Is Yahaya Bello the Sinner or the Sinned Against?

By Smart Origbo

For unsavoury reasons, the story of the immediate past governor of Kogi State, Mr Yahaya Bello has literally seized the media space in the country, week-in, week-out. 

The hide -and seek game between Bello and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), blew open a forthnight ago when the anti-graft agency decided to “catch” Bello right in his house at the Wuse district in Abuja. 

The agency had barricaded the street forbidding even residents from entering or exiting the street. The planned arrest turned a fiasco as the sitting Kogi State governor, Governor Usman Ododo was alleged to have nestled Yahaya Bello into his car and driven him out of the vicinity, basking in the immunity that covers him and even his car.  
Ever since then, the polity had been agog with the issue of Bello. Opinions have been divided whether or not the former Kogi governor is the sinner or the one sinned against.

The way the EFCC has presented Yahaya Bello to the polity, with all the accompanying drama, is that Bello is a thief who must be stripped at the market square for maximum shame. But those who are more circumspect and critical in criminal procedures have faulted the approach of the EFCC.  
Those who so believe, argue that the EFCC has breached the due process in an attempt to hastily humiliate the former governor, having pasted on him the tag of a crooked thief, without allowing the court to do so.

Perhaps it is in the fear that this may happen that the former governor had secured a court order forbidding the anti-graft agency from arresting or harassing him. But the EFCC in believing that Yahaya Bello has a case to answer, had appealed against that order. While the appeal is yet to be heard, the EFCC moved his men, in a gestapo fashion, to go for Bello’s jugular. This happened few days to the date the said appeal by the EFCC was due to be heard in the court. 

So the question arises: why the haste to breach legal due process on the part of the EFCC, thus causing a needless social hoopla? If the anti-graft commission was so sure that it could do as it pleases, regardless of the provisions of the law, then why did it bother going to court to vacate the order stopping it from inviting, arresting or harassing Bello? Yes, nobody (including Yahaya Bello) is above the law, but is the EFCC above the law? 

It is doubly tragic and ironical that the EFCC is currently being run and headed by Ola Olukoyede, a lawyer of over 22 years experience. So, which part of the law he read permits him to pre-empt the pronouncement of the court by deciding to do as he wants, regardless of constitutionally laid down procedure?

 Indeed, even if the EFCC had a good case against Bello, the way and manner it has gone about it has despoiled the case fundamentally. And this prosecutorial incapacity is one reason the EFCC had lost many of its good cases in the past.  Does the EFCC need to be schooled on the basic ethos of the law which pays great attention to, not what done, but how done?Little wonder that the EFCC has, on its own accord, now withdrawn the appeal against the court injunction restraining the EFCC from arresting Bello, allegedly on the grounds that events have overtaken the appeal. What events have overtaken it? A sham claim!

It is even more curious to know that the same EFCC Chairman is a Pastor. As a senior clergy man, his actions both in private and public appearances should, like Ceaser’s wife, be above board. But sadly, this outing of Pastor Olukoyede is shamefully dirtied by procedural impropriety, fueling suspicion that his actions are politically motivated. A case of the voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau.

 What is more? In all the back-and-forth of the matter, the EFCC has not been able to prove that it actually formally invited Bello for questioning over the pending allegations of money laundering. The closest to this was when the EFCC chairman, himself recently said he had put a call to Bello inviting him to his office for interrogation. No formal letter of invitation was ever sent to him. What if it is not true that Olukoyede is not telling the whole truth? It is certain that if the EFCC had formally invited Yahaya Bello, they would have long circulated the letter on the social media.

 Did the EFCC not breach the process by suddenly sending its men to arrest Bello without formally inviting him for questioning? Even a suspected criminal, with bloody hands, is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. This is what the law prescribes. Mr Olukoyede should know this. Neither he nor the EFCC can be a judge in their own case. It is when this process is duly followed that prosecution is not seen as persecution.  

Even if indeed, Bello is a sinner and has some questions to answer, the EFCC has turned him to a man more sinned against by seemingly bungling the prosecution procedure. Justice and the route to it must be freed from emotion, propaganda and media trial.  Until the EFCC learns to follow due process, its actions and inactions will continue to smell political. 

Its best antidote is strict adherence to the rule of law.The EFCC cannot resort to self-help by side-stepping the provisions of the law. It must show its committed adherence to legal and judicial due process in securing convictions of accused persons.

The EFCC had furthered its affront on propriety by demanding the refund of the so-called school fees paid by Bello for his children in an Abuja high-nitch school. The school allegedly refunded the said fees which were paid in dollars, out of the intimidation tendencies of EFCC.  The EFCC has a case with Yahaya Bello, not the school. So, coercing the school to refund the fees paid is clear case of institutional bullying.

In all, the law in any society is put in place to shield the citizenry from any form of political or institutional thralldom and so the EFCC, no matter how important and needed its role(s) might be in getting the system to function effectively, must be seen to be doing the right things at the right time and in the right way. Anything short of that will be a perfect prescription for chaos and crisis.

 Origbo is a lawyer and public affairs analyst