After Denying Ownership Of 14 Seized Properties, Kogi Governor Asks Court To Vacate Order Of Seizure
After several months of denying ownership of 14 properties seized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, on Tuesday approached the Federal High Court, Lagos to retrieve the properties the anti-graft agency seized with N400 million.
The EFCC had seized the properties consequent upon the order of the court in February following several months of investigations which uncovered alleged theft of public funds and illegal acquisitions of properties through public funds.
Relying on Sections 9 and 10 of the Proceeds of Crimes (Recovery and Management) Act, 2022, the EFCC had seized the properties Bello allegedly acquired through corrupt acts, including Hotel Apartment Community and Burj Khalifa, situated at, Plot 160 Municipality NO 345-7562, Sky View Building No 1, Property No 401, Floor 4, Dubai U.A.E.
The EFCC said the properties including several dozens of other illegal acquisitions “were reasonably suspected to have been derived from unlawful activity.”
Bello, who had claimed he was being politically targeted in view of his interest in the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress, APC, had accused the anti-graft agency of “chasing shadows.”
But on Tuesday, the governor through his counsel, Abdulwahab Mohammed, SAN, approached the court for an order to free his properties and money seized by the EFCC.
He listed the entire properties EFCC was granted the power to seize by the court as his before Justice Nicholas Oweibo.
The Kogi State Governor, argued that, “We have an application subject to your lordship’s convenience. We are ready to move the application. It was filed on March 9, 2023.
“The application is seeking your indulgence to vacate the order of the court made on the 22nd of February, 2023.
According to Bello, the properties sought to be forfeited were acquired before he became the Governor of the state and that the Commission lacked the power to proceed against him as he enjoys immunity under the constitution.
“By virtue of the position of the applicant (Kogi State Governor), you cannot proceed against him under any law, according to Section 308 of the Nigerian Constitution.
“If you want to prosecute or forfeit his properties, you have to wait till he no longer enjoys those benefits of a Governor,” the governor’s lawyer argued.
But the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN, informed the court that the preservation order had been published in a national daily, in line with the court’s directive.
“We were directed to make a publication of the said Order and we have complied with the order of the court,” Oyedepo said.
He stressed that, “There is an affidavit to the Order dated 22nd February, 2023, which was complied with on the 24th February, 2023.
“Sequel to that, we have received a notice of intention to oppose the making of the preservation order and we have equally responded”.
Oyedepo relied on depositions in the 12-paragraph counter-affidavit and a written address dated 28 March, 2023, saying, “In Usman against Garke, it was reported in 2003, LPLR 3431, Supreme Court, and our submission is that failure to reply to the counter-affidavit has a single legal consequence that the respondents are agreeing to the application. We urge your lordship to hold that the failure to respond is deemed admitted.
“We have cited authorities to this effect, one of which is Patience Jonathan and the FGN, in paragraph 1.08 of our submission.
“The Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act, 2022 prescribes the mode of challenging the preservation order of the court and the steps to be taken by the party challenging the making of the preservation order.”
Oyedepo further explained that, “Apart from Paragraph 4H and I of the affidavit in support of the notice of intention, there is nothing before this Honourable court showing, by way of credible evidence, how the properties were acquired.
“In our counter-affidavit, we have established how the properties were acquired and there is nothing challenging how the properties were acquired.
“What was deposed is that, most of the properties were obtained before he became Governor of Kogi State and the properties were not acquired through illegal means.
‘”Without establishing the interest of the applicant, the application is bound to fail.”
He prayed the court to discountenance the immunity clause claim arguing that, as contained in Section 308 of the 1999 constitution, “the Provision of S308 will not and cannot be construed to a ridiculous extent of preventing the state from investigating the beneficiary of the section.
“As far back as 2002, in the case of Fawehinmi and IGP, the court mentioned that a person protected under S308 can be investigated; and the fact that someone is under immunity does not prevent the state from investigating.
“Where a state governor is reasonably suspected to have committed a financial crime, the state can investigate for evidence that will be used in prosecution when he no longer enjoys the immunity.”
Oyedepo justified the anti-graft action, arguing, it “is a step for preservation and it cannot be stopped.”
He informed the court that Bello declared only one asset out of the entire seized assets on his Declaration of Assets Form while pointing out that the governor has not said anything in the affidavit he has deposed to, to challenge “the reasonability of our suspicion.”
Justice Oweibo adjourned the matter till April 20, 2023 for ruling, according to Wilson Uwujaren, the Head of Media and Publicity of the agency.