EFCC, lawyer disagree over arrest of outdoor advertising agency executives in Enugu

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Operatives of the Enugu Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, have arrested an outdoor advertisement executive over political advertisements that appeared in two billboards in Enugu bearing the name and logo of the Commission.

The commission said the two Super 48 Sheet Billboards located at Otigba and Zik Avenue Junctions in Enugu, bore offensive messages using the name of the EFCC to threaten the aspiration of some politicians in the state in the build up to the 2023 general elections. One of the messages reads: 2023: Enugu PDP Learn From 2007 Election… EFCC IS COMING WITH KOBOKO ON CORRUPT CANDIDATES.

“Following credible intelligence received by the Commission, operatives of the Commission on Saturday May 21, 2022 arrested one Baron Nnamdi, the alleged designer, printer and owner of the billboards hosting the offensive political campaign messages.

“He has volunteered a statement to the Commission, claiming he was contracted by a media aide to a former deputy governor of the state with governorship ambition. He claimed he was paid N160, 000 for the one week campaign and that the media aide to the former deputy governor supplied him with the messages, EFCC logo and pictures of Operatives used for the advertisement.

“Following his arrest, operatives of the Commission visited the two sites and pulled down the offensive advertisements.

“Meanwhile, the Commission warns politicians to play by the rule and refrain from dragging the EFCC into the political fray. It reiterates that, apart from issues of economic and financial crimes which fall within its purview, the Commission has no role in the political process and should not be distracted.

“It stated further, that it will not hesitate to bring the full weight of the law to bear on errant politicians who continue to impersonate the Commission and its operatives”.

But Inehibe Effiong, a civil rights lawyer said the advertising agency committed no crimes known to any Nigerian law.

He said “My attention has been drawn to a statement by the EFCC on their verified social media accounts, where it is reported that the Commission arrested a certain outdoor advertisement Executive in Enugu State for hosting two billboards with the inscription “2023: ENUGU PDP LEARN FROM 2007 ELECTION. EFCC IS COMING WITH KOBOKO ON CORRUPT CANDIDATES.”

“In the statement, the Commission claims that the advertisement executive was arrested because of the two billboards bore the name and logo of the Commission. The Commission also claims that the billboards “bore offensive messages”, and that it was used to “threaten the aspiration of some politicians in the state in the build up to the 2023 general elections.”

“The reasons given by the EFCC for their action in this case are baseless, false and legally unfounded. The use of the logo or name of the EFCC is in itself not a criminal offence. There is no Section of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004 that makes the mere use of the name or logo of the EFCC, without more, a criminal offence.

“Section 6 (q) of the EFCC Act provides for the functions of the Commission which includes: “carrying out and sustaining rigorous public and enlightenment campaign against economic and financial crimes within and outside Nigeria.”

“By Section 24 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), citizens have a constitutional duty to assist law enforcement agencies in the discharge of their functions.

“Thus, the Commission should encourage, and not penalize or persecute citizens, who engage in rigorous public enlightenment campaign against economic and financial crimes. There is no doubt that the message in the billboards are geared towards discouraging economic and financial crimes. In essence, the Concerned Enugu Citizens in Scotland who sponsored the adverts are only discharging their constitutional duty. The message in the billboards is patriotic and timely.

“What offence has the advertisement executive committed to warrant his arrest by the EFCC?

“Those who are saying that the advert amounts to impersonation of the EFCC are wrong. Those who hold this erroneous view should be properly guided on the elements of the offence of impersonation. For the offence of impersonation to be constituted in law, there has to be a criminal intent (mens rea).

“Section 484 of the Criminal Code Act specifically defines impersonation in general as follows: “Any person who, with intent to defraud any person, falsely represent himself to be some other person, living or dead, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years.”

“In the billboards, it is clearly written that the advert is sponsored (powered) by “Concerned Enugu Citizens in Scotland.” It is therefore illegal, mischievous and ridiculous for the EFCC to arrest the advertisement executive despite the apparent fact that the advert is not credited to the EFCC or any officer of the Commission. There was no intent whatsoever to defraud any person. There is nothing in the billboards that warrants the obnoxious arrest of the advert executive or anyone for that matter.

“The abbreviation “EFCC” is not a registered trademark of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Even if it were a registered trademark, the unauthorized use of same should be seen as a trademark infringement which is a civil wrong and not a criminal offence. Any citizen can legally use the abbreviation or acronym “EFCC” for legal and legitimate purpose.

“Similarly, the use of the EFCC’s logo is not a criminal offence, except where it is used with a criminal intent.

“Let the Commission refer Nigerians to any Section of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004 that criminalizes the use of the logo or name of the Commission for public enlightenment purpose by citizens. If such prohibition existed, movie producers for example who constantly use the name and logo of the EFCC for enlightenment or for artistic and entertainment purposes would be liable to prosecution.

“In law, it takes more than a physical act (actus reus) for a crime to be committed. There must be mens rea (criminal mind or criminal intent). These two elements must coexist. This is in accordance with Section 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution which states that no person shall be punished except the offence and the punishment for same are expressly defined in a written law.

“Offensive EFCC Campaign Adverts” as alluded to by the EFCC is not an offence known to law in Nigeria.

“The message in the advert is positive; it promotes the “war” against corruption that the EFCC is supposed to be waging. It is rather ironic that the same EFCC that claims to be investigating politicians regarding the source of the humongous sums they are using to buy nomination forms is now antagonizing patriotic citizens who are warning corrupt politicians to be mindful of the same EFCC.

“The claim by the Commission that the billboards were used to threaten the aspirations of “some politicians in the state” is false and misleading. The message in the billboards was specifically targeted at corrupt candidates and politicians. There is no where in the billboards where the name of any particular candidate or politician was mentioned.

“It is therefore astonishing, that a Commission that is statutorily mandated to fight corruption, is now holding brief for corrupt politicians in Enugu State. No matter how we look at it, this action by the EFCC is a setback on the war against corruption and should be roundly condemned.

“I call on the Commission to immediately release the advertisement executive, publicly apologize to him, and pay him adequate compensation for the malicious damage to his billboards. The Commission should arrest the corrupt politicians in Enugu State and the rest of the country who are using stolen public funds to promote their insatiable political campaigns and ambitions.

“This is a needless persecution and distraction. If the Barwa-led EFCC is in now officially supporting corrupt candidates and politicians, the Commission should say so without equivocation. The advert is commendable, and the Concerned Enugu Citizens who sponsored it should be commended by the EFCC and the public”.