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Naira Abuse: Lawyers Query EFCC Prosecutorial Powers - LEADERSHIP

APRIL 22, 2024

Lawyers have queried the rationale behind the prosecution of two Nigerians by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for naira abuse. They argued that naira abuse as set out under the Act of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) does not constitute economic or financial crime under which the anti-graft agency is empowered to prosecute. TUNDE OYESINA reports

Some senior lawyers have faulted the prosecution of two Nigerians by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for naira abuse. The lawyers who spoke on the heels of EFCC prosecution of the controversial crossdresser, Idris Okuneye, popularly known as Bobrisky, and Pachal Okechukwu, popularly known as Cubana Chief Priest, contended that the prosecutorial power lies with either the police or the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

It would be recalled that the anti-graft agency has dragged both Bobrisky and Cubana Chief Priest to the Federal High Court in Lagos for prosecution over naira abuse offence. Bobrisky, who was arrested by the EFCC at Pinnock Estate in Lagos State was docked before Justice Abimbola Awogboro on a six-count charge of allegedly laundering N180 million through his company BOB EXPRESS and tampering with the N490,000 by spraying. While the first four counts of the charge signed by EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo (SAN), alleged that the defendant abused the naira, the last two counts border on alleged money laundering.

In the first count, the defendant is accused of tampering with N400,000 by spraying same while dancing at a social event at the IMAX Circle Mall, Lekki, Lagos. He was also alleged, in count 2, to have, between July and August 2023 tampered with another sum of N50,000 by spraying same at a social event while dancing. In count 3, Bobrisky, was alleged to have sometimes in Dec. 2023 at White Steve Event Hall, Ikeja also sprayed and tampered with another sum of N20,000 while dancing. Count four also accused Bobrisky of spraying and tampering with another sum of N20,000 while dancing at another event in Oniru, Victoria Island.

The offence allegedly committed on March 24, 2024, was said to be contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007. Upon the reading of the charge, Bobrisky owned up to the offence of naira abuse. However, prior to the reading of the charge, the EFCC’s lawyer asked the court to strike out counts five and six. He said: “We have an agreement with the defendant which will lead us to withdraw counts 5 and 6. In the circumstance, we’re humbly urging the court to strike out counts 5 and 6, leaving counts 1 to 4 alive”.

Justice Awogboro consequently struck out the two counts and ordered that the four-count charge be read to the defendant. The EFCC prosecutor then proceeded to review the facts of the case by calling on an Assistant Superintendent at the agency, Bolaji Temitope, as his witness. Temitope said: “The EFCC received intelligence of individuals who are in the habit of spraying naira during parties in Lagos. Based on this, the EFCC sent out an operation team to monitor and observe the activities of individuals who are in the habit of doing so.

“We usually visit event centres and monitor social media pages to determine where the naira is being abused. “During the exercise, we came across videos on social media where the defendant was seen abusing the naira. Our team then proceeded to view the video and burn same on CD. “Consequently, an invitation letter was forwarded to the defendant.

When he honoured the invitation. The defendant was shown a video where he was spraying money on Segun Johnson. He confirmed that he was the one in the video. “An event at the Island circle mall

The EFCC does not have the powers, locus standi and competence to prosecute people for naira abuse

was also shown to the defendant. A total of N400, 000 was spent. The defendant was also shown another video in Aja Junction, Ikorodu and an event centre at Ikeja. He admitted spraying money in all the videos. He then offered his statement in writing. The prosecutor then tendered the statement and videos. There was no objection from the defence team.

The court admitted them as exhibits and marked them Exhibits 1 and 2 respectively. “That is the case of the prosecution and we pray the defendant be convicted as charged, my lord,” the prosecutor told the judge. In a bench ruling, Justice Awogboro held: “The defendant is convicted as charged”. But Bobrisky pleaded for mercy, saying he was not aware of the law on abuse of naira.

The judge then told him that ignorance of the law was not an excuse to which Bobrisky replied,” I know my lord.” He further said to the judge, “My lord, I wish that you can give me a second chance to use my platform to inform and educate my followers on the risk involved in spraying of money. “I’m a social media influencer with over five million followers.

