By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
Justice Inyang Edem Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja has stopped the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from confiscating six choice properties traced to Zamfara State Governor, Dr Bello Mohammed Matawale located in various parts of Abuja.
The Judge predicated his stop order on section 308 of the 1999 Constitution which grants absolute immunity to serving governors from civil and criminal proceedings by EFCC or any other agency of government.
In a judgment on Friday in a suit by EFCC seeking forfeiture of the six properties to the Federal Government, Justice Ekwo held that the anti-graft agency lacked power to initiate any criminal proceedings against Matawale while in office.
The six properties are plot 1327, Zone A05,, plot 2934, plot 730 and plot 2804B, both located at Zone A06 Cadastral Zone, Maitama District.
Others are plot 729, Idu Industrial Layout and plot 575 BOO, in Kubwa District.
Justice Ekwo agreed with Ahmed Raji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN, Matawale’s counsel that the criminal proceedings activated against the governor by EFCC was an abuse of court process in view of his insulation from criminal trial by the immunity law.
Although the Judge had on May 26 issued interim forfeiture order against the properties in a ruling on EFCC’S ex-parte application, he vacated the order based on the established ownership claim by the governor and the request for dismissal of EFCC’S suit.
The Judge while vacating the interim order agreed with Ahmed Raji SAN, that the anti-graft agency lacked locus standi to initiate the suit for forefeiture properties of a serving governor.
“From the avalanche of evidence placed before the court,, there is no contest or dispute on the ownership of the properties. And from the position of the law, especially section 308 of the Constitution, EFCC has no other option than to wait till the end of tenure of office of the respondent l
“The owner of the properties, having shown up and found to be a serving governor, protected by section 308, EFCC’S suit is no longer sanctioned by law and any action, not sanctioned by law is an abuse of court process”.
Based on submissions of Raji SAN, Justice Ekwo dismissed the suit in its entirety and directed EFCC to wait till the end of tenure of the governor to activate criminal court proceedings against him.
EFCC had, in its suit, claimed that it received an intelligence report to the effect that Matawale, on assumption of office, had been using Zamfara State’s fund to acquire multi-billion naira properties in choice areas of Abuja.
The governor was also alleged to have moved over N2.1B from the State’s Ministry of Finance to the Directorate of Investment and Business under his office and used some companies and Bureau De Change (BDC) to launder the money.