At a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption, officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said the commission had powers to intervene in the matter between the Executive Chairman of Innoson Motors, Chief Innocent Chukwuma, and his bankers. The assertion naturally attracts a probing question: Where in the world did the EFCC get the weird idea that it can investigate a crime that borders on ‘forgery,’ which is the charge it has pressed against Chief Chukwuma and his firm, Innoson Motors? Unless a new EFCC Establishment Act unknown to Nigerians has come into being, the only valid law guiding the operations of the anti-graft agency did not include ‘forgery’ in the menu of crimes it can investigate and prosecute.
Before the Senate Committee on Anti-corruption, on Wednesday, February 7, 2018, the Director of Legal Issues at the EFCC, Mr. Chile Okoroma, maintained: “…If someone goes to take a loan from a bank and presents forged documents, are we saying it is a civil matter between them? It is case of alleged forgery and obtaining money under false pretence. We have a responsibility to investigate, and from our investigations, we can prosecute” (www.thisdaylive.com/2018/02/08). The problem here is the inability of EFCC officials to appreciate the fact that ‘forgery’ and ‘obtaining under false pretence’ (419), are entirely two different forms of crime.
Incidentally, it is this inability to correctly appraise the issue at hand that makes the EFCC to think it can investigate ‘forgery,’ which, though not an economic and financial crime, is the sole responsibility of the Nigeria Police.
There is no doubt that the EFCC, just like the police, can investigate the crime of ‘obtaining under false pretence.’
However, an economic and financial crime emanating from ‘forgery’ must first await the pronouncement of the court that the documents or the signatures used in committing such a crime was forged, before EFCC officials can proceed on their statutory assignment. As we write, there is no court judgment anywhere in the world affirming that the documents used by Chief Chukwuma to obtain tax waivers from the Nigerian government were forged. Of course, a forged document does not exist (or even exists) on the say so of a police investigative report. Without a court order declaring that a document or signature was forged, the legal existence of such a document or signature cannot be vouched for.
Given the aforementioned situation, the questions that the EFCC must answer now are legion.
Where is the police report that investigated the allegation of ‘forgery’ against Chief Chukwuma and Innoson Motors? Did such a police investigative report establish a prima facie case against Chukwuma and Innoson Motors? In which court did the police arraign Chief Chukwuma and Innoson Motors for ‘forgery’? Did the police secure any conviction against Chukwuma and Innoson Motors? Where is the court judgment affirming such a conviction? If there is no court judgment affirming the commission of the crime of ‘forgery’ against Chukwuma and Innoson Motors, from where did the EFCC get the uninformed impression that the issue at hand “… is a case of alleged forgery and obtaining money under false pretence”?
Perhaps, this is the time to point out a pertinent fact that the EFCC officials may not be very comfortable with. Section 46 of the EFCC Establishment Act 2004 interprets ‘Economic and Financial Crimes’ as “the non-violent, criminal, and illicit activity committed with objectives of carrying wealth illegally either individually or in a group or organised manner, thereby violating existing legislation governing the economic activities of government and its administration and includes any form of fraud, narcotic drug trafficking, money laundering, embezzlement, bribery, looting and any form of corrupt malpractices, illegal arms deal, smuggling, human trafficking and child labour, illegal oil bunkering and illegal mining, tax evasion, foreign exchange malpractices, including counterfeiting of currency, theft of intellectual property and piracy, open market abuse, dumping of toxic wastes and prohibited goods.”
Now, by virtue of the above quotation, the EFCC Act did not include ‘forgery’ as a crime.
Therefore, it would be right to state that the EFCC has no locus to arrest, institute or even conceive the idea of investigating any person or company in respect of the offence of ‘forgery.’
Therefore, going by the provisions of its establishment Act 2004, the EFCC cannot dabble into law and investigate the crime of forgery. It cannot, on that premise, harass, intimidate, arrest, or initiate investigation into the activities of Chief Innocent Chukwuma and Innoson Motors or anybody for that matter, for the purpose of prosecuting them for the crimes of forgery and stealing.
It is the duty of the Nigeria Police, as per Section 4 of the Police Act, by virtue of the powers conferred on it, through Section 214(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to arrest or institute any investigation, with respect to forgery and stealing.
►Messrs Mazi and Ogbonna are members of Mezie Ala-Igbo Foundation (MAIF).