Court okays EFCC to investigate Benue State Accounts

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday gave credence to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to investigate the Benue State Accounts, after the state government filed to challenge the powers of the Agency on such matters.

The court, in a judgement that was delivered by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, held that EFCC has the legal competence to investigate any allegation or reasonable suspicion of financial impropriety involving officials of any state government.

Justice Dimgba held that powers the law conferred on EFCC under sections 6, 7 and 38 of the EFCC Act were very broad and not confined or limited to geographical or territorial boundaries.

He said the anti-graft agency was not forclosed by section 125 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, from demanding the release of specific officials of the Benue State government to assist its investigations.

The court held that the suit was predicated on the “fallacy and misconception” that only a resolution by the Benue State Assembly could empower the EFCC to look into financial activities of the state.

It further dismissed contention of the Plaintiff that only the Auditor General of Benue State has the sole responsibility of scrutinizing financial books of the state.

The court maintained that contrary to the position of the Plaintiff, the Benue State government was not the subject of the investigation, but named officials that were fingered in a petition that alleged the commission of financial crimes.

“Indeed, the definition of economic and financial crimes under Section 46 of the EFCC Act is so broad that it arises even in the context of the management of the financial resources of a State.

“I am therefore in total disagreement with the proposition that the 1st Defendant is foreclosed from investigating an allegation of corruption when it has to do with the finances of a state government.

“It is important to note that none of the officials which the 1st Defendant by Exhibits EFCC3 to EFCC6 have asked to be released to assist their investigation is a Governor or Deputy Governor who enjoy immunity under Section 308 of the Constitution.

“Therefore, from a totality of all these evidence as well as the depositions in the affidavit evidence before me, the suggestion that the 1st Defendant is investigating the Government of Benue State absolutely holds no water. It is clear that the investigation activities are directed at State officials and not to the State itself which in any event cannot possibly be engaged in the commission of economic and financial crimes since the State Government cannot possibly possess the mental element needed to commit such crimes nor can possibly be subject to the criminal prosecution that is the end-point of any investigative activities.

“As far as I can see, there is nothing in Sections 125, 128 and 129 of the CFRN 1999 which forecloses or precludes the investigative powers of the 1st Defendant in the matters over which the 1st Defendant has competence.

“The purpose of the surveillance and investigative powers of the House of Assembly and indeed of the Auditor-General are quite limited by the Constitution. There is nothing in any of the mentioned constitutional provisions that contains a language of exclusivity indicating that as far as issues of corruption in the administration of a State Government is concerned, it is only the House of Assembly that can detect or deal with such.

“In the absence of such language of exclusivity, and in the presence of the strictly limiting purposes set out under Section 128(2) of the Constitution in relation to the investigation powers of the House of Assembly, I am of the view that the 1st defendant retains the competence to investigate the financial administration of a State to see if a financial or economic crime has been committed by any official when a reasonable basis exists, as it does in the light of Exhibits EFCC1 and EFCC2.

“I further hold that exercising this competence as the 1st Defendant has done in the circumstances of the present case does not do any violence to the principles of federalism and separation of powers embodied in the Constitution.

“The proper view therefore is that in relation to financial and economic crimes in Nigeria, there are no holy grounds or exclusive territories belonging only to the State Houses of Assembly. The powers of the state legislatures to investigate and expose corruption in the management of a State’s finances exist in complementarity with the roles, mandate and powers of the 1st Defendant”.

“For the avoidance of doubt, my conclusion is that the 1st Defendant has the legal competence to investigate any allegation or reasonable suspicion of corrupt practices and all forms of economic and financial crimes in Nigeria in every strata of our public life, even if such allegations or reasonable suspicions arise in the context of the financial administration of a state or even local government in Nigeria.

“I also do not believe the argument that an invitation of key officials of the Benue State government pursuant to investigating allegations of corrupt practices and suspicious transactions in the financial dealings of the state amounts to an attempt to take over the Benue State government by the 1st Defendant. The State can still very much function if the requested officials show cooperation with the 1st defendant”, Justice Dimgba held.

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