Security votes: Nigerian court dismisses former Anambra governor’s motion against EFCC N4 billion fraud case

Security votes: Nigerian court dismisses former Anambra governor’s motion against EFCC N4 billion fraud case

The federal high court sitting in Abuja has dismissed the preliminary objection filed by Willie Obiano, former Governor of Anambra State, against the N4 billion security votes fraud charges brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Presiding judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, held on Thursday that the ex-governor cannot stop the EFCC from implementing the act that founded it as an anti-graft agency, adding that security votes emanate from Nigeria’s federation account and is a constitutional matter.

Kwamkwam news previously reported that the EFCC had countered Obiano’s motion to quash the case brought before the court.

EFCC’s lawyer, Sylvanus Tahir (SAN), had told Justice Ekwo a month ago to refuse the motion of the ex-governor.

EFCC’s counter-affidavit

Tahir contended that the Economic Governance Section of the EFCC is investigating the affairs of Anambra State under the stewardship of the defendant as governor between 2014 to 2022.

He added that the investigation was not restricted to Security Votes Accounts, contrary to the deposition in the governor’s legal team.

The prosecution stated,

  • “That in the investigation into the financial affairs of Anambra State Government, the aspect bothering on laundering of funds from Security Vote Account has substantially been done leading to the filing of the instant charge, while other the aspect of the investigation dealing with an allegation of stealing, corruption, abuse of office, conspiracy, etc are still underway and nearing completion.”

The EFCC urged the court to convict the governor on all counts, including counts 4 which reads:

“That you, Chief Willie Maduabuchi Obiano, whilst being the Executive Governor of Anambra State of Nigeria between March 2014 – March 2022, sometime between 13th February 2018 to 2nd March 2022, in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, indirectly transferred through Mr Willie Nwokoye, your then principal private secretary, the sum of N1, 206, 760,310 Billion ( One Billion, Two Hundred and Six Million, Seven Hundred and Sixty Thousand,  Three Hundred and Ten Naira only)  from the Anambra State Government Security Vote Account No: 5030050875 into an account belonging to Moment of Peace Ventures (an entity that had no business relationship with the Anambra State Government ) which funds were dissipated for purposes unrelated / unconnected with the security affairs of Anambra State, which you reasonably ought to have known that such funds formed part of the  proceeds of your unlawful act, to wit: (Stealing and Corruption) and you thereby committed an offense contrary to Section 15 (2) (b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) in 2912 and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.“

Obiano’s motion

Obiano through his lawyer, Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), filed a motion on notice seeking an order of the court squashing the instant charge for amounting to flagrant abuse of judicial process and a mockery of the criminal justice.

He argued in his processes that no evidence showed his client passed down directive for the disbursement of security votes and other funds belonging to Anambra State government.

The lawyer disclosed that there was already an appeal filed by the Anambra State government challenging the powers of the EFCC to investigate the security vote of Anambra State government.

He stated,

  • “The defendant/applicant cannot be made answerable for any purported unlawful actions of officials of Anambra state government as there is no vicarious liability in our criminal jurisprudence. 
  • “The thinking and conclusion of the prosecution on the counts arose from speculation and suspicions. The subject matter of the charge borders on accountability for security vote funds.
  • “The honorable court lacks the requisite jurisdiction to entertain issues on accountability for security vote funds.”

Judge’s ruling

In his ruling, Justice Ekwo held that on the issue of proof of evidence, the federal high court is a court of summary jurisdiction in criminal proceedings.

He explained that summary jurisdiction excuses the use of proof of evidence prior to the commencement of a trial.

  • “The submission of proof of evidence by the defendant is mistaken and not applicable in this court,” Ekwo held while overruling the governor on the grounds of proof of evidence.
  • On the defendant’s argument that his client cannot be tried over security votes because an appeal had been filed at an appeal court, the judge also held that the appeal court judgement referenced by the defendant has been determined in EFCC’s favor by the Supreme Court.
  • “As long as the EFCC Act has not been declared unconstitutional, this court cannot stop the implementation of the act,” Ekwo held.

He said the powers of the EFCC ought to be a question of law and must have bearing on the 1999 Constitution.

He observed that state security votes come from the federation account, making the development a constitutional issue.

  • “This court has no powers to preempt the case of the prosecution,” Ekwo said.

Subsequently, the judge dismissed the ex-governor’s application.

  • “I find at this point that none of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), upon which the applicant relied on in his application, has any bearing on this case.
  • “I make an order dismissing this application.”

Ikpeazu thanked the court and then appealed that the court vary the bail granted to the defendant so that he could travel.

The application was not opposed by the EFCC.

The judge granted the application and adjourned the case to 24, 25, 26, 27 of June for trial.

What you should know

  • Obiano was placed on the watchlist of the anti-graft agency over allegations of corruption, after the completion of his tenure in 2022.
  • Days later, he was arrested at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport.
  • On January 24, 2024, the anti-graft agency arraigned him before the court over alleged diversion of public funds, but he pleaded not guilty to the charges.
  • The trial had stalled due to the motion filed by the governor which touches on the jurisdiction of the court.
  • Nairametrics learnt that it is part of the practice direction of the federal high court to quickly address issues on jurisdiction before entertaining a matter.

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