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

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Agents from the Enugu Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, arrested an outdoor advertising manager for political advertisements that appeared on 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, carried offensive messages using the EFCC name to threaten the aspiration of some state politicians in the preparation of the 2023 general election. One of the messages reads: 2023: Enugu PDP Learn From 2007 Election… EFCC COMES WITH KOBOKO ON CORRUPTED CANDIDATES.

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

“He made a self-disclosure to the Commission, saying he was hired by a media aide to a former deputy state governor with ambitions to become governor. He claimed he was paid N160,000 for the week-long campaign and that the former Deputy Governor’s media assistant provided him with the messages, EFCC logo and photos of the agents used for the publicity.

“Following his arrest, Commission officers visited both sites and removed the offensive advertisements.

“In the meantime, the Commission warns politicians to respect the rule and refrain from dragging the EFCC into the political fray. She reiterated that apart from matters of economic and financial crimes which fall within its purview, the Commission has no role in the political process and should not be distracted.

“He further stated that he will not hesitate to bring the full weight of the law to bear on errant politicians who continue to impersonate the Commission and its agents.”

But Inehibe Effiong, a civil rights lawyer, said the ad agency had committed no known crime under 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 has arrested a certain Outdoor Advertising Officer in Enugu State for having hosted two billboards with the inscription “2023: ENUGU PDP LEARN FROM 2007 ELECTION. EFCC COMES UP WITH KOBOKO ON CORRUPTED CANDIDATES.

“In the statement, the Commission says the publicity officer was arrested because the two billboards bore the name and logo of the Commission. The Commission also claims that the billboards “carried offensive messages” and that they were used to “threaten the aspirations of certain state politicians in the run-up to the 2023 general election”.

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

“Section 6(q) of the EFCC Act provides for the functions of the Commission which include: “to conduct and support a vigorous public and information campaign against economic and financial crimes inside and outside Nigeria “.

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

“So the Commission should encourage, not penalize or persecute, citizens who engage in a rigorous public information campaign against economic and financial crime. There is no doubt that the message of the billboards is aimed at discouraging economic and financial crimes. Essentially, the concerned citizens of Enugu in Scotland who sponsored the adverts are just carrying out their constitutional duty. The message in the billboards is patriotic and timely.

“What offense did the advertising executive commit to justify his arrest by the EFCC?

“Those who say the announcement amounts to EFCC impersonation are wrong. Those who hold this erroneous view should be properly guided on the elements of the impersonation offense. identity theft offense is established in law, there must be a criminal intent (mens rea).

“Section 484 of the Criminal Code Act specifically defines identity theft generally as: “Any person who, with intent to defraud a person, falsely presents himself as another person, living or dead , is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years”.

“On the notice boards it is clearly written that the advertisement is sponsored (powered) by ‘Concerned Enugu Citizens in Scotland’. It is therefore illegal, malicious and ridiculous for the EFCC to arrest the advertiser despite the apparent fact that the ad is not credited to the EFCC or any Commission agent. There was no intention to defraud anyone. There is nothing in the signs of posting that warrants the heinous arrest of the advertising 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 was a registered trademark, unauthorized use of it should be considered trademark infringement which is a civil tort and not a criminal offense. Any citizen can legally use the abbreviation or acronym “EFCC” for legal and legitimate purposes.

“Similarly, the use of the EFCC logo is not a criminal offence, except when used with criminal intent.

“Let the Commission refer Nigerians to any section of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004 which criminalizes the use of the Commission’s logo or name for public information purposes by citizens. If such a ban existed, film producers, for example, who consistently use the EFCC name and logo for informational or artistic and entertainment purposes would be subject 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 line with Section 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution which states that no one may be punished unless the offense and the corresponding penalty are expressly defined in a written law.

“Offensive EFCC campaign advertisements”, as referred to by the EFCC, is not a recognized offense under the law in Nigeria.

“The message of the announcement is positive; it promotes the “war” on corruption that the EFCC is supposed to wage. It is rather ironic that the same EFCC that claims to investigate politicians regarding the source of the huge sums they use to purchase nomination forms is now antagonizing patriotic citizens who warn corrupt politicians to be aware of the same EFCC.

“The Commission’s assertion that the billboards were used to threaten the aspirations of ‘certain state politicians’ is false and misleading. The message of the billboards was specifically aimed at corrupt candidates and politicians There is no place on the billboards where the name of a particular candidate or politician has been mentioned.

“It is therefore amazing that a commission which is legally mandated to fight corruption, is now holding accounts for corrupt politicians in Enugu State. Whichever way we look at it, this action by the EFCC is a setback in the war against corruption and must be strongly condemned.

“I call on the Commission to immediately release the advertising executive, issue a public apology to him and pay him adequate compensation for the malicious damage to his billboards. The Commission should arrest the corrupt politicians of the state of Enugu and the rest of the country who use stolen public funds to promote their campaigns and insatiable political ambitions.

“It is unnecessary persecution and distraction. If the Barwa-led EFCC is now officially supporting corrupt candidates and politicians, the Commission should say so unequivocally. The announcement is commendable, and the concerned citizens of Enugu who sponsored it should be congratulated by the EFCC and the public”.

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