The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, on Wednesday, said ex-Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, who is accused of N80.2bn fraud, had ridiculed the Nigerian justice system by failing to present himself for trial in court.

The EFCC acting Zonal Director, Benin Zonal Command, Mr Effa Okim, stated this during a familiarisation visit to the Delta State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Asaba, Delta State capital.

The EFCC is having a running legal battle with Bello over alleged N80.2bn fraud.

Following a failed attempt to arrest him and his repeated absence from court for his arraignment, the EFCC declared Bello wanted, while the Nigerian Immigration also placed the governor on a watchlist.

When asked on Wednesday why the EFCC had yet to arrest Bello weeks after he was declared wanted, an irate Okim claimed that the ex-governor was being shielded by the system.

“This is the last question I expected because the shame is on all of us. Is that a question I should answer alone? It’s not me, it is the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the EFCC zonal director said.

“That politically-exposed Yahaya Bello, whose crime has been traced to him by allegation and has been invited by EFCC to come and explain, and for months he is acting drama and we are all here wanting to ask questions! The shame is our own shame!

“Can’t we catch him? We can, but do we go all out to catch him? Do we need to do that when he has his masters? Can’t they call him and tell him, ‘You are disgracing Nigeria’? What are you telling the world? Tell him to go and explain himself like others have done.

“Where are the ministers? Where are Yahaya Bello’s colleagues, even in his hiding? So, Nigerians can’t tell him ‘This is not fair, go and report; they are not going to kill you’? But people are still eating and dining with him.”

Okim said beyond legality, there was a moral aspect of the case.

“Where has morality gone before legality that we can’t summon that man and tell him to go and report himself to the EFCC? Some persons are writing, supporting him, while some are criticizing the commission.

“The problem is our own problem that borders on Nigeria’s image. Our children are watching their parents behave like children.

“To me, the truth has vanished. Even in Animal Farm, this will not happen, that a man who was part of the system that was a custodian of our culture, rules and laws can behave like this and you are asking questions.

“The media should come out for the first time to harmonise, criticise that action and forget about prosecution but tell him to make himself available; thereafter we know what to do.”

Okim said the criminal justice system had been ridiculed by the actions of Bello, “And because we respect the law, we want to go by the process, we are inhibited that does not make us weak.”

The Chairman, NUJ Delta State Council, Churchill Oyowe, assured the commission the support of journalists in the state.

Meanwhile, the proceedings in the case of the former Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, are set to resume today with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) preparing to present its case against him.

Bello is facing charges of fraud and money laundering, allegedly embezzling N80 billion in state funds during his tenure.

The EFCC has been investigating Bello for months, and his trial has been a subject of public interest, with many Nigerians calling for his prosecution.

The commission has gathered evidence and witness statements, and is expected to present a strong case against the former governor.

Bello has denied all allegations, claiming political persecution.

The proceedings resume Thursday at the Federal High Court in Abuja, with Justice Emeka Nwite presiding.

From civil society organizations to legal practitioners, many are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the case, which is seen as a test of the country’s commitment to fighting corruption.

First, Hon. Austin Usman Okai, the People’s Democratic Party candidate for Dekina/Bassa Federal Constituency of Kogi state in the 2023 general elections, emphasized the significance of the trial.

Speaking with Our Correspondent, he said, “We’ve been struggling with corruption for so long, and it’s time we show the world that we’re serious about tackling it. A conviction would be a huge victory, but it’s not just about winning a case – it’s about setting a precedent, about showing that our institutions are strong enough to take on the powerful and hold them accountable.”

In agreement, Comrade Jacob Okpanachi, the National Secretary of Kogi Conscience Liberation Movement (KCLM), stressed the impact of a trial.

“A successful trial would be a game-changer because it would show that the EFCC is not just paying lip service to the fight against corruption. It’s going to inspire other agencies to take a cue from the EFCC and go after corrupt officials. It’s going to show the world that Nigeria is no longer a haven for corrupt practices,” he told Vanguard.

Olufunke Okunnu, a rights activist, added that the trial presents an opportunity for Nigeria to redeem itself.

She said. “This trial is a chance for Nigeria to redeem itself. We’ve been plagued by corruption for so long, and it’s time we take a stand. A conviction would be a statement that we’re no longer willing to tolerate corruption.”

However, Barrister James Okwe of Justice Gate Law Firm Abuja expressed skepticism about the trial’s impact.

“I believe that Yahaya Bello’s conviction won’t set a precedent, as he won’t be the first or last Governor to be accused and convicted of corruption.

“The real issue is that institutions in Nigeria are not equipped to hold the powerful accountable due to immunity clauses and executive control over appointments and funding,” the legal practitioner argued.

In stark contrast, human rights lawyer, Barr Deji Adeyanju criticized the EFCC’s approach, saying, “The EFCC seems scared of Yahaya Bello, but very brazen when it comes to violating the rights of citizens.

“The EFCC is very quick to arrest and prosecute innocent citizens, but when it comes to corrupt officials, they become toothless. This trial is a sham, and the EFCC is just trying to save face. They’re not serious about fighting corruption.”

Dele Oyewale, the EFCC spokesman, in providing an update on the case, defended the anti-graft agency’s approach to the case.

Oyewale said, “The issue of former Kogi governor, Yahaya Bello, is public knowledge. We are in court against him. The next court appearance is June 13, before Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court in Abuja.

“It is wrong for anybody to say that the EFCC is involved in selective prosecution. There is no basis or argument to justify that claim. All our activities are broad-based, fully integrated, professional, and non-selective.”