The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is a Nigerian law enforcement agency that investigates financial crimes such as advance fee fraud (419 fraud) and money laundering. The EFCC was established in 2003, partially in response to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, which named Nigeria as one of 23 countries non-cooperative in the international community’s efforts to fight money laundering. The agency has its head office in Abuja
Reports has it that a High Court in Port Harcourt on Thursday ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to pay the sum of N600m ‘exemplary damages’ to two Rivers State Government officials for investigating and declaring them wanted.
The two officials are the State Accountant General, Frederick Dagogo-Abere; and former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government, Lekia Bukpo. They were among those accused by the anti-graft agency of withdrawing N117bn from state government coffers.
The judge, Justice George Omereji, in his ruling, declared that the anti-graft agency violated the fundamental rights of the officials by investigating the Rivers State Government’s account. He stated that the action was in disobedience of a subsisting court order restraining the Commission from investigating the state government account.
Justice Omereji said he was embarrassed by the actions of the EFCC, adding that the Commission failed to appeal the judgment against it, but resorted to self-help by inviting the state officials.
He said that the Commission should first vacate the subsisting order made by Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court before taking any action on accounts of the state government.
The judge also described the letter of invitation of the EFCC to the state government officials malicious, maintaining that only the Rivers State House of Assembly has the right to investigate the financial activities of the state government.
The court declared that the sum of N300m each be paid by the EFCC to Federick Abere and Lekia Biokpo as exemplary damages. Counsel for the Accountant General of the State, Dike Udenna, described the judgment as a response to some questions asked by Nigerians on the alleged abuse of court processes by the EFCC.
Recall that former Rivers State Governor, Peter Odili, had, during his administration, obtained a perpetual injunction from a Federal High Court restraining the EFCC, ICPC and other anti-graft agencies from investigating Rivers State Government account.
It would be recalled that Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike suspended the State Commissioner for Finance, Dr Fred Kpakol and the State Accountant General, Sir Abere Dagogo.
A statement by Simeon Nwakaudu, Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor on Electronic Media said the suspension takes immediate effect sometime in 2016.
Kpakol shocked the Civil servants in the state when he directed them to present their Bank Verification Number, BVN, before their salaries could be paid from the month of February.
Dr Fred Kpakol,the State Commissioner for Finance who may not have gotten the approval of the Governor, struggled to clarify the new policy of the government. He said it was neither meant to purge the state workforce nor was it vindictive but aimed at correcting anomalies in the State Civil Service. He said the BVN will enable the state fish out ghost workers.
“We will pay salaries to only authenticated staff in the state workforce. You must give accurate information about you details as any information found not to be correct would be sent to EFCC for prosecution.” He also emphasized that civil servants will only be paid February salary on presentation of Bank Verification Number BVN.
Observers are of the opinion that the Governor may have been miffed by the bad timing of the decision of both the Commissioner of Finance and the Accountant-General to rattle the Civil Servants, since some rerun elections are due in the state. Analysts said the governor interpreted the directive as an embarrassing political miscalculation.
Wike had accused some top notchers of Government,especially those in his cabinet for disloyalty before January 27 victory at the Supreme Court.It was not clear if Dr. Fred Kpakol and the Accountant General fell into that category.