Years after a former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili, secured a perpetual injunction restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from prosecuting or arresting him, the anti-graft agency has approached the Senate to amend the EFCC Act such that the commission will be immuned to such restrictions.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Chukwuka Utazi, has also confirmed that the ongoing amendment, which would overturn the injunction, would soon be passed by the lawmakers.
The amendment to the EFCC Act has coincided with the plans by the commission to reopen Odili’s investigation and prosecution over alleged misappropriation of N100bn when he was the Rivers State governor between 1999 and 2007.
Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt had given an order of perpetual injunction on the case in 2007, preventing the EFCC and any other anti-graft agencies as well as security agencies from prosecuting or arresting Odili over alleged embezzlement.
Utazi, while leading members of the committee on an oversight visit to the South-South regional office of the EFCC in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Saturday, stated that it was wrong for one arm of the government (judiciary) to stop another (executive) from performing its constitutional roles.
Utazi, while reacting to a request by the Regional Coordinator, EFCC, South-South, Mr. Ishaq Salihu, that the Senate should assist the commission in reopening of Odili’s case, said the amendment to the EFCC laws would give the anti-graft agency the leeway to bypass the injunction.
The lawmaker said, “The House of Representatives has done its bit on the amendment to the EFCC Act. It has come to us. The amendments effected in the House of Representatives were not exhaustive. We are going to look into this issue (perpetual injunction) with a view to correcting it.
“Nobody should stop an organ of government from performing its duties. We want to empower them (EFCC) to work. They cannot work with one hand tied to the back. We are going to ensure that everything is done in accordance with the rule of law. Nobody should be shortchanged.”
Salihu lamented that the injunction granted Odili was lowering the morale of EFCC operatives in the prosecution of other suspects fingered in alleged fraud cases.
He said, “The perpetual injunction of Odili is a problem for us. Because of that injunction, it means we cannot invite anybody related to the case to give any testimony. The famous injunction of Justice Buba has killed a lot of cases. The injunction has crippled the EFCC. It has killed the morale around here. I do not know if the Senate can look into that. The EFCC Act makes it hard for us to do anything. The people who should enjoy immunity are the President and Vice-President, governors and their deputies. We can only investigate them. But in the case of Odili, our hands are tied.”
Utazi also stated that it was the responsibility of the EFCC to coordinate every anti-corruption war in Nigeria. “Whenever other agencies fighting corruption have cases, they need to transfer them to the EFCC for prosecution. Other agencies should not handle that,” he stated.
The lawmaker also announced that the Senate would approve an insurance package for the operatives of the EFCC who might lose their lives in the course of duty
Utazi said, “We have taken the issue of life insurance for EFCC operatives. We cannot ask operatives to take risks and then allow them to suffer without protecting their future. We want to ensure that when you are doing your duty, your safety is guaranteed. We will look at this issue.
“We are here to see how far you have gone with the ongoing fight against corruption. We must work on prevention. In other countries of the world, they work on preventing crime. Sixty per cent of the time should be spent on prevention. But we do the opposite here. What we do here is to do everything in the media. We do not focus on creation of awareness. We are working on a bill that will mandate big companies to contribute to this fight against corruption by giving (donations). We spent 80 per cent of the time on prosecution. It is wrong.
“During interrogation, do not get confession under duress. Do not force people to make confession. It is wrong. Due process must be followed. Once anything is tainted, it will not stand in court. That is the difference between us and those in the developed world.”