Constitutional Lawyer Ewa Okpo Criticizes EFCC's Approach as 'Trial by Mischief' in Yahaya Bello Case

A Constitutional Lawyer, Ewa Okpo, has described the actions of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in the ongoing face-off with the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, as "trial by mischief".

In an interview on Arise TV's morning show on Saturday, the legal practitioner specifically stated that it was wrong, in the first instance, for the EFCC to attempt to arrest the former Governor when it was aware of a subsisting restraining order, which had not been vacated as of the time of its action.

He said the whole "drama" was centred around an abuse of court process.

“I think that it is a rather unfortunate narrative for Nigeria, and to summarize the whole of this drama in legal terms would be to just say, look, this is an abuse of the court process. 

“Why do I say abuse of court process? To successfully prosecute anybody in Nigeria, in this case, the EFCC is prosecuting Yahaya Bello; there are six categories of laws that you must follow. 

“The ground law being the Constitution, administration of Criminal Justice Act, the law that empowers the prosecutor, in this case, EFCC Act; the law that defines the offence and the punishment, in this case, Money Laundering Act; and then the law of the courts with jurisdiction.

''In this case, that would be the Federal High Court Act, Practice Directive and the rest of it that guide proceedings at the Federal High Court, and, of course, the Evidence Act and other ancillary legislations. 

''Now what is expected of the EFCC in this instance, where you follow all of these laws put together? They ought to have at first invited the suspect (officially), in the person of Mr Yahaya Bello; when he refuses to honour the invite; EFCC does not even need to get a warrant from the court; it is an administrative power to issue a warrant," he said.

According to him, in line with all the steps he enumerated, the EFCC failed to follow proper legal procedures in the matter.

''Sadly, you know, they rather attempted to arrest the man when they could not arrest him. Being smart, I must give it to Yahaya Bello; he got his lawyers, and they ran to the court and got an order restraining the EFCC. 

''Now you must understand because I think that what the EFCC is trying to do now is what can be described as trial by mischief," he stated.

Okpo added that court orders restraining law enforcement agencies from harassing or arresting individuals should be respected and emphasized that such orders do not restrain the courts themselves. 

He condemned the EFCC’s disregard for the court orders and stressed the need for accountability within law enforcement agencies. 

Okpo also commended the court’s intervention, stressing that it served as a crucial check on the actions of law enforcement agencies and promotes adherence to the rule of law.

“Now, the EFCC is the watchdog. We need the EFCC to function in Nigeria. But in the course of them being the watchdog, who watches them? And so when there is an order, EFCC, you cannot correct wrong by doing wrong. 

“Since there was an order restraining the EFCC, they had no business attempting to arrest Mr. Yahaya Bello,” he said.