I would do a video on my page and I will educate people about spraying of money. I will not repeat it again my lord, I regret my actions my lord. I’m a first-time offender”. His counsel added that he had turned a new leaf and urged the judge to grant Bobrisky a non-custodial sentence and an option of a fine. Delivering judgement, Justice Awogboro sentenced Bobrisky to six months imprisonment without an option of fine for naira abuse.

The judge ruled that the jail term will commence on March 24, 2024, the day of his arrest. Justice Awogboro, while sentencing the convict, said the judgement would be a deterrent to others who are fond of abusing and mutilating the naira. Before passing the sentence, the judge enquired about the defendant’s gender and he replied that he is a male.

In a related development, the EFCC again on April 17, 2024 arraigned a businessman and socialite, Pascal Okechukwu, a.k.a Cubana Chief Priest, on a three-count charge bordering on abuse of naira before Justice Kehinde Ogundare of a Federal High Court in Lagos.

Two of the counts in the charge against Cubana Chief Priest reads: “That you, Okechukwu Pascal, on 13th February, 2024, at Eko Hotel Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, while dancing during a social event, tampered with funds in the denomination of N500(Five Hundred Naira) issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria by spraying, thereby committing an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act, 2007.

“That you, Okechukwu Pascal, sometimes in 2020, in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, during a social event tampered with funds in the denomination of N500( Five Hundred Naira) issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria by spraying same for two hours and you thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act, 2007”. Earlier during the proceedings, defence counsel, Chikaozolu Ojukwu (SAN), notified the court of two pending applications, namely; a preliminary objection and a summons for bail.

He, however, prayed that the defendant be allowed to take his plea, and the said applications taken when they are ripe. Afterwards, the defendant pleaded “not guilty” to the charge when it was read to him. In view of his plea, prosecution counsel, Bilkisu Buhari, asked the court for a trial date. Responding, counsel to the defendant, Ojukwu informed the court of an application for bail. He said: “My lord, we have an application dated and filed on 17th April, 2024 for an order admitting the defendant to bail in liberal terms.

The application is predicated on eight grounds, 25 paragraph affidavit and a written address. We rely on the affidavit that the defendant has been on an administrative bail and has not breached the condition of the bail”. Continuing, Ojukwu stressed that, “the offence of which the defendant is being charged is a misdemeanour for which the punishment is an option of fine or a sentence of not more than six months.

I urge the court to exercise your kind discretion in favour of the defendant. I also urge my noble lord to give us 14 days to enable him perfect the bail condition, in the event that bail is granted.” Upon hearing the submissions of the counsel, Justice Ogundare granted the defendant bail in the sum of N 10 million with two responsible sureties.

The sureties, according to the judge, must be gainfully employed within the federal or state government parastatal and must not be less than Grade Level 16 officers. They must possess landed property and the documents verified by the prosecution.

The judge also ordered the defendant to submit his passport with the court and all addresses verified by the prosecution. The bail condition is to be perfected within seven days upon an undertaking by the defence counsel to produce him. Further hearing in the matter has been adjourned to May 2, 2024.

Lawyers speak

A former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, was the first to speak against the action of the EFCC, saying the anti-graft agency lacks the powers to prosecute people for naira abuse To the professor of law, spraying of naira does not fall within the commission’s prosecutorial purview.

According to him, “The law that establishes the EFCC defines ‘economic and financial crimes’ to mean ‘non-violent criminal and illicit activity committed with the objectives of earning wealth illegally either individually or in a group or organised manner thereby violating existing legislation governing the economic activities of government and its administration”.

Speaking in the same vein, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Solo Akuma, posited that abuse of naira as set out under the CBN Act does not constitute economic crime or financial crime under which the EFCC is empowered (Section 46 of the EFCC Act) to prosecute. “So, that prosecutorial power lies with the police or CBN, which is a statutory body that can be sued and can also sue. “Therefore, the EFCC, as far as am concerned, is a meddlesome interloper and a busybody when it comes to prosecuting people fot naira abuse. .

