Justice Inyang Edem Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja stopped the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from seizing six good properties in different parts of Abuja that were linked to Zamfara State Governor Dr. Bello Mohammed Matawale.
The judge’s order to stop was based on Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, which says that governors who are still in office are immune from any civil or criminal proceedings by the EFCC or any other government agency.
Justice Ekwo ruled on Friday that the anti-corruption agency EFCC didn’t have the power to start criminal proceedings against governor Matawale while he was in office. This was in response to a lawsuit filed by EFCC to get the Federal Government to take back six properties.
The six properties are plot 1327 in Zone A05, plot 2934 in Zone A06, plot 730 in Zone A06, and plots 730 and 2804B in the same zone.
The others are plot 729 in Idu Industrial Layout and plot 575 BOO in Kubwa District.
Justice Ekwo agreed with Matawale’s lawyer, Ahmed Raji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), that starting criminal proceedings against the governor was a waste of time since he couldn’t be tried for a crime because of a law.
Even though the judge gave an interim forfeiture order against the properties on May 26 while making a decision in EFCC’s ex-parte application, he canceled the order after the governor proved that he was the owner and asked that EFCC’s suit be thrown out.
When the judge threw out the temporary order, he agreed with Ahmed Raji SAN that the anti-corruption agency didn’t have the right to sue for the governor’s property to be taken away.
“There is no question about who owns the properties based on the mountain of evidence that has been brought before the court. And the law, especially section 308 of the Constitution, says that the EFCC has no choice but to wait until the respondent’s time is up.
“Since the owner of the properties showed up and was found to be a serving governor, who is protected by section 308, EFCC’s suit is not allowed by law, and any action that is not allowed by law is an abuse of court process.”
Based on what Ahmed Raji SAN said, Justice Ekwo threw out the whole suit and told the EFCC to wait until the governor’s term is over before starting court proceedings against him.
In its lawsuit, the EFCC said that it had gotten a report from an intelligence agency saying that, when governor Matawale took office, he used Zamfara State’s money to buy multibillion-naira properties in good parts of Abuja with the money.
The governor was also accused of moving over N2.1 billion from the State’s Ministry of Finance to the Directorate of Investment and Business, which is part of his office, and laundering the money through some companies and the Bureau De Change BDC.