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Alleged N80bn money laundering: EFCC declares Yahaya Bello wanted

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.As court fixes April 23 to determine his arraignment

.Submit yourself now to commission, AGF orders ex-Kogi Gov

.Agency may ask military to fish him out

.Bello asks Abuja court to set aside arrest warrant

.As CSOs urge respect for courts

.Immigration service places Bello on watchlist

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Chigozie Ikpo, Abuja  with agency reports 

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has declared former Governor of Kogi State Yahaya Bello wanted.

The commission issued the public notice declaring Mr Bello wanted after he failed to appear for his arraignment on N80 billion money laundering charges scheduled to take place at the Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday.

“The public is hereby notified that YAHAYA ADOZA BELLO (former Governor of Kogi State), whose photograph appears above is wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in connection with alleged case of Money Laundering to the tune of N80,246,470,089.88 (Eighty Billion, Two Hundred and Forty Six Million, Four Hundred and Seventy Thousand and Eighty Nine Naira, Eighty Eight Kobo).

“Bello, 48-year old Ebiraman, is a native of Okenne Local Government of Kogi State. His last known address is: 9, Benghazi Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja,” an EFCC’s public notice released Thursday read in part.

Earlier on Wednesday, the commission had obtained a court warrant for his arrest, but could not execute it.

The commission made futile efforts to execute the arrest warrant at his residence in Abuja on Wednesday.

The anti-graft agency’s operatives which had arrived Mr Bello’s residence in Wuse Zone 4, Abuja, were obstructed by police personnel attached to the house.

The stand-off which lasted about seven hours after it was suspected that the incumbent Kogi State Governor Usman Ododo had sneeked Mr Bello out of the house in his official car.

‘Military can be invited’

Furious about Mr Bello’s failure to attend court on Thursday for arraignment, EFCC prosecutor, Kemi Pinheiro, said the government would not mind inviting the military to bring him to court.

Mr Pinheiro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), leading Jibrin Okutepa, also a SAN, for the prosecution, said a “bloodbath” was averted on account of the anti-graft agency’s professionalism in handling the stand-off between EFCC operatives who were trying to arrest Mr Bello and the police officers attached to the residence obstructing the former governor’s arrest.

The prosecuting lawyer clarified that while Mr Ododo enjoys immunity from prosecution, his predecessor, Mr Bello, has since lost his immunity and must be brought before the court.

Referencing section 12 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, Mr Pinheiro said, “We will invite the military if need be to produce the defendant (Mr Bello) in court. Immunity does not attach to a home; it attaches to a person. We will produce the defendant in court.”

But Mr Bello’s lawyer, Abdulwahab Muhammed, said his client was not in breach of any court order.

Mr Muhammed, a SAN, cited an order of a High Court in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, restraining the EFCC from arresting and detaining his client.

Also, the defence lawyer argued that an appeal on the suit was pending at the Court of Appeal in Abuja.

 

EFCC is finally bringing Mr Bello to trial, accusing him of money laundering involving over N80 billion, after years of beaming searchlight on him and family members.

The commission’s longtime investigations of the former governor had resulted in the N10 billion money laundering charges it instituted against his nephew, Ali Bello, and a co-defendant in 2022.

The prosecution named former Governor Bello in one of the newly introduced counts as an accomplice, but not as a defendant.

In the count, the EFCC accused Mr Bello of conspiring with Ali Bello, Dauda Suleiman and Abdusalam Hudu to convert over N80 billion belonging to Kogi State to their personal use.

.Submit yourself now to commission, AGF orders ex-Kogi Gov

 

However, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), and Minster of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), has advised the Former of Benue State, Yahaya Bello, to do take the civil approach, by honoring an invitation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), over an alleged money laundering and misappropriation of funds to the tune of N84 billion.

 

In a statement on Thursday, made available to Newsmen, the AGF warned against obstructing the anti-graft agency from performing her constitutional duties.

 

He said “The bizarre drama confronting the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the course of its efforts to perform its statutory duty has come to my notice (Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice) as a matter of very grave concern. It is now beyond doubt that the EFCC is given power by the law to invite any person of interest to interact with them in the course of their investigation into any matter regardless of status.

