By Abimbola Ogunnaike
A Federal High Court presided by Justice Nicholas Oweibo in Lagos on Wednesday, 26 April, 2023 thrown out an interim order of forfeiture obtained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) seeking to seize 14 properties linked to the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello.
It was gathered that Justice Oweibo held that Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution prevents the institution of any criminal or civil case against a governor or the President.
The properties are in Lagos, Abuja, and the United Arab Emirates.
The judge granted the temporary forfeiture order on February 22, following an ex parte motion filed by a counsel to the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN.
It directed the anti-graft agency to publicise the order in two national dailies for any interested parties to show cause why the order should not be made absolute.
However, 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 through his lawyer, Abdulwahab Mohammed, SAN.
The governor premised his application on the ground that the property listed were not proceeds of an unlawful act, as they were acquired long before he was elected as 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 legality in 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.
According to him, the interim forfeiture order was obtained by either suppression or misrepresentation of facts by the commission.
Bello also argued 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, adding that POCA’s validity was being challenged at the Supreme Court.
Regarding jurisdiction, Bello stated that the properties listed were in Abuja, Kogi and the UAE, and the personality involved was 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, Oyedepo said the applicant 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 Oweibo struck out the suit for lack of jurisdiction, adding that given Section 308 of the Constitution, which provides immunity to a sitting governor from any civil/criminal prosecution, the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter.