By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The candidate of the Hope Democratic Party (HDP) in the last presidential election, Chief Ambrose Owuru, has asked the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court to void his declaration as a wanted person by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The commission had on July 10, 2018 vide a newspaper publication declared Owuru wanted over fraud charges pending against him in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
But Owuru, in a fundamental human rights enforcement suit, is praying the court to declare as illegal, null and void the actions of the anti-graft agency on the grounds that the declaration was made without the backing of the law.
At the last adjournment on August 7, 2019, before Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Eze Nnayenlugo, said the criminal case referred to by the commission involved a land transaction which had already been withdrawn.
When the matter came up Tuesday, the counsel to the plaintiff, Chukwunoyerem Njoku, argued that the declaration of the plaintiff wanted for an alleged criminal matter was not in compliance with the statutory provision before it was made, adding that there was no court order or any provision of the law that empowers the EFCC to make the publication that declared his client wanted.
“There is nothing in the exhibit tendered by the respondent (EFCC) that empowers it to make that publication,” he said.
Njoku therefore prayed the trial judge, Justice Nkeonye Maha, to grant the reliefs sought by his client, amongst which is an award of N500 million damages as compensation for the damage allegedly done to his Owuru’s reputation as a result of the EFCC’s publication.
Responding, the counsel to the EFCC, Ibrahim Audu, told Justice Maha that Owuru was declared wanted due to his failure to appear in court to answer to a criminal case instituted against him by the commission in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
He said the criminal charges against Owuru bordered on obtaining money by false pretence.
Audu disclosed that the failure of the plaintiff to appear in court to answer to the charges prompted the Port Harcourt High Court to issue an arrest warrant against him, adding: “It was on the basis of the arrest warrant that the publication was made.”
He insisted that the criminal case was still pending before the Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court and was never withdrawn.
On the issue that the commission did not obtain an order of court before declaring Owuru wanted, the commission submitted that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) did not say an order of court must be first obtained before publishing the name of a wanted person.
Audu added that the subject matter of the suit “is not one of the enforceable rights under Chapter 4 of the Constitution or under the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules”.
He maintained that the suit ought to have been filed as a libel case instead of a fundamental rights enforcement suit.
He also argued that the Supreme Court had admonished other lower courts “not to be misled in treating every infraction as infraction of the fundamental rights”.
Justice Maha, after listening to the parties, on Tuesday, fixed October 7 for judgment.