A Federal High Court Abuja has fixed October 8, 2018 for the delivery of its judgment in a suit filed by the Benue State government, challenging the propriety of the powers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate its accounts.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba fixed the date on Wednesday, following the adoption of briefs of arguments by the lawyers to the parties.
Adopting his brief of argument on behalf of the Benue State government, Mr Emeka Etiaba (SAN), who was with Emeka Okpoko (SAN), urged the court to hold that the EFCC lacks the statutory powers to investigate the accounts of a state government without a resolution by the Benue State House of Assembly to do so.
The senior advocate also submitted that by virtue of the provisions of Sections 1(1) and (3), 125 (2), (4) and (6), 128 and 129 of the 1999 Constitution, it is only the Benue State House of Assembly and the auditor- general of the state (4th and 5th respondents) who have the powers to investigate or inquire into the accounts and /or appropriations, disbursements and administration of the funds of Benue State government.
Eitaba also told the court that the EFCC went beyond its powers of investigation of top government functionaries by probing sensitive financial documents of the state.
The senior advocate also listed some of the documents forwarded to the EFCC for investigation.
They include the approved budget for the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and those of all the 23 local government councils from 2015 to date, approved budget of the state and the local government councils from January 2015 to date, details of statutory allocations released to the state and local government councils from January 2015 to date,
details of the excess crude account allocations released to the state and local governments from January 2015 to date and details of the Value Added Tax (VAT) allocations released to the state and local government councils from January 2015 to date.
Etiaba submitted that in the course of its investigation, the anti-graft commission had interrogated high ranking government officials, including the permanent secretary, Government House, Makurdi; permanent secretary, Bureau of Internal Affairs and Special Services and the secretary to the state government.
Besides these government officials, Etiaba stated that the EFCC also invited and interrogated members of the state House of Assembly under the disguise that it is investigating the individuals but in the true sense of it was probing the state government.
The lawyer also urged the court to answer the four questions raised in favour of the plaintiff and grant the 12 reliefs sought.
Lawyer to the speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, the clerk to the assembly and others, Joe Abaagu, aligned himself with the submissions made by Etiaba in urging the court to grant the reliefs sought by the plaintiff.
But the lawyer to the EFCC, Mr Slyvanus Tahir, while urging the court to dismiss the suit filed by the state government, said the reliefs contained in the originating summons were misconceived.
He maintained that by the virtue of Sections 6, 7 and 38 (1) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act 2004, the commission has powers to investigate both the individuals of the state as well as the state’s accounts.
Tahir informed the court that the actions of the commission were informed by petitions written against the state government by some indigenes of the state, including former Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, Mr Abubakar Tsav, alleging massive corruption by some state officials.
He argued that the powers donated to the state House of Assembly under Section 125 of the 1999 Constitution and the state auditor general under Section 128 and 129 of the constitution were merely oversight functions but not prosecutorial powers.
He therefore urged the court to hold that it is only the EFCC that has the statutory powers to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.
The EFCC had earlier this month allegedly frozen the bank accounts of Benue State government claiming it was investigating cases of alleged fraud.
The suit challenging the action of the EFCC was filed by the Attorney General of Benue state, Micheal Gusa.