 

“Therefore, the least that we can all do when invited, is not to put any obstruction in the way of EFCC but to honourably answer their invitation.

 

“A situation where public officials who are themselves subject of protection by law enforcement agents will set up a stratagem of obstruction to the civil and commendable efforts of the EFCC to perform its duty is to say the least, insufferably disquieting.  A flight from the law does not resolve issues at stake but only exacerbates it.

 

“I state unequivocally that I stand for the rule of law and will promptly call EFCC and indeed any other agency to order when there is indication of any transgression of the fundamental rights of any Nigerian by any of the agencies but I also tenaciously hold the view that institutions of State should be allowed to function effectively and efficiently.

 

“Nigeria has a vibrant judicial system that is capable of protecting everyone who follows the rule of law in seeking protection.

I therefore encourage anyone who has been invited by the EFCC or any other agency to immediately toe the path of decency and civility by honouring such invitation instead of embarking on a temporising self-help and escapism that can only put our country in bad light before the rest of the world.” the AGF concluded.

 

The EFCC had filed a 19-count charge against the former governor, before the Federal High Court in Abuja, accusing him of money laundering, breach of trust, and misappropriation of funds to the tune of about N84 billion.

 

The anti-graft agency then made a move to arrest him at his Abuja residence on Wednesday but he was allegedly whisked away by the incumbent governor of Kogi State, Ahmed Ododo, in his official car.

 

Condemning the event that played out yesterday, EFCC through its Head, Media & Publicity, Dele Oyewale, warned that the agency would no longer tolerate further obstructions in its operations.

 

It noted that: “The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission wishes to warn members of the public that it is a criminal offence to obstruct officers of the Commission from carrying out their lawful duties.

 

“Section 38(2)(a(b) of the EFCC Establishment Act makes it an offence to prevent officers of the Commission from carrying out their lawful duties. Culprits risk a jail term of not less than five years.

 

“This warning becomes necessary against the background of the increasing tendency by persons and groups under investigation by the Commission to take the laws into their hands by recruiting thugs to obstruct lawful operations of the EFCC.

 

“On several occasions, operatives of the Commission have had to exercise utmost restraint in the face of such provocation to avoid a breakdown of law and order. Regrettably, such disposition is being construed as a sign of weakness.

 

“The Commission, therefore, warns that it will henceforth not tolerate any attempt by any person or organisation to obstruct its operation as such will be met with appropriate punitive actions”, Oyewale stated.

 

.Bello asks Abuja court to set aside arrest warrant

 

Meanwhile, former  Governor of Kogi, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, on Thursday, prayed a Federal High Court, Abuja to set aside an arrest warrant issues against him.

 

Bello, through his lawyer, Abdulwahab Mohammed, SAN, told Justice Emeka Nwite that the court lacked jurusidction to grant the order in the first instance.

 

Mohammed told Justice Nwite when the matter was called for the ex-governor to be arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 19-count money laundering charge.

 

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Justice Nwite had, on Wednesday, ordered that EFCC should be issued a warrant for the arrest of Bello.

 

The judge, who granted the order, directed that Bello should be brought to court today to take his plea in the charge preferred against him.

 

Mohammed informed the court that a preliminary objection had already been filed before the court to the effect.

 

The lawyer, who urged the court to vacate the arrest warrant order, said a High Court of Kogi had on Feb. 9 restrained the anti-graft agency from arresting, detaining or prosecuting Bello.

 

He said the order was challenged by the EFCC at the Court of Appeal and the matter was already fixed for hearing.

 

Mohammed said that the arrest warrant the commission surreptitiously got from the court was an attempt to bring the court on collision course with the Appeal Court.

 

He said the issue of jurisdiction was a threshold which the court must address fisrt.

 

However, EFCC’s lawyer, Kehibde Pinhero, SAN, disagreed with Mohammed’s submission.

 

He said the matter was fixed for Bello’s arraignment and Mohammed, having announced appearance for the ex-governor, could be served in the open court for the matter to proceed.

 

He said the arrest warrant was to ensure that Bello was produced in court to stand his trial since all efforts to effect the service on him had proved abortive.

 

The hearing is still ongoing as at the time of filing the report.(NAN)

.As CSOs urge respect for courts

 

The Coalition of Anti-Corruption Civil Society Organisations (CACSO), has urged the EFCC to ensure strict compliance with the law in handling the alleged corruption charges against former Kogi governor, Yahaya Bello.

