In the past few days, the nation has been riveted by the altercation between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and ex-Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello. The incident, which occurred at his residence on Benghazi Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja, was like a Nollywood thriller with the security operatives and Bello making strategic moves to outwit each other.

Bello, who handed over power to his successor a few months ago, has been going from Lokoja to Abuja and from one court to another in a bid to evade arrest and prosecution for allegedly laundering N80bn.

In a 19-count charge filed before Justice James Omotosho of the Federal High Court, Abuja, the EFCC accused Bello of conspiring with Ali Bello, Dauda Suleiman and Abdusalam Hudu to convert over N80b belonging to Kogi State to their personal use.

Bello’s refusal to honour the EFCC’s summons has called to question his perceived political bravery which earned him the sobriquet ‘white lion.’ This has also made him the butt of jokes on social media with many Nigerians puzzled by his actions.

Long before he concluded his eight-year tenure in office, his critics had predicted that the 48-year-old might be arrested by the EFCC  and also face trial, citing the ongoing prosecution of his wife, Rashidat and her nephew, Ali Bello, before the Federal High Court, Abuja, for misappropriation and money laundering to the tune of N3,081,804,654.

The accused persons were charged to court on February 8, 2023, but Rashidat has reportedly not appeared in court to date.

Following his alleged refusal to honour the commission’s summons and having reportedly tracked him to his Abuja residence, hordes of EFCC operatives on April 18 besieged Benghazi Street, Wuse, to apprehend Bello, sealing up the area like a Nazi concentration camp.

However, their efforts failed as the former governor refused to give himself up. His successor, Governor Usman Ododo, who visited his residence was believed to have smuggled him out of his residence in his tinted car and took him to the Government House in Lokoja.

Miffed by the development, the EFCC declared its quarry wanted, opening up a flurry of angry responses from his lawyer and some civil society groups who decried the anti-graft agency’s mode of operation.

In a public notice posted on its official Facebook page last Thursday, the EFFC stated, “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 in connection with an alleged case of Money Laundering to the tune of N80,246,470,089.88

“Bello, a 48-year-old Ebira man, is a native of the Okenne Local Government of Kogi State. His last known address is: 9, Benghazi Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja.”

The notice asked anybody with useful information about the former governor’s whereabouts to contact any of the commission’s offices across the country.

To prevent the fugitive from leaving the country, the Nigeria Immigration Service has ordered that his passport be put on the watchlist at all the nation’s airports.

In a statement by its spokesman, Dele Oyewale, the EFCC frowned on the obstruction of its operatives while carrying out their lawful duties.

Oyewale noted that culprits were liable to a jail term of not less than five years.

But Bello through his media office called on the EFCC to obey a subsisting court order and desist from hounding the former governor.

The media office in a statement disclosed that the EFCC had been served with the court order dated February 9, 2024, restraining it from arresting Bello pending the hearing and determination of the substantive fundamental rights enforcement action.

The injunction, it said, was granted by the High Court of Justice, Lokoja Division in suit no. HCL/68M/2024 between Alhaji Yahaya Bello vs EFCC.

The statement read, “The EFCC was duly served with that order on February 12, 2024 and on February 26, 2024, the EFCC filed an appeal (Appeal No. CA/ABJ/CV/175/2024: EFCC vs Yahaya Bello) against the said order to the Court of Appeal, Abuja division.

“The appeal was accompanied by a Motion for Stay of Execution of the order of the High Court which the Court of Appeal adjourned for hearing till April 22, 2024.

“Furthermore, judgment in the substantive case between Alhaji Yahaya Bello and the EFCC is to be delivered at noon today in Lokoja. Contrary to all of the above, the EFCC has now laid siege to the home of H.E Yahaya Bello seeking to arrest him in contravention of the extant orders.”

But the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, in a statement released shortly after the EFCC besieged Bello’s house, advised individuals invited by the EFCC to toe the path of decency by honouring the invitation of the commission.

He condemned in strong terms the trend where citizens ganged up to obstruct officials of the EFCC while on lawful duty.

Fagbemi said, “The bizarre drama confronting the EFCC in the course of its efforts to perform its statutory duty has come to my notice 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.’’

