The Bayelsa State government and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) are neck-deep in “war” over which of them has the power to investigate functionaries of the State government.
The battle ground is the Federal High Court in Yenagoa, the state capital, where the ICPC is already seeking the court to prevent the State government from stopping it from investigating allegations of corruption against some members of the state government.
The Commission, in a preliminary objection, filed before Justice Hamma Adama Dashen, told the court that it had the statutory powers to investigate any act of corruption levelled against officials of state governments in Nigeria.
This is even as the Bayelsa State Government, through the State’s Attorney General, challenged the powers of ICPC to demand for records of financial expenditure of the State government for the purpose of carrying out investigation into alleged corrupt practices by some past and serving public functionaries in the state.
The Solicitor-General of the State, Preye Agedah, in his argument, told the court that ICPC wrote several: “Letters of Investigation Activities” pursuant to S. 28 and 29 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 (ICPC Act 2000) to several functionaries of the state government, including the Secretary to the State Government, Accountant General, and others demanding for financial records of the state.
Agedah submitted that the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended, vests on the Bayelsa State House of Assembly and the Auditor-General of Bayelsa State the exclusive powers to direct an investigation into the finances of the state for the purposes of “exposing mismanagement, corruption or waste.”
He argued that the demand made by ICPC for financial records of the state from 2008 till date looks more like an audit than an investigation.
He therefore requested the court to stop ICPC from conducting a general audit of the state and from usurping the constitutional role of various organs of the state government under the guise of investigating alleged corrupt practices.
But, counsel for ICPC, Adenekan Shogunle, submitted that the issue of the validity and constitutionality of the ICPC Act 2000 was decided with finality by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the case of AG ONDO v AG FEDERATION (2002), a case in which Bayelsa State was a party.
He submitted that having been made a party to the decision of the Supreme Court, no state in Nigeria can turn around to challenge the constitutionality and validity of the ICPC Act 2000 without offending the principle of issue estoppel.
He said that the remedy available to Bayelsa State, and indeed every other state that is privy to the decision, is to go back and ask the Supreme Court to revisit the issue and not to initiate a fresh claim before any other court in Nigeria.
On the issue of whether or not ICPC has the power to audit financial records of Bayelsa State, Shogunle argued that the allegation of seeking to audit the finances of the State is speculative and not based on any cogent evidence.
The ICPC counsel further argued that the objective of the Commission was clearly spelt out in the letters of “Investigation Activities” addressed to the officials of the state government in their capacity as custodians of public records, adding that ICPC officials introduced in the letters were detectives and not auditors.
He cited many decisions of the Supreme Court to show that the powers of legislative oversight vested in the State Houses of Assembly to order or conduct investigation into the finances of the State for the purpose of ‘exposing mismanagement, corruption or waste’ was neither exclusive nor synonymous with the power of criminal investigation vested in the executive arm of government, stressing that the statutory powers of ICPC does not conflict with that of any State House of Assembly.
Shogunle then asked the Bayelsa State government to stop crying wolf where there is none and urged the court to dismiss the claim for lacking in merit and for constituting an abuse of court process.
The trial judge, Dashen, adjourned the matter to another date for ruling after listening to arguments from both parties.