A Federal High Court in Ado Ekiti on Tuesday ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) lacked the constitutional powers to probe finances of any state without a report of indictment from the legislature.
The trial judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, in a judgment delivered Tuesday, said that contrary to the position of the EFCC, only the house of assembly and the auditor-general of a state were legally empowered to monitor and investigate the finances of a state.
The judge specifically held that under a federation, the federal government cannot serve as an overseer or auditor-general regarding the finances of a state.
The verdict brought an end to a constitutional dispute between the attorney general of Ekiti State and the EFCC on who has powers to probe state finances between the anti-graft agency and the state house of assembly.
The state’s attorney general filed the suit after the EFCC sent letters of invitation to some government officials and banks seeking details of some financial transactions of the state.
Justice Taiwo said the financial institutions were not entitled to submit, release or disclose to any person, body or agency, including the EFCC and inspector general of police (IG), or any other investigating body, any document, financial records of the state.
The court held that the anti-graft agency lacked power to take over the oversight functions vested in state assembly under Sections 128 and 129 of the 1999 Constitution to initiate a probe or criminal proceedings against a state official.
According to the judge, only the state assembly is vested with oversight and investigative responsibilities over state finances, appropriation and implementation after receiving a formal report from the auditor general or the accountant general as the case may arise.
The judge said: “It is unassailable that there is separation of powers.
“Under a federal system, section 4, 5 and 6 of the constitution provides separation of powers which guarantees independence and forbids infringement of powers.
“The power for control of fund, financial outflow, appropriation is vested in the house of assembly. It is the auditor general of the state that has the power to conduct check on all government corporations and to submit his report to the assembly.
“Nobody including the court can read other meaning into the clear provision of the constitution.
“The assembly has the responsibilities on the management of funds by the executives. They have the responsibility to ensure fund management, cut wastages and reject corruption.
“The first defendant (EFCC) is bound to operate within the constitution and cannot operate like the lord of the manor. Its statutory duty is not a licence to contravene the constitution.
“I can’t by any stretch of imagination see how the statutory functions of the (EFCC) can extend to a state in a federation under any guise to the extent that the eight to 18 defendants (banks) will be directed to submit bank details.
“Yes, the first defendant can investigate any person or corporate organisation, what it can’t do is to usurp the powers of the assembly.
“The Federal Government cannot impose its statutory duties on a state in flagrant disobedience of the constitution.
“The prosecution should not ride roughshod of the constitution.
“It is the duty of judges to ensure they don’t listen to sentiment of the public.
“I resolve all issues in favour of the plaintiff. I grant all reliefs sought by the plaintiff in view of the fact they are live issues, “ he said.