Last week, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) froze bank accounts belonging to the Benue State government. The Benue State government claimed that the commission froze three of its accounts after it allegedly linked the governor to a N22 billion fraud. However, Governor Samuel Ortom denied the allegation, insisting that the action was due to his defection from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The EFCC, while justifying its actions in Benue, said its investigation showed that between June 30, 2015 and March 2018, Governor Ortom ordered the withdrawal of N21.3billion from government’s accounts in Guaranty Trust Bank, First Bank of Nigeria and the United Bank for Africa.
Rather than commendation for a job well done, the action was followed by outrage from Nigerians, including human rights groups, the opposition PDP and the Nigerian Governor’s Forum.
The Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, decried the action, saying it amounts to shutting down of government.
“The freezing of any account of the state government whether Benue or anywhere is unconstitutional and is not right. That is shutting down government. Government must spend, most especially Benue that is facing insecurity challenges. We don’t know why the EFCC took the action. But if indeed EFFC froze the account, from my point of view, it is wrong,’’ he said.
Following the widespread condemnation, the EFCC unblocked the accounts. All these would have been avoided if the commission had exercised some restraint ab initio. We recognise the fact that the EFCC has the constitutional responsibility to fight financial crimes and to bring to book fraudulent elements, especially government officials who have been entrusted with public funds and we will continue to support it in the execution of that duty and hope that it succeeds in ridding the country of corruption. However, we condemn what appears to be arbitrary use of powers.
The EFCC must note that to maintain the sanctity of the institution and respect that comes with the office, it is important for it to always act in tandem with the Act setting it up and provisions of the constitution. And as much as majority of the masses are desirous of seeing that corrupt leaders are arrested and jailed; they also know when the fight does not appear to be genuine. In freezing the Benue account, the EFCC acted in haste and it gives room for suspicion; just as the timing. This is because the commission did not go after Governor Ortom, until he defected from the ruling APC to the PDP.
While it may be true that the EFCC has been investigating Ortom and indeed the Benue State government for a while, it is curious that it concluded the investigation and was ready to take action immediately the governor defected. The commission must be careful not to engage in activities that would make the people to lose confidence in it. Also, it is no longer news that the Benue State government has not paid salaries for sometime, coupled with its security challenges, therefore freezing its accounts was not the way to go. If indeed the EFCC found the government guilty of any financial crime, it should find a way of dealing with the perpetrators without subjecting innocent people of the state to unnecessary hardship.
The EFCC should also ensure that its investigations cover all corrupt persons no matter the status or party affiliation. As we approach the 2019 elections, there will be a lot of defections, political alignments and realignments, therefore, we urge the government to call the EFCC to order so that it does not engage in activities that could rubbish its anti-corruption stance.