From Godwin Tsa Abuja

Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court, Abuja is expected to deliver his ruling tomorrow, on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) application, seeking the order of court to effect substituted service of charge on former Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello.

The EFCC is seeking to arraign Bello over alleged N80.2 billion fraud while in office as governor.

Justice Isa Abdullahi of the Kogi State High Court  had, on February 9, 2024, given an interim order restraining the commission from taking any action against Bello, pending the determination of the substantive matter.

The EFCC later approached the Court of Appeal on March 11, 2024, asking the appellate court to set aside the interim restraining order. The EFCC further informed the appellate court that the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to assist Bello to escape the deserved vengeance of the law. It added that Bello could not use the lower court to escape invitation, investigation and possible prosecution.

The ECCC said: “Whatever orders made when the court lacks jurisdiction are null and void orders. We, therefore, most respectfully urge this court to allow this appeal and to set aside the interim orders made by the trial court on February 9, 2024, in the interest of justice.”

But the hearing of the EFCC’s appeal over the interim order will also face fierce legal argument as the Kogi High Court, last Wednesday, delivered its substantive judgment in the matter and directed the commission to seek the leave of the Court of Appeal before taking further action against Bello.

Justice Abdullahi of the Kogi High Court’s order held: “Looking at the orders sought by the applicant, I am inclined to grant them subject to some alterations which, in my view, will meet the justice of this case, in the following terms;

“An order is, hereby, granted enforcing the fundamental rights of the applicant to liberty and freedom of movement and fair hearing, by restraining the Respondent by themselves, their agents, servants or privies from continuing to harass, threaten to arrest or detain or in any manner, whatsoever, arresting, detaining or persecuting the Applicant, on the basis of the criminal charges now pending before the Federal High Court, Abuja to wit; Charge No. FHC/ABJ/CR/550/2022 between FRN v. Ali Bello & Anor, without prejudice to the power of the said Federal High Court, to make any order as it may deem just in the determination of the rights of the Applicant and the Respondent as may be submitted to her for consideration and determination.

“An order is, hereby, granted, directing the Respondent to bring before the said Federal High Court or any such appropriate court, such criminal charge, allegation or complaint, in respect whereof the Applicant is reasonably believed by the Respondent to have committed any offence subject of its jurisdiction,

provided that the respondent shall not invite, arrest or detain the applicant on account of a reasonable belief that the applicant has committed any financial crime, without first obtaining the leave of a superior court of record, especially having regard to the antecedents of the respondent in the manner it has managed its engagements with the applicant.”

Meanwhile, legal battle will commence today, at the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal, over the legality of the EFCC’s bid to arraign the ex-Kogi State governor. In its judgment, last Wednesday, Justice Isa Abdullahi of the Kogi State High Court placed a legal hurdle on the path of the anti-graft commission that it must first seek the leave of the Court of Appeal before taking further action against Bello.

Before the substantive judgment, Justice Abdullahi had, in an interim order, restrained the EFCC from taking action against Bello, pending the determination of the substantive suit. The development indicates that the EFCC will have to appeal the fresh substantive judgment, get the appellate court’s pronouncement before it can proceed with any action against Yahaya Bello.

However, the Federal High Court, Abuja, in another interim order, granted the request by the commission to arrest and prosecute the ex-governor, creating confusion in the judiciary as both courts have coordinate jurisdiction. At the Court of Appeal, the commission through an application, is seeking to set aside the interim injunction of the Kogi State High Court.