The Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday lifted the interim forfeiture order placed on 14 properties and N400m allegedly linked to Kogi State, Governor Yahaya Bello.
Justice Nicholas Oweibo, in a ruling, said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission could not move against the sitting governor as he has immunity under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution.
Following an ex parte application by the EFCC, the court had on February 22 made an order for the interim forfeiture of the 14 properties and firms in Lagos, Abuja, and the United Arab Emirates as well as N400m, recovered from one Aminu Falala.
The anti-graft agency told the court that the properties were reasonably suspected to have been acquired with proceeds of fraud.
The EFCC got the court to freeze the properties rellying on sections 9 and 10 of the Proceeds of Crimes (Recovery and Management) Act, 2022.
The court had then ordered the anti-graft agency to make publication of the order in two national dailies for any interested parties to show cause why the interim forfeiture should not be made permanent.
Following the publication, the governor, through his legal team, filed a Notice of Intention and an application seeking the vacation of the interim forfeiture order.
Bello insisted that the properties were legitimately acquired by him long before he was elected as Kogi State governor.
He alleged that the EFCC suppressed facts to obtain the forfeiture order and urged the court to set it aside.
He also challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in Lagos to entertain the suit on the grounds that the properties listed were in Abuja, Kogi, and UAE, and the personality involved is based in Lokoja, and as such, the suit should have been either in Kogi State or Abuja.
Consequently, he urged the court to vacate the case for lack of jurisdiction.
Though the EFCC, through its lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo (SAN), opposed Bello’s prayers, Justice Oweibo, in a ruling on Wednesday agreed with the governor and lifted the forfeiture order.
Justice Oweibo held that given Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, which gives immunity to a sitting governor from any civil or criminal prosecution, the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
Consequently, he struck out the suit for lack of jurisdiction.