A Federal High Court Abuja, on Friday, ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to respect the status quo on their plans to confiscate the assets and property belonging to the immediate-past Governor of Zamfara, Abdulazeez Yari.
Justice Nkeonye Maha, in a ruling in an ex-parte application for interim injunctions brought by Yari’s Counsel, Mahmud Magaji, SAN, also adjourned the matter until Sept. 5 for further hearing.
Yari, through his lawyer, had urged the court to restrain the EFCC and AGF from interfering with his enjoyment of the rights enshrined in Sections 34, 35, 37, 41 and 43 of the Constitution.
Justice Maha had, on Aug. 26, summoned the AGF and the EFCC to appear before it over plans to seize the ex-governor’s property.
The judge, who gave the order after listening to the arguments canvassed by Magaji, adjourned the matter until Aug. 30.
Yari, in the motion ex parte marked FHC/ABJ/CS/948/2019, said the application was brought pursuant to Section 46(1) and (3) of the 1999 Constitution and Order 4 Rule 3 and 4, of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009.
AGF, who is also the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, is the 1st respondent while the EFCC is the 2nd respondent in the suit.
The former governor had attributed his travails in the hands of the respondents to the fallout of the 2019 elections in the state.
He described the actions of the respondents against him as politically motivated to witch-hunt him.
Yari in a 17-paragraph affidavit in support of his motion, further stated that “the 1st and 2nd respondents are determined on a follow up attack upon him and his family by the use of allegations of wrongdoing which had been concocted against him in 2019 as an excuse to arrest him and his wife and to arraign them on trumped up charges.”
The affidavit, deposed to by Malam Affis Matanmi, traced the genesis of the case against Yari to the political events within the Zamfara chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that eventually led to the party losing out the leadership of the state to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by the judgment of the Supreme Court.
It read: “that after the decision of the Supreme Court, some aggrieved individuals who are very powerful decided to use agents of the 1st and 2nd respondents against the applicant.
“These individuals thus decided to carry out a vendetta and revenge against the applicant including instigating the respondents against the applicant upon their spurious conclusion without evidence that he was guilty of corrupt practices as former governor of Zamfara and was in breach of the Code of Conduct Act.
“This witch-hunt, is clearly politically motivated, baseless, and has been designed only to discredit and humiliate the applicant in a bid to decimate him politically.
“That the agents of the 2nd respondents invaded the applicant private residence without court order in Talata Marafa, off Sokoto road, Zamfara and nothing incriminating was ever found against the applicant despite the several investigations carried out by the respondents.”
Magaji further informed the court that his client’s residence in Talafa Marafa, off Sokoto road, Zamfara, was on Aug. 5 invaded by the EFCC for five hours without any court order, in its bid to effect his arrest.
He said that during the said invasion, the “agents forcefully did not allow the family members of the applicant who was away in Saudi Arabia for Haji, to go out and come in from the residence.
“The action of the EFCC has made it impossible for applicant to exercise his right or his freedom of movement without fear of being arrested and intimidated by commission,” he said.
The lawyer further stated that Yari had dully declared all his assets in accordance with the Code of Conduct for public officers prior to assuming office as a governor and that he had not committed any offence to warrant the threats of seizure of his assets and property most of which were acquired even before he became governor of the state.
According to him, in the motion exparte dated and filed Aug. 20, the former governor sought, among others: “an order of interim injunction restraining the respondents from seizing, impounding, taking over, confiscating or otherwise forfeiting his assets and property wherever they may be located within Nigeria or anywhere in the world pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.
“An order of interim injunction restraining the respondents from unlawfully interfering with his rights to sections 34, 35, 41 and 43 of the 1999 constitution until the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
“An order of interim injunction restraining the agents of the respondents from freezing his bank accounts in Nigeria and or confiscating his immovable property anywhere in Nigeria pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”
Justice Maha, therefore, gave the order that the respondents should come and show cause why they would not be restrained from, among other actions, freezing the bank accounts and or confiscating Yari’s immovable property anywhere in Nigeria pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
However, on Friday, Counsel to EFCC, Hussaina Gambo, told Justice Maha that though the commission’s counter-affidavit was filed late, the anti-graft agency had complied with the order of the court.
Also, Counsel to the AGF, Abdulahi Abubakar, a Principal State Counsel in the Federal Ministry of Justice, also informed the court that the AGF had filed a counter-affidavit in compliance with the order of the court on why the AGF should not be restrained from taking action against Yari.
Abubakar further told the judge that the AGF is a norminal party in the matter because the investigation of the former governor was being solely conducted by the EFCC.
Reacting, Magaji said since the respondents did not file and served their responses on time, he needed time to respond.
He stressed that the respondents had fallen short of the court’s order, having served them according to the court’s directive for them to come and show cause why they would not be restrained from the move but that the AGF and the EFCC only filed their processes the day of the hearing (on Friday).
He urged the court to make an order restraining the EFCC from taking any action until the suit was determined.
Gombo, however, explained that the EFCC had not taken any step to truncate the administration of justice.
She expressed fear that the applicant might misconstrued any step taking by the commission to mean flouting the order of the court.
“Even if the applicant has come to court, the 2nd respondents (EFCC) can still go ahead with its investigation of the case because investigation of the case does not mean violation of his right,” she said.
Magaji, on his part, told the judge that the remark of the EFCC counsel implied that the commission could still arrest or invite the applicant.
“You cannot go further; you ought to wait; let the status quo be maintained,” he said.
He, therefore, prayed the court to give an order, stopping the anti-graft agency from either inviting or arresting the former governor pending the determination of the substantive suit.
Magaji, who cited previous cases in support of his submissions, claimed that, having joined issues with each other, non of the parties is expected to take any step that would pervert the administration of justice till the issue was fully determined.
He urged the court to order Gambo to undertake that no further step would be taken until the case is determined.
Justice Maha said since the EFCC had not taken any action to that effect, giving an order would be unnecessary.
She said as long as the commission was a security agency, it was bound to obey the country’s constitution.
The judge, who ordered that all parties should respect status quo and Administration of Criminal Justice Act, adjourned the matter till Sept. 5 for further hearing.