BY: JUDE BELA
In my house, I insisted on searching their pockets before letting them in. I told them I didn't trust them and I believed they were trying to frame me. They turned everything upside down. Went through my wife's undies, it was embarrassing and humiliating.
Neighbors stared at me like a criminal who has been busted at last. My lawyer couldn't stop any of that.
She was shocked as the EFCC kept insisting they were acting within their right.
After taking my documents and other properties including my MacBook, my email password, and logins for my YouTube channels, we returned to the EFCC’s office where I was detained in their cell.
The first night was lonely and quiet. I spent the best part of the night questioning God. It was my darkest time.
I woke up the next morning before the cockcrow, even though I had slept late. Mosquitoes wouldn't let me.
When it was 8 in the morning, the investigating officer came for me, and they took me for more interrogations. This time my lawyer didn't come. Instead, she sent her associate that accompanied one of the banks to deliver my account statements to the agency. I was angry.
Are they in on this? I asked myself silently.
When the panel of 4 started bombarding me with questions and all sorts of intimidation, the lawyer guy stood there like he was their witness. I felt I was all alone, convicted already for a crime I know nothing about.
It was at this point I asked them, "what exactly do you want from me?" One of them then said, "we want your gang, and we are going to bring your friends in, if you help us we will let you out".
I was stunned, angry, and filled with rage. What have my friends got to do with this? I have no gang. This is youtube, you don't need a gang to make YouTube videos, I tried to protest. But my lawyer said nothing other than "just go along with them, they already have the names of your friends".
At this moment I remembered that I had talked about my friend who helped me out at the beginning of my YouTube journey. I felt stupid for dragging my friends into this.
The investigating officer promised they were just going to ask them a few questions to certify what I had told them. So they called them in, but when they came thinking they were coming to help me put, they got locked up too.
They too were deceived into putting down statements with no lawyer on our side to help us out.
When I saw what was going on, I called for my Dad to come as soon as he can. We started fighting for bail, but every attempt was knocked back. The zonal head told the investigating officer and my lawyer that he was ready to teach me a lesson. For what? I don't know till this day.
On the 3rd day, my first lawyer who had advised me against going to the EFCC’s office in the first place came to see me. I narrated everything to him and he told me I was being manipulated, and that this guy are up to something. This was when we decided not to engage in any further conversation or answer any further questions.
This time I began working with my first lawyer.
Another motion for bail was denied on the second and 3rd days. But on the 4th day, after much pleading and intervention from highly placed people, our bail was granted.
When I got to my house, I cried like a baby. The 4 days I spent inside was like hell for me. I thought about my friends, and what they must be feeling being dragged into something like this. It was painful to imagine.
A few days after being granted bail, I kept getting intimidated by the EFCC’s agents, they would call at odd hours summoning me for questioning on things I had already told them about. I called the lawyer who had accompanied me there, she sounded uninterested. It was like I was disturbing her.
When I tried to complain that I was less than satisfied with the way her associate had handled things during those intense interrogations, she flared up. There was a statement she made that stayed with me. She said, "I'm only trying to help you, after all, I didn’t know you were making all these huge sums of money, I would have defended you better if you had told me everything".
I was like, excuse me? If I had told you everything? Whose side are you on right now? Do you think I committed those crimes they are saying I did? It was at this moment that a lot of things started coming together for me.
What have I gotten myself into, I asked quietly as she kept talking, when I couldn't take it anymore, I dropped the call.
I immediately placed a call to my brother, and I told him, "we're on our own, we need a new lawyer".
While I was yet speaking with my brother, the EFCC called and said they wanted to bring my wife in to answer some questions, immediately after I heard that, I shouted at the officer on the phone and I told him, it was not happening.
What do you want from me? I told them there was no way I would let my wife come in there on a Friday for questions. If they can't wait till Monday, they should come and arrest me. I hung up the phone and called out to the lawyer that had fought to get me released on bail. I apologized to him for not listening to him in the first place and I told him he needed to get me and my wife out of the house as soon as possible.
I felt threatened. These guys were coming for me with guns like I was some armed criminal. The town wasn't safe for me anymore. So we went into hiding for 3 days. Spent the weekend out of sight. While away, we started plotting our response. I was tired of playing defensive, it was time to attack.
The weekend quickly passed and I took my wife to their office where they asked her to verify everything I had told them. She penned down her statement and we left.
As the week rolled on,
I told my lawyer, if they won't take me to court, I will take them. This was when we filed a lawsuit against the EFCC and 3 giant banks that had frozen my accounts.
I called my lawyer and told him its time to visit this zonal head. He agreed.
On arrival at the office of this zonal head, he gave me that look of someone who was out to get you. My lawyer asked him what else they needed before they could release my properties for me since they were not charging me to court.
His reply was, "we're still investigating" and that they will take their time.
I had thought the court case would be quick and easy but I was in for the shock of my life.
We were faced with adjournment after adjournment.
The EFCC told the court I was making a lot of money and that I couldn't defend the source. And according to them, at my age my bank activities were suspicious.
But that wasn't the one that got to me. One of the banks said the EFCC was right to have flagged my account and that they too as my bank felt the activities on my account were suspicious and that I will have to prove to them that I wasn't into fraud.
I was mad listening to all these, I was burning within me, but my lawyer kept telling me to calm down and remain silent.
After each court hearing, I would get calls from friends and people advising me not to go against the system, some said it would drain me and the cost would crumble me. But I didn't back down.
