Rivers Decries EFCC’s Invasion Of State

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The Rivers State Government Tuesday condemned what it called the invasion of the state by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), describing it as an abuse of the judicial process and persecution of government officials.

But the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) welcomed the investigation, which it said would end the alleged squandering of resources by the state government.

EFCC officials had on Monday arrived in the state to quiz some lawmakers over the funding of the state House of Assembly.

The officials interrogated the House Majority Leader, Hon. Chidi Lloyd, who is standing trial for the attempted murder of a colleague, over the funding of the legislature.

Lloyd, whose trial resumed Tuesday, was remanded in prison custody by a Rivers State High Court, sitting in Port Harcourt, after he had pleaded not guilty to the six-count charge preferred against him.

It was, however, learnt that what could have been a step towards dousing tensions in the state was mired in intrigues as a new Commissioner of Police, Mr. Katsina Mohammed, posted to take over from the incumbent, Mr. Mbu Joseph Mbu, who has been accused of partisanship in the crisis in the state, was summarily recalled before he could formally assume duties.

Condemning the action of the EFCC, the Chief of Staff to the state governor, Chief Tony Okocha, said yesterday in Port Harcourt that although the Chibuike Amaechi-led administration was not afraid of   being investigated, the anti-graft agency was deliberately trampling on judicial orders.

He said the EFCC was aware of a subsisting court order that barred the commission from interrogating or investigating officials of the state.

According to him, the anti-graft body should have vacated the court order first before invading the state.
He described the investigation as another phase of the federal government’s attempts at intimidating and persecuting the state government and its officials.

He said: “There is a subsisting court order that says they cannot interrogate or investigate officials of the Rivers State Government on the financial dealings of the state’s affairs.

“This is still subsisting and they know the proper thing to do is vacate this order first, but they have left this undone. Rather, they came unleashing their operatives after state officials. This is improper and we consider it a violation of judicial processes.

“The Rivers State Government is not stopping them from doing their duty. We have no reason to be afraid of probes or investigations; the state government and its officials have not done anything unlawful, our books are clean, but we must insist that things be done properly.

“Nigeria is a democracy and we profess the rule of law and the supremacy of the constitution. So the EFCC should not, because it is Rivers State now, try to disregard or disobey the law.
“This is just another phase of the witch-hunting game, it is obvious. You know how they operate; they just go after people, hoping to intimidate and harass them.”

On Lloyd’s interrogation on Monday, Okocha said: “I learnt they chased everybody around him away before they settled down to interrogate him. I don’t know what they asked him or did to him.”

Efforts to get the EFCC to shed more light on the investigation were rebuffed by its officials who ignored enquiries on the matter.

THISDAY had sought explanations from the EFCC’s acting Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, on what influenced the timing of the investigation and why Nigerians should not interpret the actions of the commission as a witch-hunt of the state government.

But Uwujaren refused to reply to text messages sent to him or pick or return his calls.
Nonetheless, the state chapter of the PDP has welcomed the probe of Lloyd and some officials of the state government.

In a statement by Jerry Needam, Special Adviser, Media to the party’s Chairman, Felix Obuah, the PDP expressed concern about government spending since the onset of the political crisis in the state.

The statement alleged that the sitting by the lawmakers to give approval to virement in the 2013 budget on the day violence broke out in the assembly was meant to accommodate and legitimise huge government spending.

It urged the EFCC to “extend its tentacles to the accounts of the state House of Assembly which we suspect, has been hugely used as a conduit pipe to siphon state funds.”

It also called for the probe of the wife of the governor, Mrs. Judith Amaechi, and some council chairmen over the funding of the first lady’s pet project, the Empowerment Support Initiative (ESI).

The party also queried the alleged attempts by the state government to secure Lloyd’s release.

It said the taking over of his case yesterday by the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Worgu Boms, immediately after a plea was taken had further confirmed the fear that justice might not be done in the matter.

Boms had taken over the prosecution of the case at the resumption of the matter before the state High Court sitting in Port Harcourt.

The court yesterday ordered that Lloyd be remanded in prison till today when it would determine a bail application filed by his counsel.

Justice Letam Nyordee gave the order after Lloyd had pleaded not guilty to the six-count charge of attempted murder of his colleague, Hon. Michael Chindah, during the July 9 fracas that erupted at the assembly.

Lloyd was charged with conspiracy, attempted murder, intent to maim, disfigure and injure, unlawful grievous harm and of wilfully destroying government property.

His lead counsel, Mr. Beluolisa Nwofor (SAN), had moved a motion for application for bail shortly after the lawmaker pleaded not guilty to all the charges the police had preferred against him.

He relied on the 29-paragraph affidavit sworn to, the exhibits attached therewith, and the written addresses filed as well as another affidavit to pray that the accused be granted bail.

He urged the court to discountenance the counter-affidavit filed by the police on the bail application, adding that pursuant to Section 3, Subsection 5 of the Criminal Law, a person is deemed innocent until a competent court of law decides otherwise.

He also argued that the accused deserved bail as none of the charges against him bordered on murder, armed robbery or felony.

He therefore prayed the court to grant Lloyd bail on self-recognition, pointing out that the accused willingly handed himself over to the police on July 26 and considering his status, he would not jump bail.
Responding to the motion, Boms applied to withdraw the counter-affidavit filed by the police, saying they were ready to go on with the trial.

Meanwhile, what could have been considered an attempt to douse tensions in the state has been stymied by intrigues over the posting of a new police commissioner to the state.

The incumbent has been accused of partisanship in handling the crisis between the two factions of the Rivers State PDP that has pitted President Goodluck Jonathan and his supporters against Amaechi and his supporters.

Various stakeholders, including the state government, the National Assembly and civil society groups have demanded the removal of Mbu to pave the way for reconciliation in the state.

However, Mohammed, the Imo State Police Commissioner, who was posted to replace Mbu was allegedly recalled immediately by the presidency, THISDAY learnt on Tuesday.

A source said with Mohammed’s posting to the state, Mbu was billed to move to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in Lagos as the ports commissioner of police.

Preparatory to his takeover from Mbu, Mohammed was said to have visited Port Harcourt, the state capital, at the weekend for preliminary briefing before he was recalled so that Mbu could continue in office.

A source informed THISDAY that as soon as Mbu heard of the transfer, he protested to the presidency.

Consequently, the presidency was said to have directed the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, to immediately reverse the postings.


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