Minimah, EFCC and media litigation
BY MADU ONUORAH
Can any of the institutions of the Nigerian state rightly act against or above the Constitution by flouting the laws, disobeying court orders or acting without regard for due process or due process, especially in court cases? This has come to the fore based on the drama unfolding between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Lt. Gen. Kenneth Tobiah Josiah Minimah, former Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Army.
It is disturbing that the democratic institutions created by law display a boldness reminiscent of the dark days of the military dictatorship. And it is surprising that such democratic structures do not even spare the Nigerian Armed Forces and its personnel.
The EFCC is one of the institutions created by the administration of the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2003. And it derives its existence and its powers from the Constitution of 1999 (as amended). Yet in many cases it appears that the EFCC is acting as if it is above the constitution.
Check it out. The EFCC has lodged a complaint against General Minimah and others for alleged embezzlement of 13 billion naira intended for the purchase of weapons. The other two defendants in the indictment brought before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are a former head of accounts and budget for the Nigerian army, Major General AO Adetayo and a former director of finance and Nigerian Army Accounting Officer, Brigadier General. RI Odi.
The EFCC, in proceedings before the Court, stated that it received on August 15, 2016, a report of the Committee on the Audit of Defense Equipment Purchases in the Nigerian Armed Forces (CADEP) from 2007 to 2015, chaired by AVM Jon Ode (rtd) alleging that between 2010 and 2015, “several billion naira were received by the Nigerian military from the federal government for the purchase of military equipment and were discovered to have been embezzled by senior officers of the Army “.
The Commission then asked the military authorities to release the officers concerned for prosecution.
As law-abiding citizens, the officers concerned turned to a Federal High Court to challenge the lawsuit, particularly the proceedings, inquiring whether the court had jurisdiction to try them as military officers. The EFCC has been duly notified of this prosecution. The Federal High Court had scheduled the hearing of the case by Minimah & Co for December 9.
But in a show of impetuosity never seen during the military rule in the country, the EFCC simply ignored the prosecution and went ahead, on the eve of the prosecution hearing, the media that she had indicted the senior officers concerned. to the court.
It is not only the effrontery of the Commission that is of concern. But the EFCC is trying to delay a great court case that could have had a serious impact and enriched the country’s legal and judicial system. The grounds for the case instituted by Minimah & co are fascinating and resemble a new dimension of Nigerian legal jurisprudence.
Through their lawyer, Mahmud Magaji, SAN, General Minimah and 2 others, argue that the audit committee on the alleged misappropriation of the purchase of military equipment “did not refer the case to the 2nd defendant (EFCC) for further investigation and not to lay criminal charges against the complainants.
The generals insist that they are still subject to the Service Law, i.e. the Armed Forces Law, and that if a military officer falling under the Service Law Nigerian army commits an offense, it is reported in the form of a charge to the Commander of the accused for investigation and trial if necessary.
“This Nigerian army has its rules and statutory mechanisms for the administration of criminal justice. This military officer under the Service Act can only be prosecuted by court martial. That the court martial is a special tribunal specially designed to prosecute individuals in the Nigerian armed forces.
The plaintiffs also argued that the EFCC did not have the power to bring them to justice “in respect of offenses allegedly committed in the course of their official duties”, insisting that the charge against them “is unknown to the law.
“That the 2nd Respondent (EFCC) is determined to subject the plaintiffs to criminal prosecution regardless of the existing legal provisions which have stipulated the mode of prosecution of military officers. “
The tribunal gave all parties 21 days to file their briefs.
But it is the fact that the EFCC, knowing that there is a judgment of the Court preventing it from arresting General Minimah and the two others and that it has continued to do so, makes suspicious of its membership in the rule of law. A judgment to this effect was rendered on December 6, 2020 by Judge IE Ekwo of the Federal High Court in case number FHC / ABJ / CS / 1595/2020 between Lieutenant General KTJ Minimah (rtd), Major General AO Adetayo and the sergeant. Gen RI Odi as Plaintiffs / Plaintiffs and Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as Defendants / Respondents.
They had, through the ex-parte dated and filed on December 3, 2020, applied for an interim injunction order prohibiting the first and second defendants / respondents, their agents, partners, assigns, servants, whatever or name, charge, organize and / or prosecute the complainant for any suspected violation or misconduct pending the hearing and decision of the motion on notice.
Alternatively, an order directing all parties to the lawsuit to maintain the status quo ante bellum, pending the hearing and decision of the notice motion.
Ruling, Justice Ekwo ordered all parties to the trial to maintain the status quo ante bellum, pending the hearing and final decision on the notice motion. According to the judge, the Plaintiffs / Plaintiffs are hereby ordered to serve on the Defendants / Respondents all proceedings relating to this matter within 2 days of this Order while the matter has been adjourned to December 17, 2020 for motion on notice. .
Now the big question: why wouldn’t the EFCC obey the above judgment? What is the rush to disclose his case indicting the same people that the court has forbidden them to do? Why was the EFCC unable to wait until the end of the case challenging the jurisdiction of a civilian court to try senior army officers for their activities while on duty or to appeal to the Court of Appeal to quash the High Court order?
The judgment on this case, whatever its meaning, is new and could have an enriching contribution to Nigerian jurisprudence. Or is the EFCC dancing to the tunes of those who are afraid of General Minimah and are looking for a way to reach him without coming personally or head-on? Or is the Commission displaying its well-known penchant for playing gallery through media trials?
Of course, the EFCC’s notoriety for media litigation is well documented and had become a major source of public irritation.
In 2020, the Senate Committee on Combating Corruption and Financial Crimes, chaired by Senator Suleiman Kwari, urged the EFCC to stop media trials if it is to achieve desired results, insisting that 90 % of investigations must be carried out before an arrest is made. . “The hype must stop. If you want to be effective, forget about the media, do the job and let your job speak for you, ”the distinguished senator admonished at the Commission.
Lately, the activities of the EFCC, which was established to combat financial and economic crimes such as advance fee fraud, money laundering, and terrorist financing, among others, have ruled in favor of many states and individuals, victims of their media ambushes and trials, seek to bring them to justice instead of resorting to selected information leaks just to tarnish their names and image.
Perhaps this was the EFCC’s modus operandi in its early days. But he has to face the reality that clinging to the pent-up emotions of the Nigerian public, which has been disappointed by many leaders, would not give the EFCC the respect and attention it desires. What it needs is diligent investigation and prosecution and success in court.
What is clear is that the EFCC’s current lawsuit against General Minimah and the other two generals is pre-emptive as their own lawsuit against the Anti-Graft Corps was already scheduled to be heard on September 9. And the EFCC lawsuit, as usual, was disclosed on September 9. the day before the court hearing to determine the competence of civilian courts to try military personnel.
The EFCC’s preemptive strike casts doubt on the Commission’s real intentions with regard to the Minimah & Co. case In addition to depriving the nation of the benefit of sound legal debate and decisions, this has once furthermore shown that the anti-corruption agency is simply committing to harming one of the people it is focusing on, an action that further disturbs the personality assassination. . It is still baffling why the EFCC was unable to wait for General Minimah’s prosecution to be decided before embarking on further action, as required in a proper judicial process. Or is there something they have to fear from the retired Chief of Staff who has served Nigeria meritoriously?
Madu Onuorah wrote from Abuja