CSOs, Lawyers To EFCC: charging Yahaya Bello for crime predating his tenure reflects desperation without due dilligence

. Advise EFCC boss to shut out selfish politicians, concentrate on genuine struggles

Civil Society Organisations and human rights lawyers have called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to save the image of Nigeria by not prioritising political battles that are counterproductive to the robust anti-corruption policy of the President Bola Tinubu administration.

The scores of acitivists and lawyers, under the broad umbrella of the Committee for The Defence of Democracy and Rule of Law,
particularly noted that the seeming fixation of the anti-graft agency on particular targets, fierce media trial and the network of opposition figures publicly displaying their affinity with the Commission on particular matters easily reflected political hatchet jobs that must be discouraged.

The Co-Convener of the Committee, Barrister Kayode Mogbojuri, who spoke on behalf of the over 100 CSOs at a press conference in Abuja on Sunday, said the EFCC could not afford to become a tool of political witchunt in the hands of every disgruntled politician seeking political retribution against opponents or perceived enemies and advised the helmsman, Ola Olukoyede, to shut out real enemies of the Commission.

“For instance, the way it (the EFCC) is handling the current corruption allegations against the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, is becoming a case of clear political witchunt by his political opponents for whom the EFCC seems to be a ready tool to be manipulated into fighting their proxy wars.

“In every country that the fight against corruption has been politicized, corruption has not only thrived but also imploded. Politics and law enforcement should be water and oil that cannot mix,” he stated.

The activists said the fact that the ammended charge read that the former Governor committed the said offence sometime in September 2015, when he had not even become Governor, also showed that it was a hurried attempt to nail him without due dilligence, adding that saying it was an error would only compound the embarrassment this had earned for the nation’s anti-corruption struggle.

The CSOs also made particular reference to the EFCC’s statement that the former Governor was at large, stating that it was the greatest evidence of political persecution, considering the fact that there had been no prior publication that he had been invited.

According to them, curious statements against the former Governor and the state government, credited to one JS Okutepa SAN, a counsel to the Social Democratic Party candidate in Kogi State, already gives political colouration to the fresh EFCC allegations.

The CSOs said that their suspicion of political persecution was aroused by the particular elements of EFCC’s method of handling the matter in question.

“First, the EFCC is attempting to stand the rule of law on its head by violating a clear Court order that it is yet to vacate by a counter Court order. The High Court of Justice, Lokoja Division has given a restraining order on the EFCC to stay any action either to arrest, prosecute or persecute the former Governor or any of his appointees pending the hearing and determination of the substantive originating motion for the enforcement of his fundamental human rights.

“The EFCC may not agree with that order, but it cannot violate it unless the subsisting order is vacated…The question is why the desperation to disobey an unambiguous and subsisting Court order if political persecution is not involved? Corruption cannot fight corruption. There is no greater corruption than disrespecting an express order by a Court of competent jurisdiction,” the Activists said.

According to them, the slant of the EFCC’s operations, if not checked, could attract unnecessary local and international suspicion as to the real intentions of the Commission if it becomes obvious that it is tending towards political persecution rather than legal prosecution and trampling on the sacred principles of the rule of law.

The Co-Convener said, “No sensible Nigerian would oppose the fight against corruption considering its horrible effects on the socio-economic wellbeing of the country. It is a phenomenon that must be decisively fought, no doubt. We support the anticorruption drive of the current administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, which has clearly stated and so far demonstrated its total intolerance for corruption of any sort.

“However, the agencies constitutionally charged with fighting corruption must have to avoid fighting corruption with corrupt means of political compromises and means that are against it as this will surely run counterproductive to the robust anticorruption policy of the Tinubu administration.”

“We advise the Commission to leave politicking to politicians and concentrate on professionalism and delivery of its constitutional anti-corruption mandate without political pollution which has the potential to make it lose local and international support,” the activists concluded.

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