SERAP Seeks Establishment of Legal Framework for Human Rights

Funke Olaode

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on the Federal Government to review laws like the Official Secrets Act, Criminal Code Act and Cybercrime Act for potential free speech and press restrictions and amend the laws in line with international human rights.

The group also called for strengthening the independence of regulatory bodies like the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) to ensure impartial regulation and promote self-regulation within the media. It argued that the recent decision of the Federal High Court on the powers of the NBC is a step in the right direction.

This was disclosed by Dr Bunmi Afinowi of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (UNILAG), during the SERAP report titled, ‘State of Civic Space in Nigeria’ at a forum in Ikeja.

While commending the government for the steps taken so far, Afinowi stated that the government should encourage diverse representation in the NBC and NPC, including journalist unions, civil society, and academia.

Afinowi said, “The judiciary has a role to play in this regard by ensuring that it upholds the rule of law and safeguards fundamental human rights as recognised and enshrined in the Constitution.

“Bodies like the National Human Rights Commission, the Nigeria Union of Journalists, and relevant civil society must ensure prompt and thorough investigations into the attacks on journalists and hold perpetrators accountable.”

Afinowi advocated for professional bodies and civil society to encourage coalitions and ensure adequate funding, capacity building, and technical support for civil society organisations working on media freedom and human rights issues.

Afinowi added that the federal and state governments should tolerate criticisms and perceived critical views expressed by Nigerians.

SERAP further asked the attorney general of the federation (AGF) to push for the immediate amendment of the Cybercrimes Act and other repressive legislation and bring the laws in line with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and international human rights obligations, including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a party.

Other stakeholders called for protecting civic space, which was regarded as a special prerequisite for increasing growth, good governance, the rule of law, and sustainable development.

In his remarks, Simon Shingu, who represented the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, said that promoting and protecting civic space were regarded as special prerequisites for increasing growth, good governance, the rule of law and sustainable development.

Shingu said civil space was seen as a core open democracy. Noted that citizens and CSOs can meet, advocate, organise and exercise their fundamental civil rights when civic space is protected.

“As we gather here today, we are reminded of the fundamental principles of our democracy, which are freedom of association, assembly and expression,” said Shingu.

Akin Rotimi Jnr, the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs chairman, said no amount of introspection on the civil space would be too much or too little.

Rotimi said civil society could be improved in numerous ways, citing inclusivity and diversity in broader society.

In her opening remarks, Mrs. Funmi Falana, SAN, who represented her husband, Mr. Femi Falani, SAN, said, “Democracy is not just about voting but also entails the right of the people to determine how they are to be governed as provided by the law.”

Falana said the law also allowed people to express their minds when they were not being properly governed without fear of being detained, harassed, or subjected to any restrictions.

She listed all laws and conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory and which recognized freedom of expression and assembly. Falana lamented that despite these laws and conventions, people are still being harassed while police detain journalists indiscriminately.

N855m Fraud: Appeal Court Upholds Conviction of Two Bank Officials

Wale Igbintade

The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has upheld the judgement of the Lagos High Court, which sentenced two officials of Keystone Bank, Anayo Nwosu and Olajide Oshodi, to five years’ imprisonment over N855m fraud.

The appellate court in two separate judgments held that the lower court was right in handing down the sentencing on the defendants having found them guilty of corruption charges.

In her lead judgment, Justice Folasade Ayodeji Ojo held that the two appeals filed by Nwosu and Oshodi against Justice Kudirat Jose’s conviction lack merit.

Other members of the panel, Justice Olukayode Bada and Justice Paul Bassi, aligned with the lead judgement.

The appellate court resolved the three issues formulated for determination favouring the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Justice Jose had, on December 9, 2019, jailed Nwosu and Oshodi on an amended 15-count charge of conspiracy and obtaining money by false pretence brought against them by the EFCC.

The judge sentenced them to five years imprisonment, each for counts 1, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, and 13 of stealing.

Jose also convicted an Indian businessman, Ashok Israni, of his company, NULEC Industries Limited and Keystone Bank Limited, in her judgment. The company and the bank were ordered to pay the federal government a fine of N20 million on counts one, 10 and 13.

But four months after their conviction, they were released from prison by officials of Kirikiri prison, allegedly on the directive of the Lagos government, despite the pendency of their appeals before the appellate court.

