Efforts by the Delta State government to deter the the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from investigating financial and contractual records of the state during and after the tenure of its former state governor, Chief James Ibori, collapsed yesterday following the decision by the Federal High Court in Benin to hands-off the case.
The presiding judge of the court, Hon. Justice G. C. Okeke in her ruling agreed with the argument of the counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Wahab Shittu as well as counsel to the EFCC Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Bamidele Aturu who all submitted that the High Court lacked jurisdictional competence on the matter brought before it by the Delta State government.
While counsels to the state government, led by Mr. Ken Mozia argued that the court was backed by law and the nation’s Constitution to entertain the matter in the substantive suit; Shittu and Aturu argued to the contrary, pointing out that the originating summons was prompted by a letter from the EFCC requesting the Delta State government for information.
The EFCC’s letter, dated June 6 2007, made no mention of arrests or such issues as were raised in the originating summons, but merely asked the government to furnish the commission with information needed to carry out its statutory functions.
They pleaded with the judge to particularly lean heavily on the provisions of Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution to turnover jurisdiction on the matter so as not hinder the smooth performance of EFCC’s duties conferred on it by law.
The judge therefore declined to entertain the motion on notice filed by the Delta State government against the EFCC. By the same token, the court reversed itself by vacating an order of interim injunction it earlier granted at the behest of the state government, in respect of past and serving Delta State public functionaries, including Ibori.
The now vacated order of interim injunction was imposed to restrain the EFCC from carrying out investigations against the state’s current and erstwhile officials, including the arrest and freezing of financial accounts in any banks in Nigeria, pending the determination of the motion on notice.
The defendants (respondents), that is the EFCC, Ribadu and the AGF, then challenged the order granted on October 11 2007 via an application on October 29 2007.
But an official of the Delta State government yesterday night said it would appeal against the ruling of the High Court. The official said there were sufficient grounds for the appeal.
“The court yesterday decided only one aspect, which is the jurisdiction of the court. The public should not misconstrue it to mean that Delta State has lost the case. There are more than ten grounds for appeal, which the state government is bound to take up,” the official said.
The Federal High Court sitting in Benin City had on October 11 2007 granted an order of interim injunction sought by the Delta State government against the EFCC and others, pending the hearing of the motion on notice.
In the aforementioned order of interim injunction, the court granted the prayers of the state government, filed on its behalf by the state Attorney-General, to restrain the respondents from arresting, detaining or compelling the plaintiffs, including present and former functionaries of the government to furnish the EFCC and others with any information regarding dated contractual and financial transactions of the Delta State government.
The applicants had prayed the court for, among other things: “An order of interim injunction restraining the defendants, their agents, servants, privies or any person(s) acting for or through them from taking any step whatsoever to compel the plaintiffs/applicants including current or erstwhile holders of offices in the Delta State government to produce or submit the document(s) of information requested by the first defendant (EFCC) from the first plaintiff/applicant through its letter of June 6 2007.
The applicants also sought an interim order restraining the defendants and any others “from arresting or detaining any current or erstwhile” functionary of the Delta State government “from May 1999 to June 2007 including but not limited to: (a) Chief James Ibori (b) Chief Benjamin Elue (c) Mr. Ede Oghoro (d) Mr. Charles Israye, in consequence of the alleged investigation touching on the accounts, contracts, etc.”