The Chief Prosecutor, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) Akwa Ibom State, DCC Takon Neji Ndifon has attributed the failure of the agency to prosecute suspected corrupt public officials in Akwa Ibom to the court injunction obtained by the state government barring the agency from investigating any of its officials alleged to have been involved in financial crime.
He added that the action has stifled the powers of the anti-graft agency in the state
Ndifon laid the claims when the National Judicial Council on Corruption and Financial Crime Trial Monitoring Committee (NJC COTRIMCO) with designated judges and the prosecuting officers of the EFCC and ICPC paid the Chief Judge, Justice Ekaette Obot a courtesy visit at her office on Thursday.
He lamented that some high profile persons when invited and remanded by the EFCC would seek an exparte order to be released, saying that is the reason the agency resorted to the federal high courts although the state judiciary is more economical.
He said, “the state is against the EFCC and ICPC. The state government has gotten a court injunction barring us from investigating their high-ranking officials. They are even the ones frustrating these matters from going to court, it’s not as if the monies when recovered would go into our pockets but to the state coffers which would be used for development
“If we are given free hands and allowed to investigate high-profile cases in Akwa Ibom that require investigation, we can sanitize the system but how can we do that when there is an injunction? Though we have appealed that order. It’s still pending.”
In a reaction, the Chief Judge, Justice Ekaette Obot said none of the Judges presiding over EFCC or ICPC matters had complained of any form of external influence.
She added that there was a judicial precedence to that, that an officer should not be stopped from performing his legal duties even as she urged the agency to wait for the judgement of the appeal court on the matter.
The Chief Judge also attributed the delay in the prosecution of most criminal matters in the state to frequent transfers of prosecuting officers of the EFCC and ICPC even as she called on the relevant authorities to regulate the transfer of the officers.
Her words, “If the relevant authorities could regulate the transfers of these prosecuting officers such that when one is posted to Akwa Ibom, Abuja, Abia or any other state, he stays there for at least five or six years before being transferred it will go a long way to hasten the process. Officers should stay long enough in a station to conclude matters they are prosecuting.”
On his part, Justice Gabriel Etteh explained that a lack of commensurate enthusiasm from the prosecuting agencies is frustrating the prosecution of criminal matters in the state.
Justice Bassey Nkanang said the attitude of prosecutors of financial crimes most times leaves judges at crossroads explaining that in most cases the prosecutors fail to show up for their cases (even after being served), the defence counsels would then barrage pressure on the Judge to terminate the case because of lack of seriousness on the part of the prosecutor.
Nkanang who said he would always try to strike a social equilibrium in such situations noted that striking out cases that touch on financial crimes will send a wrong signal that when a matter is delayed in court, there is a tendency that it would be struck out.
The COTRIMCO chairman, Justice Abimbola Ladipo said he had heard the prayers of each group and would channel them to the council for action.
He, however, called on the state Chief Judge to always have meetings with the judges and the prosecuting officers to know their problems and seek a way to solve them.