Bwala faults EFCC chair’s press briefing on Yahaya Bello

Daniel Bwala, lawyer and public affairs analyst, has criticised the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over its allegations against former Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello.

Bwala, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party’s Presidential Campaign Committee in the 2023 general elections, condemned the “trial by media” approach of the agency.

The legal practitioner who was reacting to the recent press briefing by the EFCC chairman, Olanipekun Olukoyede, accused the commission’s boss of conducting public discussions akin to a courtroom trial, where media outlets act as judge and jury.

Speaking on Arise TV’s morning show today, Bwala said: “What happened yesterday was like a prosecutor in court doing his opening address in the view of prosecuting the matter. And who was the judge yesterday? it was the pressmen.

“That same privilege, Yahaya Bello does not have to also state his own case. So, we can call it a complete trial by the media.

“This is one of the many reasons why people tend to ask the question, is the commission actually intending to prosecute, or is the commission indirectly giving an opportunity for the accused to escape?

“Because this same thing is like it has always been playing in EFCC’s approach to prosecution, which has led to so many high-profile cases going out of hand.

“Like, for example, if you give a forensic analysis of what he said in the press yesterday, a right-thinking member of the society would say this was a planned script to give Yahaya Bello an escape route.

“Why did I say that? One, the trial in Nigeria is a trial not by jury. Even trial by jury is not a trial by the media. Two, having submitted a charge to court with the evidence that he has been granted an order of substitution and he has served Yahaya Bello through his counsel, he has submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. Was there any need to hold a meeting and begin to argue the substance of the charge?

“Three, some of the things he said yesterday has created more doubt and fed into the allegation of Yahaya Bello that he would not seek justice because it was a persecution.

“Otherwise, let me tell you one or two things. One in the press yesterday, he said he accorded a special privilege and respect to Yahaya Bello. That same privilege was not given Bobrisky. That same privilege was not given to others.

“The procedure in EFCC is, except if they change it, they will write to you. That’s why there will be that evidence that you were invited because it falls on the fulcrum of the commencement of a trial that the accused must have been invited for investigation.

“He even said yesterday that we don’t need to even take his statement in order to charge him. That means you’ve already done what you needed to do. So why is the insistence to arrest him?

“And then when you open your mouth before the press to tell them that you said, okay, you come through the back, I’ll ensure you come to my office, then the operators will come to my office, the investigators, and then they will investigate.”

Bwala stated that the comments of Olukoyede suggest the EFCC chairman has been breaching the protocols of the anti-graft commission.

He accused the EFCC chairman of building a narrative against ex-governor Bello, using the media instead of the law courts.

He further queried the EFCC about when it would commence criminal trials to get the defendant convicted instead of running to journalists.

His words: ”You are trying to say that as chairman, you can breach protocol and procedure that you set. Does everybody you invite to that commission get the same privilege? Now, is the very concept that everybody is equal before the law and nobody is above the law applied?

“He now went ahead to talk about the substance in the charge sheet. So, what was he actually trying to achieve? He wants to convict Yahaya Bello before the media so that if the substance of the charge eventually fails, the media can then build a narrative that the judge was bribed or that nobody wants EFCC to succeed.

“There is no country in the world where you take that path, you end up succeeding. The energy can only be challenged in one direction. Unfortunately, EFCC chose to do it through the media rather than in court.”

Bwala reiterated that Bello has an order that has not been set aside by the court, urging the EFCC to obey the order.

“The order says that he should not be arrested, he should not be prosecuted,” he stated.

He added: “EFCC does not believe that that order should be sustained. EFCC challenged that order. That challenge has not been determined by court.

“Now, attempting to arrest him when that has not been determined, please help me ask students of Nigerian Law School, what is the interpretation of that in the court of law?

“They also have another order to arrest him, and that order to arrest him has not been brought before a court in which counter-argument was made, and the court adjourned for a ruling. What is the import of that?

“So, you have a coalition of judicial voices, and these courts that have given the various orders are courts of coordinate jurisdiction, in which each order’s decision does not bind the other. So, we are not even going into the administration of the federal high court as to how you deal with this kind of conflicting order.

“All these orders are valid and subsisting until they are set aside. But, you see, all of them have been overtaken by the events because, before this court, it has been adjourned for a ruling.”

Bwala further accused the EFCC of playing with the sensibility of Nigerians in the case of ex-governor Bello.

He called for reforms in the anti-corruption commission, noting that the EFCC is all about media and drama rather than the actual prosecution.

He said: “Now, yesterday, the court gave an order for substituted service through Yahaya Bello’s counsel, Adeola Adedipe S.A.N., right? And Adeola Adedipe S.A.N. was saying categorically before the court that there was no order of arrest, you know, any invitation before the assault, the invasion of Yahaya Bello’s house and the declaration of a warrant of arrest. And he wanted that warrant of arrest vacated before his client could appear before the court.

“What do you think we’re likely to see next in this drama? To go to the arena of a court, which is a proper place for the matter to be heard, not in the media. What do you think we’re likely to see next?

“Now, the two facts to be gleaned is that there is an order for arrest that has now been contested before a judge for which it has been adjourned for ruling. EFCC is not supposed, after today, to be chasing Yahaya Bello anywhere.

“Even if he’s walking in front of their head office, they are not supposed to arrest him, because now it has been contested before a court and court has adjourned for ruling.

“Two, there is an application by Yahaya Bello that that order of arrest should be stepped down because it has been overtaken by event since I have now been served. And on the next adjourned date, it is only when I don’t show up that the court can be requested to issue a bench warrant.

“But now, having served me, the law requires for me to study the charges ahead of my arraignment. And so, arresting me will amount to breaching on my right to prepare and come and take my plea.

“So, and that request that that order of arrest should be invalidated has not been granted or refused because it has been adjourned for ruling.

Where these two facts exist, the way we know it, we teach students in law school, is that a party must maintain status quo pending the hearing of the various applications and objections so that court will decide.

“If on that day, the court says, your request to set aside this order of arrest has now been overtaken by event because you are already before me, then fine. If the court says, on that day, you are not before me, so that means this order to arrest will have to be extended, even if you throw away, there will naturally be a request that a bench warrant be issued since you have not appeared for your arrest. If the court set it aside, then you proceed to trial.

“What it means is that the two sides of the coin, whichever way you flip it, it maintains the value of the coin. If the coin is 10 naira, irrespective of the two sides of the coin, the coin remain 10 naira, I mean 10 kobo. Now if the coin’s value changes from 10 kobo to 5 kobo, then you begin to look at the distinctive characteristics of each of the two sides of the coin.

“So this is where we are now, and I don’t want to talk about whether this application will succeed or it will fail because that is left for the court to decide. But what we know is that where parties have submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of the court, parties are to maintain the status quo pending the direction of the court.

“So if the EFCC continues to be chasing him up and down, it will now feed into the narrative that the EFCC is all about media and drama rather than the actual prosecution because you have now found that your charge has been served on him.

“What are you supposed to do as prosecution? You are supposed to then prepare on that day after arraignment, you will now do your open address or request for a date for trial. This is the fact as they are.

“The media interview he did yesterday, he shot himself with so many types of bullets by clearly showing to the world that it’s a disproportionate application of their principles.

“I told you the first one, which is that one is saying you come to my office through the back door, and then I’ll get people to come and interview you, which nobody gets that. And the law is that everybody is equal before the law and nobody is above the law.

“Two, you have seen the zeal with which he must be arrested. Now, if you ask somebody, they will say, but there are other similar cases before you for which you have even given a preliminary report of indictment, but you have not arrested the person.”

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