A group, Society for Justice and Equity, has faulted the manner in which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is handling the trial of the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Bala Mohammed.
The group's Coordinator, Mr Ifeanyi Mbakogu, in a statement issued yesterday, called on the commission to bide by rule of law.
The group noted that apart from former aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode and former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, no other minister of the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration had been subjected to "so invasive investigation, serial hounding in the media and unremitting persecution as Mohammed."
The group noted that even though EFCC had the powers to fight corruption, it should do so within the ambit of the law and without trampling on suspects' rights.
It stated that EFCC appeared not interested in prosecuting Mohammed but just wished to incarcerate him perpetually.
It said: "No other interpretation can be given to the submission of EFCC counsel, Mr Ben Ikani who, on Wednesday, May 10, 2017, told the Abuja High Court, sitting in Gudu District, that he was not prepared to argue the bail motion moved by Chief Chris Uche, SAN, the counsel to Mohammed.
"Ikani's reason was that he had only just received the counter-affidavit filed by Mohammed's counsel to the six-point charge filed against the former minister.
"If the highly respected senior advocate had not ebulliently risen to the challenge, who knows, the bail application would not have been heard."
The group said the issue was not whether the former minister was innocent or guilty but the need to allow the court to determine his guilt.
It stated the case had been in the domain of the EFCC since last year and there was nothing new and then wondered why the commission was opposing Mohammed's case.
It said: "The EFCC started the investigation, laid the accusation, filed the charges and is prosecuting the case. So, short of playing some delay tactics, short of the desire to hold the former minister captive in perpetuity, why would an agency that, ostensibly, is operating under the law strive to deprive an accused of his liberty as guaranteed by the constitution?"
The group pointed out that the accused had been granted both administrative and court bails based on the same matter and the accused had been reporting to the EFCC weekly since January and has not absconded.
"If he hasn't, why would he do so now that the matter has been charged to court, when his liberties that have been so brazenly eroded through subterfuges, now stand the chance of being restored?" the group asked
It stated that while it might not be the intention of the EFCC, what Mohammed was being subjected to had all the trappings of political persecution.
The group further said: "Nobody is saying that Mohammed should not be prosecuted. He cannot be above the law. To suggest that will also derail our constitutional democracy. All that well-meaning Nigerians demand is that EFCC, inasmuch as it has investigative and prosecutorial powers, should not arrogate to itself the power to deny people their freedom beyond what is constitutionally permissible. To insist on that is to persecute the innocent and to enthrone a culture of arbitrariness which sadists can capitalize on to produce a regime of despotism."