Court Awards N5m Damages Against EFCC over Illegal Detention of Former FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed

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Alex Enumah in Abuja

An Abuja High Court thursday ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to pay the sum of N5million to a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator, Bala Mohammed, as compensation for detaining him illegally.
The former minister had slammed a N100million, fundamental human rights enforcement suit against the anti-graft agency over his detention for a period of 49.

Delivering judgment in the suit yesterday, Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf of the FCT High Court sitting in Maitama, Abuja, declared as illegal and unconstitutional EFCC’s detention of Mohammed for a period of 49 days.

The judge held that the detention of the former FCT Minister, which was done after he was granted bail by his court amounted to a flagrant disobedient of court orders, and consequently, ordered the EFCC to pay the sum of N5million to the former minister as compensation for his illegal detention.

In declaring the detention illegal and unconstitutional, the court said although his arrest by the anti-graft agency cannot be faulted, “but whether the circumstances of his detention outside the statutory period of time does not amount to a violation of his rights under section 46 (1) and (2) of the 1999 constitution.”

The court held that the counter claims by the EFCC, that he was been kept in detention on allegations of fraudulent activities including, alleged fictitious contracts worth N1bn, which he allegedly awarded while in office, allocation of plots of land to his family members among others were not justifiable reasons to keep him in its custody in perpetuity.

Besides, Justice Baba-Yusuf said there were no materials placed before his court supporting such allegations by the EFCC.

“The applicant dutifully fulfilled all the conditions of his administrative bail as required by the commission. Although the respondent claimed that the applicant refused to provide sureties for his bail, it surprisingly did not specifically or categorically denied that in the affidavit of the applicant. It is trite law that any fact not specifically denied amounts to admission.”

“I therefore have no alternative than to accept as true that the applicant dutifully fulfilled his bail conditions as contained in his administrative bail. What is curious to me is, if the applicant fulfilled his bail, why not released him rather than filing exparte application for remand orders against him?

“Where a party admits the detention of another, the onus to prove that such detention is legal lies on it. In the instant case, no material evidence of fraud, irregular allocation of plots of land among others is placed before this court.

“All other averments relating to fraudulent activities against the applicant remain largely in the realm of imagination of the respondent and unproved as there is no such document before the court. The result is that the respondent has not proven the allegation to warrant the court to decide otherwise.

“The detention of the applicant after the court ordered for his release on bail beyond 48 hours amounted to a constitutional infringement of his right to personal liberty and freedom of movement, as he was entitled to be released immediately. The altitude of the respondent to get a remand order against him was a deliberate attempt to disobey the order of this court”, the judge held.

Although counsel to the former FCT Minister, Chief Chris Uche (SAN) hailed the judgment as victory for democracy, the EFCC counsel, Rimamsomte Ezekiel, said he was going to challenge it at the Court of Appeal.

After spending nearly a month in detention over alleged criminal breaches while in office, Mohammed, filed a fundamental human rights enforcement suit against the commission over alleged violation of his fundamental right.