By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
LAGOS—The former Principal Secretary to the late President Umaru Yar’adua, Mr. David Edevbie, has filed an action at the Federal High Court in Lagos, praying the court to either compel the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to prosecute him for his alleged involvement in money laundering activities or in the absence of any concrete evidence against him give him a clean bill of health.
Mr. Edevbie, alongside five other persons, have been the subject of investigation by the EFCC since 2009 in connection with the sale of Delta State’s shareholding in Vee Networks Ltd., VNL, while he was Delta State Commissioner for Finance.
In the suit brought before the court, “for the enforcement of his fundamental right to fair hearing within a reasonable time, and the right to receive information without interference,” Mr. Edevbie is asking the court to determine whether the anti-graft agency ought not to have prosecuted or exonerated him over financial crimes allegations, following the sale in 2006 of Delta State’s shareholding in VNL, in which Delta State was a substantial shareholder. The EFCC and Attorney-General of the Federation are the first and second respondents respectively.
The plaintiff, through his lawyer, Olasupo Shasore, SAN, of Ajumogobia and Okeke, is therefore, seeking an order of the court to compel the respondents to prosecute him where investigation disclosed evidence of wrongdoing or in the alternative, an order compelling the EFCC to make an official written communication exonerating him from any alleged financial crime arising from the VNL transaction.
Mr. Edevbie is also praying the court to issue an order compelling the EFCC to disclose the results of its investigation into his involvement in the VNL transaction while he was Delta State Commissioner for Finance pursuant to section 1(3) of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011.
In addition, he wants the court to award him the sum of N500 million as damages for the agency’s breach of his constitutional right to receive information without interference, as enshrined in section 39 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, Article 9 of African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 1990, (‘the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right’) and sections 1, 4 and 7 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 which denial has brought about loss of business and goodwill to the applicant over the period of the time of the denial.”
In an affidavit supporting the motion, Mr. Edevbie averred that he could not have been involved in any money laundering activity arising from the transaction because he had ceased to be a member of the Board of VNL as a Director and Delta State Executive Council as Commissioner for Finance before the sale of the shares was concluded, and funds received by Delta State Government in June 2006.
He deposed that “after my resignation from VNL board in August 2004, after which I was duly replaced by another appointee of Delta State Government – Mr. Onosode – and my departure from the Delta State Government as Commissioner for Finance in December, 2005, I was no longer entitled to receive information regarding the final negotiations that eventually led to the sale of Delta State’s shares in VNL in June 2006.”
However, by virtue of his position as the Commissioner for Finance and his role as representative of the state government on the board of VNL from June 2001-August 2004,Mr. Edevbie was in 2009 named with five others as a co-conspirator in the alleged money laundering charges preferred against former Delta State governor, James Ibori, by the Crown Prosecution in the United Kingdom in 2009.This was shortly after he was appointed Principal Secretary to the late President Yar’Adua, replacing the previous Chief of Staff.
In his affidavit, Mr. Edevbie told the court that he wrote to the EFCC through his lawyers on February 24, 2011, and April 1, “requesting the EFCC to carry out investigations into the allegations, with particular interest in my alleged role as the Commissioner for Finance.” Subsequently, he said, he was invited by the EFCC for questioning in its Lagos office.
“As an honourable citizen of this Country,” he said, “I honoured the invitation, and on 10th August, 2011, I was interviewed by operatives of the first Respondent at the first Respondent’s Lagos office. Following further detailed investigations in Nigeria and the UK, I was again interviewed at its Abuja office in March 2012.
The plaintiff further stated that on November 27, 2012, he caused his lawyers to write another letter to the EFCC demanding for action to be taken on the matter. In their letter to the EFCC, his lawyers Ajumogobia and Okeke demanded “written confirmation of the investigation” adding: “should your office determine that our client is still required to answer any criminal charges, we have instructions to demand that a charge be proffered within the next fourteen (14) days in the absence of which a written communication of ‘case closed’ with a determination of no criminal liability must be brought forward. Take notice that we remain under instruction to commence civil action against your office in the absence of the above written report within the next fourteen (14) days.”
Mr. Edevbie asserted that “the failure, neglect and or refusal” of the EFCC to prosecute him at the conclusion of its investigations is an indication that he has committed no offence for which he could be prosecuted. “Since the interviews with the EFCC and till date,” he said,”there has been no communication whatsoever from the 2nd Respondent informing me of the progress and or any further development in its investigation; neither have I been charged with the commission of any crime. This situation has left me in limbo, particularly as I have the desire to clear my name…”