However, dissatisfied with the lower court’s verdict, the duo approached the upper court arguing that their right to a fair hearing was breached because the further amended charge was introduced after the close of evidence.

They also argued that the lower court went outside its jurisdiction by exceeding the maximum punishment prescribed by Section 390 of the Lagos State Criminal Code Law, Cap. 17, Vol. 2, Laws of Lagos State under which they were charged.

The appellants also contended that the entire transactions leading to their conviction were purely civil and between third parties different from him.

But the EFCC, through its lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs, argued that appellants did not challenge the further amended charge during the trial and that the Criminal Code Law of Lagos State permits the court to sentence a convict up to 5 years imprisonment if the thing stolen is worth N1,000.

In her lead judgment, Ojo held that the trial court complied with the procedure laid down by law when a charge is amended and that the appellant’s argument that the amendment to the charge breached their right to a fair hearing was without merit.

The Justice also held that the amount involved in the charge is more than N1,000 and contained criminal allegations of “stealing by conversion, publishing of false statement, etc., which are offences clearly defined under the Criminal Code Law of Lagos State.”

She also stated, “I have carefully examined the appeal record, and I agree with the lower court that the ingredients of counts one and three of the Amended Information were established by the first respondent (EFCC).

“It is not in doubt that the Appellants introduced the private placement of the shares of the fourth respondent (Keystone Bank) to the 11th prosecution witness (complainant), which made him part with a considerable sum of money.

“As rightly submitted by the first Respondent, the fourth Respondent was to retain the proceeds realised through the private placement into an interest-yielding account before the allotment of the shares, and the shares certificate must be sent to the successful applicant within 15 working days from the date of allotment, and unsuccessful applicants were to get their money returned to them within ten working days of the date of allotment.:

The judge added, “The appellants received the cheque of N395 million from the complainant in his office, where the instruction for issuing bank drafts in the sum of N285 million and N110 million was initiated by him.

“The draft of N285 million was paid into the current account of the fourth Respondent on 14th July 2008. On 15th July 2008, the fourth Respondent paid the sum of N19,950,000 to Drillcom Investment W/A Ltd. The Appellants benefitted from this commission. The ingredients of Counts 1 and 3 were established before the lower court, and I so hold.

“I firmly believe that the Appellants squarely come within the definition of a promoter as contemplated under Section 436(b) of the Criminal Code Law, and I so hold.”

The judge stressed that the appellants induced PW11 (complainant) into “this transaction, over which their bank commended them.”

“I resolved this issue against the Appellants as the lower court was correct to have convicted and sentenced the appellants on counts 10 and 13 of the amended information.

“Having resolved all the three issues in this appeal against the appellants, the inevitable conclusion is that the appeal lacks merit and deserves to be dismissed. The instant appeal is dismissed for lack of merit. The Judgment of the High Court of Lagos State, Ikeja Judicial Division in SUIT NO. ID/112C/2012 is at this moment affirmed,” Justice Ojo held.

Businesswoman Charged with N57.6m Fraud

Funke Olaode

A businesswoman, Oluremi Ebun-Philips, charged with N57 million fraud, has told the Ikeja Special Offences Court that market instability, not fraud, affected the demand and supply, which later became the bone of contention.

The businesswoman was first arrested in 2019.

EFCC had alleged that the defendant fraudulently converted and stole N57.6 million of AYM Shafa Ltd’s property meant for the supply of diesel, which she failed to supply.

The EFCC also alleged she issued a Diamond Bank cheque for N14,2 million payable to the company, which, when presented for payment, was dishonoured on the grounds that no sufficient funds were standing to the credit of the account.

Ebun-Phillips had pleaded not guilty to the charge following her re-arraignment on March 23, 2023.

Ebun-Phillips, in continuation of her defence, told the court that her company, Omritas Energy Ltd, could not get the drivers of the nominal complainant, AYM Shafa Ltd, to load its supply of diesel due to the price crash from N160 per litre to N140 per litre then.

She said the drivers of AYM Shafa Ltd pulled out of her depot, refused to load, and protested the base amount of the diesel.

The witness said following the AYM Shafa drivers’ refusal, the diesel stayed with her company for more than 60 days, and she was paying for the demurrage.

She told the court that she eventually sold the diesel after the market price crashed further to N105 per litre, and her company had already accumulated a loss.

