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EFCC declares ex-governor Bello wanted, considers use of military to effect arrest after Governor’s protection from prosecution

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has declared the former Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello wanted.

In a statement, it said: “Former Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, is wanted by the EFCC for offences relating to economic and financial crimes to the tune of N80.2 Billion.

“Anybody with information as to his whereabout should report immediately to the Commission or the nearest Police station.”

The move comes as the commission says it is contemplating using the military to effect the arrest of former Kogi State Governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello,  after it emerged that a person with immunity, an apparent reference to a state governor, made it impossible for him to be physically charged in court on Thursday.

Recall that the anti-graft agency was Wednesday unable to effect the arrest of former Kogi State Governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello, though a Federal High Court, Abuja, ordered that a warrant be issued to it for his immediate arrest.

A Federal High Court was Thursday forced to adjourn to April 23 over the absence of Bello in court. At the resumed sitting, Counsel for the EFCC, Kemi Pinhero, told the court was absent for his arraignment because he was being protected by someone with immunity.

He said the former governor was whisked out of his Abuja residence by the same person with immunity, adding that EFCC might seek the help of the military to fish him out.

It is alleged that the sitting governor, Ibrahim Usman Ododo, used his security cover to ferret Bello out of his (Bello’s) residence when the commission’s operatives cordoned off and trapped him in his Abuja residence on Wednesday.

Operatives of the anti-graft agency had laid siege to the Wuse Zone 4 residence of the former Kogi governor for most part of Wednesday.

The EFCC had cordoned off the road and entrance to Bello’s residence in an attempt to have him arrested and arraigned for corruption charges on Thursday.

As the EFCC operatives surrounded the ex-governor’s residence, his successor Ododo arrived amid cheers from the supporters of Bello who had gathered to support their embattled principal.

The Kogi State governor after a while left the premises of his predecessor, with the anti-graft agency confirming that he took Bello along with him.

There was conflicting court orders over the arrest of Bello on Wednesday.

One of the rulings, which came from a Kogi State High Court sitting in Lokoja, restrained the EFCC from arresting, detaining or prosecuting Bello.

Justice I.A Jamil, who gave the order in a two-hour ruling on Wednesday, said that infringing on the fundamental human rights of the former Kogi is null and void except as authorised by the Court.

“By this order, the EFCC is hereby restrained from arresting, detaining and prosecuting the applicant except as authorised by the Court.

“This is a definite order following the earlier interim injunction given,” he said.

The EFCC, however,  obtained permission from the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to arrest the ex-Kogi State governor in preparation to his arraignment on Thursday.

Justice Emeka Nwite granted the warrant at the instance of the EFCC.

Bello served as the governor of the North Central state from January 27, 2016 to January 27, 2024, when he handed over to his fellow party man in the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Justice Emeka Nwite, in a ruling on EFCC’s ex-parte motion, held that after listening to the submission of commission’s counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN, and reading the affidavit in support of the motion, including the exhibits and written address, he was inclined to grant the application.

Justice Nwite also directed that the former governor be produced before the court on April 18 for arraignment.

“It is hereby ordered as follows:

“That an order of this honourable court is hereby made directing and/or issuing a warrant for the immediate arrest of the defendant for the purpose of bringing him before this honourable court for arraignment.

“That case is adjourned to 18th day of April, 2024 for arraignment,” he declared.

EFCC, in the motion ex-parte marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/98/2024 dated April 16 and filed April 17, sought six orders.

These include “an order granting leave to the complainant/applicant to effect service of the charge together with the proof of evidence on the defendant by substituted means to wit; by pasting the charge at the last known address of the defendant within the jurisdiction of this honourable court being: 9, Benghazi Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja.

“An order directing and/or issuing an arrest warrant for the immediate arrest of the defendant for the purpose of bringing him before this honourable court for arraignment.”

In the alternative, the anti-graft agency sought an order issuing and directing the publishing of a public summons requiring/ commanding the defendant to appear before the court on a named date, among others.

Following the conflicting orders, the EFCC had appealed against the initial order, and the appeal was scheduled for hearing on April 22 in Appeal No: CA/ABJ/CV/175/2024 between EFCC and Alhaji Yahaya Bello.

Weighing on the controversy, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), in a statement on Wednesday, said, “By virtue of section 35(1) (c) of the Constitution, the police, anti-graft agencies, and other prosecutorial bodies cannot be prevented by a court of law from arresting a criminal suspect once there is reasonable suspicion that he or she has committed a criminal offence.

“The allegation made by Ex-Governor Yahaya Bello that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has disobeyed a court order by attempting to arrest him to answer the charge of N84 billion theft is legally untenable. As a former governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello has lost his immunity from arrest and prosecution. No court can confer a life immunity on a former governor in Nigeria.

“The Supreme Court had pointed out that the order of a High Court to the effect that a criminal suspect should not be arrested cannot bar a court of coordinate jurisdiction from trying him. In the case of Orji Kalu v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2016) 39 WRN 53, the Appellant challenged the EFCC for charging him before the Federal High Court in spite of the order of the High Court of Abia State restraining the anti-graft agency from violating his fundamental right to personal liberty.

“In dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court said that the “gagging order” should not be allowed to stand and that “The suit of the Appellant at Abia State High Court and the general and ambiguous order made therein were clearly intended to ‘muzzle’ or prevent the 1st Respondent from discharging its statutory function.”

“Similarly, in Uwazuruike v AGF (2013) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1361) 105, (2013) LPELR-20392 (SC) the Supreme Court ruled that “The Orders of an Owerri Federal High Court made on the 18th of January 2005 restraining the named respondents from arresting Ralph Uwazuruike relates to the proceeding before the Owerri Federal High Court which were ongoing at the time the Orders were made ex-prate. The orders are in no way related, nor do they affect or stop a subsequent arraignment of Ralph Uwazuruike for treason etc”.

“In view of the foregoing, the police officers who prevented the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from arresting the suspect have committed a grave criminal offence. The Inspector-General of Police, Dr. Kayode Egbetokun should withdraw the said police officers from the private residence of Mr. Bello without any delay and have them charged for obstruction of justice.”

▪︎ Additional reports by Channels Television and NAN

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