By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been advised to re-evaluate its approach to cases involving civil transactions and limit its scope of operations to criminal matters as stipulated in the law that set it up.
Abuja based lawyer, Pelumi Olajengbesi, issued the caution in a statement on Saturday in reaction to the Supreme Court judgment that quashed the conviction of Senator Peter Nwaoboshi on alleged N800M fraud.
The EFCC had accused Senator Nwaoboshi of illegal property acquisition, leading to his arrest and subsequent arraignment before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
However, the court ruled that the nature of the transaction was civil in nature, thereby questioning the EFCC’s authority to intervene in such matters. Consequently, he was discharged and acquitted.
Nevertheless, the EFCC went to the Court of Appeal, which held a different view, prompting an appeal to the Supreme Court on behalf of Senator Peter Nwaoboshi.
The Supreme Court, in its judgment, emphasised that the entire prosecution, conviction, and sentencing were based on civil transactions.
It stressed that the EFCC, as a body entrusted with the responsibility of curbing financial crimes and related offenses, lacks the legal jurisdiction and authority to involve itself in civil matters.
Reacting to the apex court’s verdict, Olajengbesi said “Regrettably, this experience is not unique to Senator Peter Nwaoboshi but resonates with numerous Nigerians and stakeholders who have encountered the EFCC’s actions.
“The agency, established to detect and combat financial crimes within and outside the government, has strayed from its mandate and now acts as a debt recovery agency, wielding its power against perceived adversaries.
“It is crucial to emphasize that the EFCC, like other law enforcement agencies, does not possess the legal capacity to interfere in civil transactions between citizens and companies. Its role does not extend to debt recovery or arbitration in economic disputes.
“This legal position is well-established in Nigerian law, including the EFCC Act and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA), and has received judicial endorsement in numerous cases, including thode of the Supreme Court.
“Therefore, we urgently call upon the leadership of the EFCC to restructure its modus operandi to align with its mandate as a commission. The EFCC must refrain from meddling in civil transactions that fall under the jurisdiction of competent courts or, at best, arbitration panels.
“Such a course of action would not only restore the public’s faith in the anti-graft agency but also safeguard the integrity and reputation of the Commission, which has been meticulously built over the years”, he said..