During those tough times, I felt very lonely and sad. And some cunning players tried to take advantage.
First, it was an agent from the EFCC visiting me in my house and advising me to settle out of court. He said there was no way I could win a lawsuit against them. I listened passively and appreciated his concern. But the next one to come shocked me.
I was approached by a so-called pastor who said he had people higher up that would talk with the zonal head and force his hands. According to this man, all I had to do was tip the men something from my funds that were held up, and they will jump into action for me.
So I asked him if he was advising me to bribe someone, and he said no, that it was just like an appreciation. I told him I would think about it. Then I called my lawyer and asked him, are you sure we can win this thing, he said, yes, except if there was something I was hiding from him. I told him of the conversations I was getting and how different people were picking interest in the matter. I didn’t want the attention. He promised to deal with it.
But the next day, I got a call from a man who claimed he was working at the EFCC’S headquarters in Abuja, and that they have heard about the case.
He claimed he was one of those tasked with going through my laptop that was seized. So I asked him what he wanted and why he was calling me, he said they wanted to negotiate with me what I would offer them to get my accounts released and my properties returned. I listened carefully as he continued to ramble on about what they could do to end the matter. The amount they were demanding was $5000.
I laughed and I asked him if he was aware that I already filed a lawsuit and that the case was in a federal high court. He said we could take care of that if we agree on a fee.
I told him to shove his offer up his ass, and that I would never give them a dime if that is what they're after.
I discussed this call with my Lawyer and I called the so-called pastor to make sure he wasn't trying to defraud me. We exchanged words and I told him to stay far away from me and my case.
On my way to court for another hearing, I got another call, this time from a man who claimed to be a former chairman of one of the local government areas. He said, he was just returning from Abuja and that my case was mentioned to him when he was at the EFCC’s headquarters.
He wanted to meet me and discuss what could be done. I told him the case was already in court and that whatever he has to say, should be discussed with my lawyer. If it will not help us win in court, I'm not Interested.
My lawyer repeated the same to him and he said okay, but I should think about his offer.
After 3 months of back and forth in court, the judge was ready to deliver her judgment.
The case was a fundamental human right violation case, and the judge sided with me saying the EFCC had no right to freeze my accounts without a court order.
And everything they had said in their defense showed no judge in his right mind would have granted them such an order when there was no evidence to suggest a crime was being committed.
Other than that I was too young to have money, and my transactions were too much for someone of my age. They had nothing incriminating.
She ordered them to release all my properties and also awarded me some damages.
I felt good. I was very happy. After 3 brutal months of waiting and fighting, I had gotten justice at last, but the wait was just beginning.
Rumors started to fly around that I won a 100 million naira lawsuit against the EFCC and two giant banks. Someone called me and asked for his share, no kidding.
He asked if the money would be disbursed to my account immediately and what was my plan to invest in it. I didn’t say a word, I gently hung up the call and told my wife, "babe, we're leaving this town".
I was afraid someone would break into my house because of a rumor. I wasn't given any 100 million and I wondered where the story was coming from.
I spoke to a few friends and we started planning for my relocation.
The legal fees were huge, but considering the relationship I had with the lawyer, it was very fair. Sorry, I can't mention the sum.
The banks called me to apologize, they insisted they were working on orders from the EFCC and only did what they had to do to protect themselves. After releasing my accounts, they pleaded if we could negotiate on what they should pay for the damages, I refused and told them to speak with my lawyer.
The whole experience taught me that every business relationship is just what it is, a business relationship. And you should always go with your lawyer.
When everything was beginning to fall in place, I got a call that I was being summoned to appear before the appeal court. The judgment given by the federal high court was being disputed by all parties involved.
I was frustrated. The money has not even been paid, and now I will have to spend another money to defend the judgment I just got.
I started to ask myself if the whole court idea was worth it in the first place.
When the appeal court hearing started, my wife had just had a baby and added to the cost of relocating and settling down in our new place, I was drained.
While I was inside, my only remaining YouTube channel was taken down, my business wasn't doing well either.
So while the case was over, at least the first one was, and I got my properties released, I was beginning to dance to different music. This time, the financial implications of my decision to fight a corrupt system.
The appeal court dragged out the case from 2019 up until July 2022. The many filings also meant the bills were Pilling.
When the appeal court justices finally gave their judgment, they upheld the decision of the High Court. But they decided to slash the awarded sum by 75%.
This wouldn't even cover half the costs I have incurred for pursuing this case this long. I wept silently. Yes, I was getting a judgment. Yes, I was happy this case was finally coming to an end. Yes, I was glad, I would finally have closure and find some peace. But how do I pay my bills?
This story is very important to me, not because I won the war. But because I lost a lot during the battles.
I lost my business. It closed down as there were no funds to keep up with the competition. I lost my peace, I woke up every day thinking someone was watching me waiting to pounce. I lost some friendships all because the case was taking its toll on me. My mental health deteriorated.
And to cap it all, I lost the very thing that gave me the money that brought all this attention. My YouTube channel was taken down. And I blame them for it.
So, what next? You may ask…
Should I go to the Supreme Court? Will there be a bigger penalty for impunity by law enforcement agents?
Did I get justice? Did I get justice? Because the agents that did these things to me are still there. So if you're asking whether or not I am relieved, I honestly don't know.
And I hope, I do hope that this doesn't get to happen to anyone else.
That's the end of my story. At least for now.