Chris Steven, Abuja
Nine years after a former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili secured a perpetual injunction, restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from prosecuting or arresting him, Senator Chukwuka Utazi-led Senate committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, has revealed that an amendment bill of the EFCC Act, which will upturn the injunction will be soon be passed by lawmakers.
The amendment is coming amidst plans by the EFCC to reopen the investigation of alleged misappropriation of N100 billion by Dr. Odili when he held sway as governor of Rivers State between 1999 and 2007.
Senator Utazi who led other committee members on a surprise oversight visit to the South-south regional office of the anti-graft agency in Port Harcourt, Rivers State at the weekend, said it is wrong for one arm of the government to stop another from performing its constitutional roles.
Reacting to a request made by the South-south regional coordinator of EFCC, Mr. Ishaq Salihu that the Senate should assist in reopening the investigation and possibly prosecute Odili, Senator Utazi said the amendment will give the anti-graft agency the leeway to bypass the injunction.
Utazi said: “The House of Representatives has done its bit on the amendment of EFCC Act. It has come to us. The amendments effected in the House of Representatives were not exhaustive. We are going to look into this (issuance of perpetual injunction) issue with a view to correcting it.
“Nobody should stop an organ of government from performing its duties. We want to empower them (EFCC) to work. They cannot work with one hand tied to the back. We are going to ensure that everything is done in accordance with the rule of law. Nobody should be shortchanged.”
South-south regional head of EFCC, Mr. Ishaq had revealed that the injunction was affecting the morale of operatives in the area, as well as prosecuting other suspects fingered in the alleged fraud.
“The perpetual injunction of Odili is a problem for us. Because of that injunction, it means we cannot invite anybody related to the case to give any testimony. The famous injunction of Justice Buba has killed a lot of cases. The injunction has crippled the EFCC.
“It has killed the morale around here. I do not know if the Senate can look into that. The Act of EFCC makes it hard for us to do anything. The people who should enjoy immunity are presidents and vice, governors and their deputies. We can only investigate them. But in the case of Odili, our hands are tied,” he had pleaded.
Justice Ibrahim Buba of the then Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, had in 2007, given an order of perpetual injuction, preventing the EFCC and any other government anti-corruption agency from prosecuting or arresting Odili, who was accused of allegedly embezzling about N100bn of Rivers State money during his eight-year tenure as governor.
Senator Utazi who was accompanied on the trip by Senators Dino Melaye, Hamman Misau and Mustapha Sani, also added his voice to the ongoing debate about the coordination of anti-corruption fight in the country. He said by law, the EFCC should coordinate the fight.
Senator Utazi said: “It is the responsibility of EFCC to coordinate every anti-corruption war in Nigeria. Whenever other agencies fighting corruption have cases, they need to transfer them to the EFCC for prosecution. Other agencies should not handle that.”
He said the Senate will approve insurance package for operatives of the commission who may lose their lives in the course of duty
He said: “We have taken the issue of life insurance for EFCC operatives. We cannot ask operatives to take risks and then allow them suffer without protecting their future. We want to ensure that when you are doing your duty, you safety is guaranteed. We will look at this issue.
“We are here to see how far you have gone with the ongoing fight against corruption. We must work on prevention. In other countries of the world, they work on preventing a crime. Sixty per cent of the time should be spent on prevention. But we do the opposite here.
“What we do here is to do everything in the media. We do not focus of creation of awareness. We are working on a bill that will mandate big companies to contribute to this fight against corruption by giving. We spent eighty per cent of the time on prosecution. It is wrong.
“During interrogation, do not get confessions under duress. Do not force people to make confessions. It is wrong. Due process must be followed. Once anything is tainted, it will not stand in court. That is the difference between us and those in the developed world.”