EFCC: The hide and seek trial of Yahaya Bello

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By Ihechi Enyinnaya

Nigerians are used to the reckless fickleness and brigandage of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), like a drunken bull, hounding down suspects, engaging in media trials, invading people’s homes without restraint, modicum or legal considerations and procedures.
But in October 2023 President Bola Tinubu appointed Ola Olukayode as the new EFCC chairman. This was in a bid to shore up the image of the anti-graft agency and bring its activities in line with global practices.
Nigerians then heaved a sigh of relief. Olukayode himself came with a bag full of credibility and honour. This raised our hopes the most. But little did we know that this joy was to be short lived as EFCC was soon back on its old ways.
On April 17, the agency replicated the commando style of invasion on former Governor of Rochas Okorocha in May 2022 on the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello.
Nobody is against the agency doing its job. But the invasion of Yahaya Bello’s home I’m Abuja was wrong on many fronts. And this should not be allowed to go unchallenged.
A little background will suffice.
Bello, worried about a potential threat to his life and fundamental human rights, had petitioned the Kogi State High Court for an interim order restraining the EFCC from arresting him. This was then followed by a substantive ruling by Justice Isa Abdullahi, after considering the grounds for the request, granted the interim restraining order on February 9, 2024. However, the EFCC challenged this order on March 11, 2024, by appealing to the Court of Appeal, seeking its annulment.
Subsequently, on March 11, 2024, the EFCC appealed to the Court of Appeal, urging it to overturn the interim restraining order. The EFCC also argued before the appellate court that the lower court had no jurisdiction to aid Bello in evading rightful justice, asserting that Bello could not exploit the lower court to avoid the EFCC’s summons, investigation, and potential prosecution.

The Court of Appeal in Abuja postponed the hearing of the appeal to April 22, 2024, while declining to consider the EFCC’s request for a stay of the interim injunction order. Additionally, the Kogi High Court reaffirmed its previous interim orders and issued a judgment in the substantive suit, instructing the commission to obtain permission from the Court of Appeal before proceeding with any action against Bello.
In a surprising turn of events, the EFCC withdrew its appeal at the Court of Appeal and instead approached a Federal High Court in Abuja, where it obtained an arrest warrant against Bello. Bello’s legal team swiftly contested the warrant before the Federal High Court, and Justice Emeka Nwite.
This case has been scheduled for May 10 for his decision on the validity of the arrest warrant against Bello.
It is obvious that the rule of law was not adhered to in the bid to arrest and try Bello. Undoubtedly, upholding the rule of law within law enforcement agencies such as the EFCC is vital for ensuring fairness, justice, and accountability in society. Adherence to legal procedures protects individuals’ rights, prevents abuse of power, promotes transparency and accountability, preserves public trust, and enhances the integrity of the legal system. These principles are foundational to a democratic society governed by the rule of law.
Again the entire scenario in the Bello case did not follow due process. If EFCC must be seen as an impartial and upright agency fighting corruption and other financial crimes, it must follow due process at all times. Due process is crucial in legal matters so as to ensure fairness, protect rights of individuals and maintain legal integrity, as well as provide checks and balances, foster confidence in judicial decisions, and prevent miscarriages of justice such as being seen in the Bello case. EFCC must strive to uphold individual rights, preserve the integrity of legal proceedings, and bolster public trust in the administration of justice.
Another common fact of the Bello trial is that he has been put through a media trial.
This is unjust and unfair. By putting Bello on a media trial, EFCC no doubt has exposed him to prejudice and public ridicule.
When legal cases are sensationalized or prematurely reported in the media, individuals involved may face unwarranted scrutiny, character assassination, and social condemnation before their guilt or innocence is determined through proper legal channels. This is exactly the pain and platitude the EFCC has put Bello through. But this has the potential to backfire, as is currently witnessed with the near erosion of public trust in the activities of the anti-grant agency. This can have long-lasting consequences for the legitimacy and credibility of the legal process.
EFCC, like all other agencies of government, should learn to respect court orders. In the case of Yahaya Bello, he has not obeyed court orders. Tha agency must be told that respecting court orders upholds the principle of the rule of law, which is fundamental to a democratic society. It ensures that no individual or institution is above the law, and that legal decisions are binding and enforceable.
Obedience to court orders also protects the rights of individuals, including the right to due process, fair trial, and protection against arbitrary actions. Respecting these orders safeguards individuals’ fundamental rights and prevents abuse of power by law enforcement agencies.
This will also reinforce the independence of the judiciary and its role as the arbiter of legal disputes as well as enhance public trust and confidence in the integrity of anti-graft agencies and the legal system as a whole.
EFCC should be reminded that professionalism and tact are essential qualities for law enforcement officers to uphold. These qualities not only enhance public trust and cooperation but also contribute to effective crime prevention, legal compliance, officer safety, and the protection of human rights.
It is rather unfortunate that despite initial hopes raised by the appointment of Ola Olukayode as EFCC chairman to restore the agency’s image, the EFCC’s actions, exemplified by the forceful invasion of former Governor Yahaya Bello’s home and complete disregard to court orders and processes, have demonstrated a flagrant disregard for legal procedures. This disregard undermines the rule of law and erodes public trust in the EFCC’s integrity. Moreover, reliance on media trials exacerbates injustice faced by individuals like Bello, subjecting them to premature judgment and public condemnation. To rectify these shortcomings, the EFCC must prioritize professionalism, adhere to court orders, and uphold principles of fairness, accountability, and respect for individual rights to regain public confidence and fulfill its mandate effectively.
Yayaha Bello should be allowed to breathe. Let it be said that his trial was transparent and followed judicial procedures. In that way, EFCC would be thumping its chest as the anti+graft agency that many Nigerians and the global community would be proud of.