Ebun-Phillips told the court that after she had sold the product, she received a letter with a seven-day ultimatum from the Head of Legal for AYM Shafa Ltd, Christian Ekemezie, to refund AYM Shafa Ltd the money it paid for the diesel it did not load.

The witness said that after the 7-day ultimatum elapsed, she received a summons from the Ikoyi Division of the Federal High Court, ordering her to close down her company, which she had challenged in court and had thrown away.

However, Ebun-Phillips said while at the court, the EFCC petitioned her about owing AYM Shafa and detained her for 13 days only to free her after she agreed to pay back the amount bit by bit.

Addressing the EFCC’s allegation of fraud, the defence counsel, Akin Olatunji, called for an exhibit from the court which was read out by the witness to contain a mandate card bearing the name and signature of her late husband and chairman of Omritas Energy Ltd, Oluwasegun Philips.

Justice Ismail Ijelu adjourned the matter to May 7, 2024, for the cross-examination of Ebun-Phillips by the prosecution and the continuation of the defence.

Court Dismisses Lawyers’ Suit against IGP, Lagos CP

Wale Igbintade

Justice Daniel Osiagor of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court has dismissed a fundamental human rights suit filed by two lawyers, Jama Onwubuariri and Joseph Iwunze, alongside their company, Truck Tech Platforms Limited, against the inspector general of police, Lagos police commissioner and a shareholder in the company Temidayo Adeboye.

Osiagor dismissed the suit, holding that the applicants could not stop the police from performing their statutory duty.

The applicants (Onwubuariri, Iwunze, and Truck Tech Platforms limited) in their Originating Summons in suit No, FHC/ L/ CS/ 1423/ 2022, had dragged the IGP, the police commissioner, officer in charge monitoring unit, the police command in Lagos and Temidayo Adeboye before the court.

They asked the court to declare that the first and second respondents and other officers under their control have no statutory or constitutional power to interfere in a dispute amongst shareholders arising from or relating to shareholding ownership, management and control of the 3rd applicant, a private company.

They also prayed for a declaration that the harassment, invitation and arrest of the first and second applicants by the police commissioner’s monitoring team, Lagos command (Ikeja), over a civil dispute arising from control and management of the third applicant, is illegal, unconstitutional, and a breach of the applicant’s fundamental rights under sections 3, 35 and 41 of the Constitution.

Besides, the applicants prayed for a declaration that the fourth respondent’s (Adeboye) petition against the applicants, to the first respondent, when the same Adeboye had instituted several civil suits marked FHC/L/CS/414/2022, NICN/LA/113/2022, and FHC/L/CP/1158/2022, was a gross abuse of court processes, forum shopping, and a breach of their fundamental rights to carry on business and therefore constitutes a violation of the applicant’s fundamental right guaranteed under sections 34, 35 and 41, of the constitution.

The fourth respondent, Temidayo Adeboye, had petitioned the police over alleged stealing of shares, forgery of the company register, and falsification of entries in the company’s register.

Osiagor, in his judgment, held that in a comprehensive police investigation that culminated in the O/C/legal conclusion, stated, “It is our legal opinion that while parties may adopt a civil approach at the Federal High Court to dissipate with their civil proceedings, Jama Onwubuariri and joseph Iwunze are culpable for criminal act for falsification, obtaining credit by false pretence or other fraud.

They are to be arraigned in court contrary to sections 411 and 315 of the criminal law of Lagos state 2015.”

The court held that the facts of the case unequivocally present the twin elements of a civil claim pending before the Federal High Court and a police finding worth prosecution.

The court held that the applicant’s fundamental right application seeks the court’s intervention, setting aside all steps taken by the police and restraining the police from further inviting, arresting, detaining, molesting, interfering or arraigning the first and second applicants.

The judge further held that citizens’ fundamental rights are never absolute and can be derogated from, as provided by the Constitution itself, Section 35 (1) (C).

The court held that the police “are empowered to prosecute for a crime” by the Police Act and Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

The judge added, “Therefore, pending the determination of the the civil rights and obligations of the fourth respondent and the applicants in various courts the police can upon its concluded investigation take reasonable steps to execute the same.

“Fundamental rights enforcement is not an instrument to stop statutory duty. The application fails and is accordingly dismissed.”

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