The Federal High Court, Abuja on Monday restrained the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from investigating Benue State Government officials pending the determination of the substantive originating summons.
The order of the court stops the EFCC from taking further steps that may jeopardise a suit filed against it by the Benue State Government.
The Benue State Government had filed the suit after the agency allegedly froze its accounts on August 7.
The vacation judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, who inherited the suit from another vacation judge, said he needed time to familiarise himself with the suit before he could hear it.
Justice Dimgba adjourned the suit until August 29 and ordered the EFCC to stop the investigation of Benue State Government officials pending the determination of the substantive originating summons.
The suit was filed in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, by the state government’s counsel, Emeka Etiaba (SAN), who secured leave of court for the matter to be heard by a vacation court on the grounds that it was urgent.
The suit was assigned to Justice Babatunde Quadri, who on August 9 summoned the EFCC to appear in court on August 14 before transferring the matter to Justice Dimgba.
The commission in its response said it was only investigating some officials of the state government, against whom some citizens made allegations of diversion of public funds, money laundering and related offences.
The EFCC said its activities in Benue State were within its constitutional powers.
It faulted the claim by the Benue State Attorney General that the investigation being carried out amounted to usurping the functions of House of Assembly.
It said its investigation in Benue State was informed by petitions from indigenes of the state, including former Commissioner of Police, Abubakar Tsav; and Joel Magnus, President of a group, Concerned Citizens of Benue State Transparency Anti-Corruption Group, Gboko, Benue State.
It stated that the petitioners identified some officials of the state government, whom they accused of diverting the state’s funds and engaging in money laundering and other related financial crimes, a development, which informed why the state has been unable to pay staff salaries.
The EFCC said: “In carrying out its onerous duties, the 1st defendant, being a responsible agency of government, has employed the best practices of extending invitation to concerned State Government functionaries through high ranking government officials such as Secretary to the State Government, Permanent Secretaries of relevant ministries/agencies, Accountant General of the state and Liaison Officer, Benue State Liaison Office, Abuja without resorting to crude and uncivilised methods.
“The 1st defendant is not investigating the accounts and/or appropriation, disbursement and administration of funds of Benue State Government. The 1st defendant is only investigating economic and financial crimes, money laundering related offences allegedly committed by some officials of Benue State Government.
“The ongoing investigation cannot result into a shutdown or grinding to a halt, the activities of governance in Benue State as the 1st defendant is not an army of occupation. Indeed, the 1st defendant has not shut down government offices/business as it has been inviting relevant state government officials to make statements and/or furnish relevant documents as the need arises.
“The ongoing investigation can only result in restoring the confidence of citizens of Benue State, who are calling for accountability, transparency and probity in the affairs of government of their state. It may well be that the outcome of investigation may prove the allegations as baseless, which is in the interest of the government of Benue State.
“That contrary to the depositions contained in paragraphs 12 13 of the affidavit in support of the originating summons, the business of governance of Benue State has not in any way suffered or been destabilised consequent upon the ongoing investigation, as relevant officials only report as the need arises, who report and make statements and or bring relevant documents in furtherance of investigation.
“That contrary to the depositions contained in paragraphs 21, 22 and 25 of the affidavit in support of the Originating Summons, it is not true that honouring invitations by relevant Benue State Government officials in furtherance of ongoing invitation is distracting or causing inconveniences to the officials invited, who by virtue of their offices and responsibilities/duties, their statements are crucial to the investigation, which is very painstaking.
“That contrary to the depositions contained in paragraphs 23 and 24 of the affidavit in support of the originating summons, the statutory duties of the 1st defendant of investigating criminal allegations are never in conflict with the constitutional duties of the 4th defendant, hence there is no usurpation of the official functions of the 4th defendant, whose constitutional duties are quite distinct and different from the statutory duties of the 1st defendant.
“The 1st defendant has never interfered with the federal principles relating to the tiers to the tiers of government, as the 1st defendant is only discharging its statutory duties.
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Terver Akase, had raised the alarm on August 7 over the freezing of the state government’s accounts by the EFCC before it was later unfrozen.