Benue loses as court says EFCC can probe states’ accounts

The Federal High Court in Abuja has ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has the power to investigate the finances of a state government without the authorisation of the state’s House of Assembly.

The judgment delivered by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba on Monday differed from the two earlier ones by Justices Ibrahim Buba (then of Port Harcourt Division) and Taiwo Taiwo (of Ado-Ekiti Division), who had both ruled that EFCC’s investigation of the finances of state governments without the authorisation of their Houses of Assembly was a violation of the principles of federalism.

Deviating from the earlier judgments on Monday, Justice Dimgba dismissed the suit filed by the Benue State Government to challenge the powers of the EFCC to investigate its accounts and officials without the authorisation of the state’s House of Assembly.

The judge ruled, “I have reflected on the judgments issued by the Port Harcourt division of this court in AG Rivers State v EFCC & 3 Others in Suit No: FHC/PH/CS/78/07, delivered on March 20, 2007, and that by the Ekiti Division of this court in Suit No: FHC/AD/CS/32/2016; A.G of Ekiti State v. EFCC & 17 Others, both of which have been brought to my attention.

“Both judgments hold that following the principles of federalism and separation of powers, only a state House of Assembly can investigate the financial administration of a state and that the 1st defendant, the EFCC, lacks the powers to investigate state finances.

“With the greatest deference to my brothers who hold such views, I take a different view, and for the reasons already explained above, I am of the view that it is not a proposition that is borne out of a proper construction of Sections 125 to 129 of the constitution juxtaposed with the powers of the 1st defendant (EFCC) under the EFCC Act.”

The Benue State Government had through its Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Mike Gusah, filed the suit on August 7, 2018.

The plaintiff joined the EFCC, the Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, the Clerk, the House of Assembly itself, and the Auditor-General of the state, as the first to the fifth defendants, respectively.

The plaintiff, represented by Mr Emeka Etiaba (SAN), presented 13 prayers, including one asking the court to declare that the EFCC’s investigation of the state government’s finances through the invitation of the officials of the state government without the authorisation of the House of Assembly was a violation of the principles of separation of powers and federalism.

The plaintiff also urged the court to declare the EFCC’s ongoing investigation as the usurpation of the powers of the state’s House of Assembly and the Auditor-General of the state.

He also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Benue State House of Assembly and its leadership from surrendering or sharing its powers of control over the public funds of the state as provided under sections 128 and 129 to EFCC.

He not only sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from investigating or continuing investigating the accounts, disbursements and administration of funds of the state, he also asked the court to direct the EFCC to return all documents demanded and received from officials of the state on account of the purported investigation.

But dismissing the suit on Monday, Justice Dimgba cited a number of Supreme Court’s judgments to back his position to the effect that “generally, the EFCC is empowered to investigate and prosecute all economic and financial crimes as defined in Section 46 of the EFCC Act.”

He ruled that the EFCC had the power to prosecute all financial crimes “created and punished under other penal statutes, including those enacted by the states of the federation.”

He ruled that the EFCC’s investigative powers were not limited by geographical or territorial boundaries or federalist structures.

The judge said, “As a matter of fact, the powers to fight corruption which have been donated to the 1st defendant under Sections 6, 7 and 38 of the EFCC Act are very broad and are not confined or limited to geographical or territorial boundaries, or limited by boundaries set by the federalist structure of Nigeria.

“Indeed, the definition of economic and financial crimes under Section 46 of the EFCC Act is so broad that it arises even in the context of the management of the financial resources of a state.”
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