Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Federal High Court in Abuja wednesday barred the Nigerian Police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Service (DSS) from carrying out any search on the residence of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.
Wike had on May 4, 2017, approached the court for an order restraining the Inspector General of Police (IG), EFCC and DSS (1-4 defendants respectively) from investigating him while in office as a governor.
Delivering judgment on the suit marked ABJ/FHC/CS/383/2017, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, said it was gratifying to note that parties are in agreement that the plaintiff cannot be investigated based on the provision of section 308(1) of Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary.
According to the judge, from the combined reading of section 308 of the Constitution, and sections 149 and 150 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, three situations have been prohibited.
Justice Mohammed said the provisions stipulated that no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted against a person protected by section 308.
Secondly, the person covered by the provisions shall not be arrested, and thirdly, any process of court requiring appearance of a person protected under the provisions shall not be applied.
He held that parties in their submissions lost the purport and intendment of section 308(1)(c) of the constitution.
“A careful reading of section 308(1)(c) shows that the constitution has prohibited court process requiring appearance of a serving governor before any investigative panel,” he held.
Justice Mohammed stated that the argument of the police and EFCC that Wike’s residence can be searched without his presence “is untenable.”
The judge said it was wrong for the defendants to import meaning or interpretation not included in section 308 of the constitution by the draftsman.
In dismissing the objection of the defendants to the suit, Justice Mohammed was of the opinion that the court cannot go contrary to section 308 of the constitution because of the public policy principle, which is protected by the constitution itself.
The court further held that arguments of 2nd and 3rd defendants that their enabling laws permit them to carry out investigations are untenable.
In addition, the court noted that the essence of section 308 was to accord immunity to a serving governor so as not to cause distractions to the governor in the act of governance.
Consequently, the court declared that the suit of the plaintiff has succeeded, has merit and therefore granted the following reliefs against the defendants.
The court declared that by virtue of the provisions of section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, the defendants cannot whether by themselves, their servants, agents, officers, privies or in any manner howsoever apply for, obtain, issue or in any way or manner howsoever execute any court process requiring; the appearance of the plaintiff who is currently the Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria.
Recall that the plaintiff’s counsel, Sylva Ogwemoh (SAN) had submitted that section 308 (immunity clause) as provided under the constitution “is put in place to allow a serving governor to concentrate on act of governance.
Ogwemoh had argued that the section was designed to protect the dignity of office of a governor.
He insisted that based on sections 149 and 150 of ACJA, the plaintiff (Wike) must be present before a search warrant is executed at his residence.
Counsel added that allowing the defendants to execute a search at the Abuja residence or any house of Wike in any part of the country “is a blatant violation of section 308, insisting that the governor needs not to wait until his constitutional right is breached”.
But in opposition to the suit, the defendants had argued that they have right to search Wike’s Abuja residence in his absence.
They posited that Wike had admitted that he does not live in the Abuja lodge, and therefore his presence is not required before a search can be executed.
More so, the 2nd defendant had argued that based on section 4 of Police Act, it has discretion to search the residence of the plaintiff.