A Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday struck out an interim order of forfeiture obtained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, seeking to seize 14 properties allegedly linked to Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. Justice Nicholas Oweibo struck out the suit on the ground that Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution prevents the institution of any criminal or civil case against a sitting governor or the president.
The judge had, on February 22, granted the temporary forfeiture order following an ex parte motion filed by the anti-graft agency seeking to seize 14 properties located in Lagos, Abuja, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Court also directed the EFCC to make publication in two national dailies for any interested parties to show cause why the order should not be made absolute.
However, consequent upon the publication of the preservative order, Governor Bello filed a Notice of Intention to Oppose and an application seeking the vacation of the interim forfeiture order. The governor premised his application on the ground that the property listed was not the proceeds of an unlawful act, as it was acquired long before he was elected Kogi State Governor and could not have been acquired from Kogi State funds.
He further stated that by Section 308 of the Constitution, the EFCC is prevented from instituting any civil or criminal suit against him. He also protested the illegality of the filing of the suit by the EFCC on the ground that the case was in flagrant disobedience to a state high court order, which restrained the EFCC from investigating any account of the Kogi State Government pending the determination of the Motion on Notice.
He stated that the interim forfeiture order was obtained by either suppression or misrepresentation of facts by the Commission. The governor also said that the Proceeds of Crime Act could not take effect in retrospect as the properties in dispute were acquired before he became Kogi State governor.
He said the validity of the Proceeds of Crime Act, 2022, was being challenged at the Supreme Court. Regarding jurisdiction, the Governor stated that the properties listed were in Abuja, Kogi, and the UAE, and the personality involved is based in Lokoja, adding that the suit ought to have been instituted either in Abuja or in Kogi State. He, therefore, asked the court to vacate the case for lack of jurisdiction. In his response, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN, said that the applicant had brought nothing before the court to convince the court to vacate the order.
He said, contrary to the submissions of the applicant, the Kogi State High Court or any other court in Nigeria had not stopped the EFCC from carrying out its constitutional duties. In his ruling, Justice Nicholas Oweibo held that, given Section 308 of the Constitution, which provides immunity to a sitting governor from any civil or criminal prosecution, the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter. Consequently, the court struck out the suit for lack of jurisdiction.