Alex Enumah in Abuja
Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday, issued an order restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from inviting, harassing and threatening to arrest or detain human rights activists and constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), over his criticism of former EFCC Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu.
Justice Ekwo, delivering judgment in a fundamental right enforcement suit filed by Ozekhome, held that serial acts of intimidation and constant invitations the EFCC extended to the applicant as well as threats to arrest, detain and humiliate him, over publications and speeches he made regarding the way and manner the commission fought the corruption war under Magu were illegal, unlawful, wrongful and unconstitutional.
The judge further held that the action of the agency constituted a blatant violation of the applicant’s fundamental rights as enshrined in Sections 35, 37, 39 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and Articles 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12 & 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Ratification and Enforcement Act, Cap. A9 LFN 2004.
Defendants in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/324/2018, were the EFCC, Magu and one of its lead operatives, Abubakar Aliyu Madaki.
The senior lawyer had in the suit, told the court that EFCC had continued to harass him for being a vocal critic of the lopsided nature of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war led by Magu.
He told the court that the commission aside from repeatedly summoning him to appear for questioning, froze his bank account after he was paid his legal fees totalling the sum of N75 million, by the former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose.
Ozekhome maintained that one of the reasons the EFCC made him its primary target was due to the fact that he secured so many legal victories against it in various hierarchies of courts in the country.
He told the court that threats from the respondents was to shut him up from further criticisms of “the despicable and unjust manner of their fight against corruption in Nigeria”.
He said he did not commit any offence to warrant the incessant invitations and threats to arrest, detain or declare him wanted by the respondents.
Ozekhome then prayed the court to among other things, declare that he was entitled to receive legal fees for professional services he rendered to clients, including to Fayose and that he is not bound or obligated to determine the source of funds used in paying for legal services he rendered.
The applicant further asked the court to compel the respondents to publish unreserved apology to him in three prominent dailies for the breach of his right.
He also prayed for another order directing the respondents to jointly and severally pay the sum of N5 billion to him as exemplary damages for wanting violation of his rights.
However, the EFCC, in a counter-affidavit that was deposed to by one of its operatives, Usman Aliyu, urged the court to dismiss the suit.
The commission told the court that Ozekhome was being investigated for a lot of cases bordering on money laundering and tax evasion, based on intelligence report from the Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit (NFIU).
Delivering judgment in the matter on Thursday, Justice Ekwo said he was satisfied that Ozekhome established a case of intimidation and harassment by the respondents.
He held that though the court would always restrain itself from interfering with the functions of statutory bodies like the EFCC, “but that is only in so far as such agency is demonstrably shown to be acting pursuant to the veritable spirit of the law”.
According to the judge, “Where the act of such statutory body is shown to be manifestly predicated on ill will, malice and animosity, the law will intervene. The court will never allow the law to be used as instrument of vendetta or vindictiveness as established in this case.”