The circus show being enacted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the matter of Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the immediate past governor of Kogi State, is alarming.

Like a masochist steeped in self-flagellation, the EFCC has been inflicting pains on itself and ipso facto, bringing opprobrium to itself. I am a strong advocate for anti-corruption, both in the private and public sector. But the manner the EFCC goes about its anti-graft duties makes one wonder if the real culprit in the Nigeria corruption saga is not EFCC itself.

The tragedy of the EFCC dance in the marketplace is that it is being championed by its Chairman, Ola Olukoyede. It is tragic because Olukoyede is the first ‘outsider’ (non-security personnel) to be appointed the EFCC Chairman. Before his appointment in October 2023 by President Bola Tinubu, the commission had been headed by security personnel or operatives of the commission who underwent training essentially to make them fit for the operational demands of the office. His appointment as Chairman was therefore considered a breath of fresh air, especially among Nigerians who have become continually embarrassed by poor investigation of suspects and even poorer procedural management of high-profile cases by the commission.uu

Worst of it all is the trial in the media space, which EFCC has adopted over the years, a strategy that served neither the rule of law nor helped the cause of the law. Media trial of suspects only massages the ego of the EFCC leadership and waters the pockets of its operatives. Olukoyede even alluded to this early this year when he addressed staffers of the commission. He was categorical when he admonished operatives of the EFCC to maintain a certain level of integrity. He said he was aware that some officials of the commission demand and collect bribes from persons they were investigating; a case of the thief extorting the suspect. He even promised to wield the big stick on those found to be compromising and cutting deals with suspects. You would expect a leader and a lawyer who reasons like this to toe a different path; the path paved with integrity and respect for the fundamental rights of all persons (including suspects).

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His appointment faced a hailstorm of resistance from EFCC insiders and security personnel and their apologists but many Nigerians, including this writer, applauded his appointment in the hope that he would sanitise the system and wheel the EFCC from the path of brigandage and ambushment to the path of procedural decency and the rule of law.

But just a few months into his appointment, Olukoyede has sunk deeper into the abyss of impunity, rule of emotion and utter disobedience to court orders. He has become a chairman who acts on impulse, propelled by his own whim and guided by emotions. In the case of Bello v EFCC, he has not only walked the path of his predecessors, some of whom were accused, investigated and booted out on account of the same corruption they set out to fight; he has tipped over the cliff with his own brand of desperation.

The EFCC chairman has thrown out of the window the time-tested creed in criminal prosecution. The key ingredients of discreet and thorough investigation which leads to diligent prosecution have finally been buried under his watch. The manner he and the EFCC have been splashing pictures of young men and women suspected to be involved in cybercrime still portrays the commission as placing a seal of conviction on suspects before they ever get to the court of law. Some lawyers have questioned and challenged this guerilla tactic in the fight against corruption – a crude concept which EFCC copied from the police.

Olukoyede has deployed this in the case of Bello. The EFCC chairman, driven by only what he knows, has in the full glare of the media passed a judgment of “guilty” on Bello when he invited the media to his office, orchestrated the coverage of the event and ensured its widest broadcast, transmission across multiple new media platforms and publishing of same for the global audience. All this happened when the case is already before several courts in the country. But even if we make a case for Olukoyede for holding an elaborate media briefing on a matter before the courts (which prima facie is subjudice), how do we defend what Olukoyede mounted the podium to tell the world about Bello. He frontally pronounced Bello guilty when he gesticulated and voiced how Bello moved money from Kogi government coffers to pay his children’s school fees in advance. In basic criminal law procedure, for a suspect to be adjudged guilty of a crime, such crime must be effectively linked to the person (suspect) only before a court of competent jurisdiction. Until then, it remains an allegation. I have watched Olukoyede’s video on his ill-advised media briefing and his elaborate attempt to ‘convict’ Bello without due process of the law. The EFCC chairman who is a lawyer of many years standing breached the walls of the rule of law and decency. He publicly convicted Bello and armed Bello’s legal team with enough arsenal to plead victimization, unfair hearing, trampling of fundamental rights and obvious bias by EFCC towards their client. It is for such muddled processes and drama that the likes of Peter Odili, Abdullahi Adamu, Godswill Akpabio, Bello Matawalle, Abdullahi Ganduje and other former governors are all free men today. Their cases were dramatised in the media by EFCC, and that was all. No conviction; in some cases, no arraignment.

Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution as amended confers innocence on a suspect until he/she is proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, not by any prosecuting or investigating agency. The implication is that no person should be pronounced guilty or shamed for any allegation of crime until proven guilty before a court.  What Olukoyede did in that media rendezvous was akin to a public parade of Bello before his trial and conviction. This matter has been settled in several court judgments including in Ndukwem Chiziri Nice v. AG, Federation & Anor. (2007) CHR 218 at 232 in which Justice Adebukola Banjoko held that ‘The act of parading him (the suspect) before the press as evidenced by the exhibits annexed to the affidavit was uncalled for and a callous disregard for his person.’ In simple terms, it means an affront on the fundamental rights of the suspect.

By virtue of Olukoyede’s trial by the media, Bello is already guilty in the eyes of the public. But beyond that, Olukoyede’s strange tactic amounts to bullying of the judiciary to do his will. He has shown emotion, passed judgment in his own media court. But neither emotion nor judgment matters. What matters in law is justice hence the saying, “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall” (in Latin: Fiat justitia ruat caelum). In the case of Bello, Nigerians want justice, not judgment, drama or emotions of the EFCC Chairman. If the EFCC has as much as a prima facie case against Bello, it should pursue the case in court diligently and stop bullying the judiciary with tendentious statements in the media.