Former Rivers State Governor Peter Odili has explained how he sought and obtained a controversial court injunction that made him perpetually immune from arrest and prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
In his newly-released autobiography titled ‘Conscience and History: My Story,’ Odili said he decided to challenge EFCC in court to stop an “evil plot” against him.
This is the first time the former governor is making public comments about the injunction, which he secured from a Federal High Court in March 2008 and which still subsists because the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt is yet to vacate it years after the EFCC filed an appeal.
Odili’s ordeal with the EFCC began in late 2006 when the commission issued an “interim report” that contained allegations of large-scale fraud, conversion of public funds, foreign exchange malpractice, money laundering, stealing and abuse of oath of office against him.
To stave off impeding prosecution of officials, the then Rivers State attorney general went to court and got a perpetual injunction in March 2007 restraining EFCC from investigating the state government.
Months after he had left office in May 2007, Odili himself went to court and asked to be made to benefit from the injunction and the court granted his prayers, making him perpetually immune from arrest or prosecution.
In his new book, the former governor said the allegations in the EFCC report were “false and contrived maliciously against me and my administration” in order to force him out of the Peoples Democratic Party presidential primaries.
Odili said his troubles began when “a spurious and anonymous petition” was posted on the internet on December 12, 2006 alleging corrupt practices against the Rivers State government.
“These allegations were contrived into a petition by the EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu’s hand to the President same day. On 13th December, 2006 Mr. President directed EFCC to investigate. On the 14th day of December 2006, EFCC submitted a so-called ‘interim’ report to the then President who promptly minuted for my response on the same 14th December, 2006, but forwarded to me on 15/12/06, a day to the convention vide ref. PRES/44,” he said.
“I assembled what was left of my cabinet team, a few having been arrested and kept at the EFCC office in Lagos within these few days of urgent dramatic action. We submitted our response on the 15th day of December, 2006 by which time it had become clear what the whole exercise was about— get Odili out of the race for the presidency at all cost.”
Odili said when he withdrew “voluntarily” from the presidential primaries, the EFCC dropped the matter and his arrested aides were released.
But he said when on January 1, 2007 he told a gathering in Port Harcourt that he would be “vindicated in due course” on the EFCC allegations, the commission resumed its pursuit of him and his administration.
He said he spoke to President Obasanjo who assured him nothing will happen, but that he began to “smell something sinister” and therefore decided to challenge the EFCC in court.
“Propelled by a sense of rejection of what is wrong and in full appreciation of the fact that ‘God guides the feet of the righteous in defence of justice’, we set out to challenge the evil plot against Odili,” he said in the 511-page book.
He said he first approached the State High Court to make a declaratory interpretation of the constitutional responsibilities of the State House of Assembly as the only body charged by the Constitution to supervise, monitor and investigate the utilization of state resources by the executive arm.
“After full trial, the verdict was that the State House of Assembly and none other had the responsibility of probing the utilization of the state resources by the executive,” Odili said.
Armed with this ruling, Odili said, he proceeded to the Federal High Court and formally challenged the right of the EFCC to investigate his government.
“Full trial lasted for several weeks. The Federal High Court in PH with Justice I.N. Buba agreed with the position of the State High Court as to who was charged with the constitutional responsibility of probing the expenditure of a state government,” he said.
“The learned Judge issued declaratory and injunctive orders against the EFCC, declared as null and void the EFCC ‘interim report’ of December 2006 and prohibited them from publishing or putting into any use that report.”
Odili said, “Having left office as governor on May 29, 2007, agents of the conspiracy against Odili thought that with the lifting of the immunity veil on governors, it was now time to go after Odili.
“Ex-governors were being arrested and interrogated. Cries for Odili’s head by detractors filled the air; threats of impending arrest of Dr. Odili became an attractive news flash. I was provoked to act, because, there is a saying back home that ‘it is only a tree that you can threaten to cut down and it will continue to stand waiting for you to do so.’”
This, according to him, prompted him to head for the courts armed with the March 2007 judgment against the EFCC, where he sought and obtained the perpetual injunction from the Federal High Court on March 5, 2008.
“Now in my private capacity as a Nigerian citizen, I sued the Attorney General of the Federation and the EFCC and requested the Federal High Court to order the AG and EFCC to respect the 2007 Court order and restrain them from any malicious harassment or action against my person,” he said.
“A full trial, with the parties represented, lasted several months. At the end, by the special grace of God, judgement was in my favour. My legal team led by I. Adedipe SAN obtained a perpetual injunction against the defendants: the Attorney General of the Federation and the EFCC.”
A protracted appeal
Daily Trust investigations published on August 7, last year, show that on October 6, 2008 EFCC filed an appeal against the first injunction of March 2007 at Port Harcourt division of the Court of Appeal.
In 2010, the EFCC engaged A.B. Mahmoud, SAN to pursue the appeal of ‘perpetual injunction’ judgement.
While the case was ongoing, Odili again went to the Court of Appeal seeking to be included in the case as an interested party. On January 27, 2011, the Court of Appeal ruled that Odili should be joined as an interested party.
Daily Trust findings revealed that the case was last heard on March 15, 2012, and no date has been fixed for the next hearing. When in July last year our correspondent contacted the Registrar of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, Tony Ejike, he said: “There is no date fixed for this case.”
‘How Jonathan displaced me’
In his autobiography, Odili also gave a story of how he was denied the vice presidential ticket of the PDP, which went to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
He said on the day of the PDP presidential primaries, “I was invited to the VIP Guest Room at Eagle Square and was privileged to sight the typed copy of Umaru’s prepared acceptance speech. It was clearly stated that he had nominated Dr. Peter Odili as his running mate for the presidential race.
“This was at about midnight or so. In the course of the next few hours, information started reaching me that there was a strong pressure to drop me from the ticket.
“At about 3.30am or so, I was again invited to the VIP Guest room at Eagle Square and informed that there was a strong challenge to my being the running mate based on ‘some fresh information’ just received from Nuhu Ribadu, that would need to be sorted out later in the day.
“By the close of convention at dawn only 2 State Delegate Stands were still full-Katsina and Rivers- all others were empty or had one or two people left. The result was announced—Umaru was the winner and he promptly read a handwritten acceptance speech that excluded my name. He announced that further consultations were being made on the matter of his running mate.”
“By 4pm on Sunday 17th December, 2006 Dr. Jonathan was announced as the running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua. By Monday 18th December I congratulated Umaru and Jonathan and urged all my supporters nationwide and Rivers people to support the ticket. Odili was out of the race and the ticket,” he added.