 

Addressing newsmen on Thursday in Lagos, Mr Debo Adeniran, who spoke for the group, said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) could fight corruption without desecrating the courts.

 

Adeniran who is the Executive Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership ( CACOL) said the public face-off between the EFCC and the former Kogi governor in Abuja, was both unnecessary and unfortunate.

 

“When you treat a suspect in a way deemed to be violating his constitutional rights, you drive public sympathy to his side.

 

“We do not consider Bello a saint, but he deserves his rights under the law.

 

“Court documents at our disposal show that he had obtained a High Court restraining order on the EFCC not to arrest or prosecute him pending determination of a case of the enforcement of his fundamental human rights.

 

” The EFCC has rightfully appealed the case with the intention of vacating. The commission has done very well up to this point following the due processes of law.”he said.

 

According to available court documents, hearing on the appeal has been slated for Monday in Abuja.

 

” However, the news of foiled arrest of the former governor by the commission on Wednesday went viral.

 

“One would have expected the commission to wait for determination of its own appeal before going after the suspect.

 

“The action is tantamount to both the EFCC preempting the outcome of its appeal and also violating a subsisting and valid court order to pause action pending determination of the case.”he said

 

Adeniran.pointed out that a court of coordinate jurisdiction could not assume superiority over another.

 

“We think it is an abuse of court processes to ignore a court order still on appeal at the instance of the commission and go obtain a warrant of arrest from another court on the same suspect.

 

“Conflicting court orders emerged from two courts of coordinate jurisdiction. The earlier one restated the restraining order on the EFCC on the suspect.

 

“But the EFCC allegedly rushed to another High Court to obtain order to make arrest contrary to an earlier judgment by a court of coordinate jurisdiction.

 

“This is orchestrating judicial anarchy. It is an unnecessary confusion.”he said

 

According to him, intervention of the coalition goes beyond Bello.

 

“Injustice to anyone, no matter how bad the person may be perceived, should not be allowed to stand because it may be your turn tomorrow.

 

“We urge the EFCC to revert to status quo antebellum, pending determination of its appeal and a vacation of the restraining order placed on it. That is the way and dictate of the law.”he said.

 

Adeniran said that while the coalition would continue to support the EFCC and other anti corruption agencies, they must treat suspects of corruption without breaking a law to enforce another law.

 

“The EFCC must be active without being overzealous. It must carry out its operations legally without acting in a way that could suggest it is pandering to political pressures.

 

“The commission should show evidence that it had earlier invited the former governor which he didn’t honour. If that happened, it would have been justified to go after him for forcible arrest.”

 

He, however, commended the EFCC operatives for exercising restraint by not forcefully breaking into the former governor’s house.

 

The coalition included representatives of Campaign Against Impunity, Activists for Good Governance, Ohanaeze Youth Council, Women Democratic Vanguard and

Centre for Socioeconomic Rights.

 

Others in the coalition are the Transparency and Accountability Group, Centre for Public Accountability, and Media Rights Campaign ,among others.

 

.Immigration service places Bello on watchlist

 

In a swift rection, the Nigerian Immigration Service on Thursday put the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, on its watchlist.

This came hours after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission declared Bello wanted in connection to an alleged case of money laundering to the tune of N80.2bn.

The circular was dated April 18, 2024 and was signed by Assistant Comptroller of Immigration, DS Umar, for the Comptroller-General, Kemi Nandap.

The service detailed the name, nationality, and passport number of the former gpvernor (B50083321) saying “I am directed to inform you that the above-named person has been placed on the watch list.

“Suffice to mention that the subject is being prosecuted before the Federal High Court Abuja for conspiracy, breach of trust, and money laundering vide letter Ref; CR; 3000/EFCC/LS/EGCS.1/ TE/Vide/1/279 dated April 18, 2024.

“If seen at any entry or exit point, he should be arrested and referred to the Director of Investigation or contact 08036226329/07039617304 for further action.”

Earlier, the EFCC declared Bello wanted, asking members of the public with useful information about the former governor’s whereabouts to contact any of the commission’s offices across the country.

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