“The EFCC should look at the definition of financial crimes and decided cases on that, and then it would advise itself whether what is doing is right or wrong. “The EFCC does not have the powers, locus standi, and it lacks the competence to prosecute,” the SAN said. In his submissions, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), noted that the Supreme Court in the case of Nwobike Vs EFCC, has decided that the scope of powers available to the EFCC is very limited. Agbakoba said: “I very much doubt the power of the EFCC. The EFCC was created for a purpose, it is created for grave economic and financial crimes. The EFCC has

Spraying of naira does not constitute economic and financial crime, and as such does not fall within the prosecutorial mandate of the EFCC

no powers at all to do what is doing when it comes to naira abuse. It should focus on the bigger issues and stop wasting the nation’s resources”. On his part, Victor Okpara (SAN), maintained that though naira abuse or mutilation; naira spraying or sprinkling is outlawed under the CBN Act, the EFCC was set up to prosecute economic and financial crimes.

In his words: “If you look at the definition of financial crimes and economic crimes from the EFCC Act, it seems to say that activity must be financially beneficial to the perpetrator of the act. “If you look further at the functions of the EFCC, you find out that the functions of the EFCC can be located in Section 6 of the EFCC Act. “In that Act, as it were, you will see several powers given to the EFCC. The question is this; is the spraying of money in the criminal code? the answer is no.

Is the spraying of money contained in the penal code? the answer is no. “So, it would seem that from the provision of that Act, and by virtue of the decision of the Supreme Court in Nwobike Vs FRN, it is my view that the EFCC does not have the full powers to prosecute the offence of naira abuse”. Corroborating Okpara’s views, a senior lawyer, Biodun Olugbemide, argued that spraying of naira does not fall within the prosecutorial mandate of the EFCC.

According to him, “Section 21(3) of CBN Act, 2007, provides that spraying of, dancing, or marching on the naira… shall be punishable under the law, by fines or imprisonment, or both. “It is therefore an established law that our currency must not be abused. Nevertheless, the question begging for an answer, as certain developments begin to unfold in the country today is; ‘Is it within the powers of EFCC to prosecute the offence of naira abuse?’ “EFCC is a specialized institution set up for a specific duty.

If one x-rays the Act that set up the Commission, the spraying of naira does not fall within it, that is, spraying of naira does not constitute economic and financial crimes, just as the name connotes. “The action of EFCC simply reveals that our primary law enforcement institutions, especially, Nigerian Police, are not effective. “Also, the EFCC’s current action is a distraction from its primary assignment. EFCC is running beyond its mandate by prosecuting the issue of naira abuse.

“The problem this action of EFCC might eventually cause would be the sudden surfacing of video clips of some serving public office holders, ministers, or even governors. At that point, what will the EFCC do? Prosecute them or embrace selective prosecution? “If the EFCC operatives were to harness the totality of their skills and training, they should go after the corrupt in the political corridors, those politicians that have held the nation to ransom by corruption.

The N18 trillion budget padding is there, with nothing tangible coming out of it. “If the speed with which they are chasing after these celebrities is channeled towards getting the corrupt ones, Nigeria will be a better place”. In his views, a rights activist, Maduabuchi Idam, accused the EFCC of playing tribal and ethnic card with the trial of nightlife entrepreneur, Okechukwu Paschal, also known as Cubana Chief Priest, for naira abuse.

Idam, who described Cubana Chief Priest’s trial as mere ceremonial, said EFCC was trying to pacify the Southwest for convicting Idris Okuneye, aka Bobrisky, for naira abuse. The lawyer said EFCC should be investigating the budget padding allegation raised by the suspended Bauchi Central Senator Abdul Ningi and not be preoccupied with prosecuting Cubana Chief Priest. “Funny to see that EFCC has adopted the Nigerian quota system in its prosecution of suspects.

I see the prosecution of Chief Priest as a mere ceremonial exercise intended to pacify the West in order to balance the tribal or ethnic equation, possibly to douse tension coming from the needless prosecution of Bobrisky. “Otherwise, the commission should be very busy investigating Senator Ningi allegation of diversion of the sum of over 3 trillion Naira by Akpabio and his goons at the National Assembly rather than chasing rabbits.


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