For any democracy to thrive, respect for the rueditorialle of law, human rights, as well as adherence to institutions established to shape the country are key. Any blatant disregard for any of these often weakens the rule of law and also threatens human rights.
One of the agencies of government that should understand the need for the rule of law is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Over the years, the EFCC has been instrumental in charging and prosecuting senior political leaders and businessmen with political links, yet it is also subject to frequent political interference, which reduces its effectiveness and means that it is often seen as an arm of the incumbent government, without an independent mandate.
Established in 2003, partially in response to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering which named Nigeria as one of the 23 countries non-cooperative in the international community’s efforts to fight money laundering, the EFCC in recent times seem to disregard court orders not in its favour. On February 6, 2023, the Kogi State High Court in Lokoja ordered the chairman of the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, to be imprisoned for disobeying its order. It also directed the Inspector General of Police to arrest Bawa and remand him in Kuje prison, Abuja, for the next 14 days.
The judge, Rukayat Ayoola, ordered that Bawa be detained in prison “until he purges himself of the contempt”, meaning until he clears himself of the contempt for which he was jailed. Justice Ayoola issued the committal order based on an application filed by Ali Bello accusing Bawa of disobeying a court ruling by going ahead to arraign him on December 15, 2022 against an earlier court order made on December 12, 2022.
“THE FREQUENT FLAGRANT INSUBORDINATION AND DISREGARD FOR COURT ORDERS BY THE EFCC CHAIRMAN UNDERLIES THE ARROGANT IGNORANCE OF THE OPERATIVES OF THE EFCC TO THE EFFECT THAT THEY DO NOT COMPREHEND THAT THE COURTS ARE NOT JUST COURTS OF LAW BUT COURTS OF JUSTICE”
In the said December 12, 2022 ruling, the court had ruled that the arrest and detention of Bello on November 29, 2022 by the EFCC and its chairman in the face of an earlier subsisting court order without a warrant of arrest or being informed of the offence for which he was arrested is unlawful and unconstitutional. The court also held that the arrest and detention of the applicant contravened his right to personal liberty and dignity of the human person guaranteed under Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Articles 5 and 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The court had also ordered the respondents to tender an apology to the applicant in a national newspaper and awarded N10 million compensation for him. But all these orders were not obeyed by the EFCC and its boss, thereby leading to the order of his arrest. But prior to this, on November 9, 2022, Justice Chizoba Oji of an Abuja High Court sitting in Maitama had also ordered the remand of the EFCC chairman at the Kuje Correctional Centre, for allegedly disobeying an earlier order of the court against the commission.
Delivering a ruling in an application brought by Air Vice Marshal Rufus Ojuawo, Oji held that the “Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is in contempt of the orders of this court made on November 21, 2018, directing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abuja, to return to the applicant his Range Rover (Supercharge) and the sum of N40 million.”
In the ruling delivered on October 28, 2022, the court stated that the EFCC boss “should be committed to prison at Kuje Correctional Centre for his disobedience, and continued disobedience of the said order of court made on November 21st, 2018, until he purges himself of the contempt.”
Following the recent disregard of the court order on Bello’s case, over 40 anti-corruption Civil Society Organisations had asked President Muhammadu Buhari to sack Bawa, alluding that the commission had derailed from its mission and was now politicised. In a press conference held recently in Lagos in protest of Bawa’s attitude, the CSOs led by the Chairman of the Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, said Bawa had made the EFCC an “institution known for brazenly disobeying court orders in such a manner that does not only undermine the institutions of Nigeria’s democracy but also indicates a contradiction to the anti-corruption agenda of Buhari. “EFCC’s gestapo-style regime of disobeying court orders must stop. Nigeria is not a banana republic.
All must resist attempts by institutions of state to ridicule the country and make it seem like a lawless fiefdom,” he said. It is worrisome that the culture of impunity as consistently exhibited by the EFCC chairman continues to ridicule Nigeria in the comity of nations and sabotage efforts at attracting foreign direct investment. Investors only go to jurisdictions where the rule of law and respect for human rights are guaranteed while shunning countries where ‘rule of men’ predominate.
The incessant disobedience of court orders by the EFCC chairman has continued to weaken the rule of law and also threatens human rights in the country. Any security agency set up by law to enforce laws must subject the conduct and actions of its operatives to the law. There are guidelines, code of conduct and safeguards put in place to regulate the exercise of powers by agencies with law enforcement mandates. Any deviations from the law in exercise of law enforcement powers can have consequences both for the individual operatives and the agency they represent.
Non conformity with the law is lawlessness and lawlessness destroys the legitimacy of any law enforcement organisation. It is unfortunate to find that an institution as the EFCC falsely believes that it is vested with such totalitarian powers that it can carry out its responsibilities whimsically and capriciously without any regard for the rule of law.
The frequent flagrant insubordination and disregard for court orders by the EFCC chairman underlies the arrogant ignorance of the operatives of the EFCC to the effect that they do not comprehend that the courts are not just courts of law but courts of justice. The consequence of the flagrant disregard for the orders of the court by the EFCC is a recipe and an invitation to anarchy.
It is an act clearly capable of weakening the fabrics of the systems and structures of public governance. Such acts threaten the operation of the rule of law and the human rights of citizens. The flagrant disobedience of court orders makes the EFCC a laughing stock in the face of the citizens and the international community and underscores its hypocrisy in its claim to combating economic and financial crimes.