September 23, (THEWILL) – The Court of Appeal, Makurdi Division, has said that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has the power to freeze bank accounts of state governments.
This was stated in a unanimous judgement delivered by Justice M.S. Hassan on Thursday, at the appellate court.
Justice Hassan had overturned the judgement of the Federal High Court, Makurdi, stopping the commission from freezing the account of the Benue State Government, for the purpose of investigations, without a court order.
He held that the EFCC has the power to place any account, (state governments’ accounts inclusive) on PND for 72hours, for the purpose of investigations without a court order.
In the ruling, the court had also set aside the N50 million damages awarded against the EFCC by the lower court.
Recall that the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, had ordered EFCC to appear before it on August 14, to explain why it allegedly froze bank accounts belonging to the Benue State Government.
Justice Babatunde Quadri had made the order after listening to the submissions by the counsel to Benue State Government, Mr Emeka Etiaba SAN.
The order followed a suit marked FHC/MAD/CS/42/18, which was lodged by Benue State Government even though the action was instituted in Makurdi, the plaintiff secured leave for the matter to be heard by the vacation Judge in Abuja since courts in Benue are currently on recess.
Some respondents in the suit aside the EFCC are the Speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, the Clerk, Benue State House of Assembly, Benue State House of Assembly, and the Auditor General of Benue State.
Justice Quadri is said to have also ordered that all the relevant court processes should be served on EFCC and all the other respondents before the adjourned date.
The plaintiff via an ex parte motion, had it filed before the court, seeking a preservative order restraining EFCC from investigating the accounts of the state under any guise without due authorisation of the Benue State House of Assembly, pursuant to sections 128 and 129 of the Constitution.
“Whether by virtue of Sections 6, 7 and 38(1) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act 2004 (EFCC Act) or any other law, the EFCC or any other body, authority or person beyond the 4th and 5th defendants has the power to investigate or inquire into the accounts and/or appropriations, disbursements and administration of the funds of Benue State Government having regard to the clear provisions of Sections 1 ( 1) and (3), 125(2), (4) and (6), 128 and 129 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)”, it urged the court.
Justice Mobolaji Olajuwon of the Federal High Court, Makurdi, had on February 2, 2019, delivered a judgement restraining the EFCC from placing a PND on the account of Benue State government.
EFCC having felt dissatisfied with the judgement, approached the Court of Appeal.
Steve Odiase, the EFCC counsel, had made strong arguments against the earlier judgement and the appellate court held that the EFCC acted within its powers to freeze the account of Benue State government.
The court also held that banks are legally bound to obey orders from the EFCC on PND.