that Judgment is not a Warrant of arrest and certainly not one applied for or obtained before the Judgment! Indeed, the Warrant was obtained in disobedience of the Order of the Kogi State High Court of Justice which restrained them from arresting Yahaya Bello! This is indeed disobedience number four!

Matters arising

By the provision of section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

This is unequivocally the position of the law, and has not changed. In Article 7(1) (b) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1981, there is also a guarantee of the presumption when it states as follows: every individual shall have the right to fair-hearing, that is; to have his cause heard including a right to an appeal, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court or tribunal, and also the right to defence, including the right to be defended by counsel of his choice. These are provisions that guide the trial of anybody suspected to have committed a crime. It further extends to the right to be tried within a reasonable time by an impartial court or tribunal Thus, the presumption of innocence is the legal principle in criminal cases that one is considered innocent until proven guilty.

This therefore entails that until a judicial pronouncement is made, a suspect or defendant as the case may be should be treated with dignity as an innocent citizen; anything contrary would amount to a breach of the Fundamental Human Rights of the individual. It should be underscored from the provision of the said section that it is only when a person is charged to court with a criminal offence that he is presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. In the case of: Aig-Imoukhuede v Ubah (2015) 8 NWLR (Pt.1462) 399 at 408, the court held that the condition precedent for the right to the presumption of innocence is that the person must have been charged with a criminal offence. See also, the case of IGP v Ubah (2015) 11 NWLR (Pt.1471) 405 at 414. Furthermore, the court held that the phrase “charged” in the said section refers to an arraignment of an accused before a court of law or a tribunal having judicial powers to convict and punish the accused, if found guilty. It does not extend to administrative or ministerial investigative bodies.

The further aspect of the presumption of innocence is that the burden of proving the guilt of the accused person is on the prosecution. See Ahmed v The State 2 (1999) 7 NWLR (Part 612) 641 at 673. Section 135 of the Nigerian Evidence Act 2011 audaciously places this burden on the prosecution who alleges that the accused person has committed an offence, and profoundly specifies the standard of the proof to be beyond reasonable doubt as affirmed in Ibrahim v State (1995) 3 NWLR (Part 381) 35.

Conclusion

The anti-graft agency is therefore under a statutory duty to follow the law knowing very well that the agency itself is a creation of the law. It didn’t come into existence on its own by the law. It is essentially also burdened with the responsibility of adducing credible evidence to establish the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt.

No matter what indictment or formal charges are brought against him, and no matter what the popular opinion may be, if the prosecution cannot decisively establish his guilt at the trial, he is entitled to be discharged and acquitted. It therefore makes no sense to resort to media trials in contradiction to the guides given to it by the law. I conclude by reiterating my position that EFCC is a specialist in media trials and media convictions of innocent citizens. Absurdly, when it comes to courtroom advocacy, EFCC loses out most times. EFCC’s grandstanding to win attention during needless media trials, I believe, doesn’t allow EFCC to concentrate and undertake thorough investigations and or prepare adequately for courtroom trials during which law, not personal whims, is king.

The attempt by the EFCC through Mr Oyewale to distort the facts and timelines of events is to allow the EFCC to forge on to rely on the illegally obtained Warrant of Arrest. The Warrant is not only illegal because it was obtained in contravention of an order of Court, but also because the Court was misled into granting the same as the Court lacked the jurisdiction to grant the same. By the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, a Warrant can only be issued against a suspect (a fleeing suspect or one who is likely to flee). Yahaya Bello having been charged to Court in Charge No. FHC/ABJ/ CR/98/2024 cannot be called a suspect. He is a Defendant.

Only the Court can compel his appearance after he has been served with the Charge and the Charge has yet to be served on him. Finally, is it important to point out that Yahaya Bello is not party to the case of EFCC v. Kogi State Government and 4 Ors which Mr. Dele Oyewale referred to in paragraph 3 of the Press Release, hence he could not have disregarded the same in any way as claimed. The judgment of the High Court of Justice, Kogi State delivered on the 17th day of April 2024 vindicates Alhaji Yahaya Bello as the Court pointedly held as follows: “Thus, the serial action of the Respondent, dating back to 2021, right up to 2024, targeted against the applicant, has corroded their legitimate statutory duties of investigation and prosecution of financial crimes. These collective infractions on the rights of the applicant border on infringement of his fundamental right from discrimination”. To sum up, I stand to say without any fear of contradiction that the anti-graft agency goofed by the media trial as it cannot be prosecutor and Judge simultaneously. Having charged Yahaya Bello to court, they should allow the court to take charge. Anything outside rule of law is unacceptable! (The end). “Journalism has a special, hallowed place for stories of its practitioners’ persecution. (Thomas Frank)

Last line

God bless my numerous global readers for always keeping faith with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by humble me, Prof Mike Ozekhome, SAN, CON, OFR, FCIArb., LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D, D.Litt, D.Sc. Kindly, come with me to next week’s exciting dissertation.

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