But defending his client’s action, Mohammed explained that the ex-governor had on February 9 secured an order from a Kogi State High Court, restraining the EFCC from inviting, arresting or prosecuting him over the subject matter of the instant charge against him.

He added that the EFCC had appealed against the order which was still pending.

Addressing Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court, Abuja, who was meant to preside over the money laundering charge slammed against the ex-governor during the proceeding last Thursday, Mohammed said his client had already filed a preliminary objection to challenge the legal propriety of his planned arraignment and trial.

The arraignment of the ex-governor could not go on as he did not show up in court.

Mohammed noted, “What they are trying to do is to bring this court in collision with the Court of Appeal by rushing to this court to obtain an ex parte warrant of arrest for someone that is already a defendant.

“Our position is that this court has no jurisdiction to do any other thing than to take our motion challenging its jurisdiction to entertain this charge.’’

Bello’s lawyer urged Nwite to vacate the arrest warrant issued against his client, insisting that the court was misled.

Speaking earlier, the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), threatened that the anti-graft agency might enlist the help of the military to arrest and bring Bello before the court for his arraignment.

He said, “My Lord, what happened yesterday (Wednesday) was that a person with immunity came to whisk the defendant away. But what they forgot was that immunity does not attach to a building, but to an individual.

“However, we know what to do. If it will take inviting the military to bring him (Bello) here, we will do that because section 287 of the Constitution cannot be ridiculed.

“If he wants to play games, we will show him that the constitution is above every individual and you cannot fight the constitution.

“A former president of the United States was charged to court and he has been appearing for his trial. He did not file all sorts of things to frustrate the case.’’

However, some civil society organisations believed the EFCC went overboard and cautioned it to obey the rule of law.

Addressing a press conference in Lagos, the CSOs and human rights crusaders cautioned the EFCC and other anti-graft agencies against trampling on the rights of supposed suspects of corruption to avoid breaking a law to enforce another law.

The Executive Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, noted that the public face-off between the EFCC and the ex-Kogi state governor was “both unnecessary and unfortunate.”

Adeniran argued that the rush by the EFCC to make an arrest when the Court of Appeal hearing on its application to vacate the restraining order was just in a few days might lend credence to the allegations of political persecution.’’

Also in Abuja, a coalition of CSOs led by the Anti-Corruption and Research-based Data Initiative, accused the EFCC of ‘’not presenting its case against Bello properly.’’

Speaking at a media briefing, the ARDI publicity director, Nwabueze Anyanwu, cautioned the commission not to heat the polity ‘’in its desperation to apprehend former Kogi Governor, Yahaya Bello, over an allegation of money laundering.’’

He said, “The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has not extended to Mr Bello the customary investigation to visit her offices to assist her in their investigations.  We could also not find evidence anywhere, no matter how remote, where the Commission has asserted that she did extend such an invitation to him.

But unruffled by the support for Bello, Olukoyede has vowed to prosecute the ex-governor, noting that a global arrest warrant had been placed on him.

Speaking with editors and bureau chiefs in Abuja, the EFCC boss narrated how Bello spurned his invitation, adding that he could have been arrested since January.

Olukoyede said, “I called Yahaya Bello, as a serving governor, to come to my office to clear himself. I shouldn’t have done that. But he said because a certain senator had planted over 100 journalists in my office, he would not come.

“I told him that he would be allowed to use my private gate to give him a cover, but he said my men should come to his village to interrogate him.”

Olukoyede noted that the EFCC did not violate any law while trying to arrest the former governor from his residence.

“Rather, we have obeyed the law. I inherited the case and I didn’t create it. Why has he not submitted himself to the law?” he asked.

It remains to be seen if Bello would take up Olukoyede’s challenge and submit himself to the courts where he has the opportunity to clear himself of the charges against him.

Olukoyede noted that the EFCC did not violate any law while trying to arrest the former governor from his residence.

“Rather, we have obeyed the law. I inherited the case and I didn’t create it. Why has he not submitted himself to the law?” he asked.

It remains to be seen if Bello would take up Olukoyede’s challenge and submit himself to the courts where he has the opportunity to clear himself of the charges against him.




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