By Uemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
A federal high court in Abuja, on Thursday, restrained the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from inviting, harassing and threatening to arrest or detain a constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, for criticising its former Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu.
Justice Inyang Ekwo held that serial acts of intimidation and constant invitations the anti-graft agency extended to the senior lawyer, as well as threats to arrest, detain and humiliate him, over publications and speeches he made “in respect of the apparent opaqueness and lopsidedness of the corruption fight of the 1st Respondent (EFCC) under the leadership of the 2nd Respondent (Magu)”, were illegal, unlawful, wrongful, unconstitutional.
The judge ruled 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.
The judgment followed a fundamental right enforcement suit Ozekhome lodged before the court.
Cited as 1st to 3rd Respondents in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/324/2018, were the EFCC, Magu and one of its lead operatives, Abubakar Aliyu Madaki.
Ozekhome had in the suit, told the court that EFCC had continued to harrass 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 aside from repeatedly summoning him to appear for questioning, the agency, froze his bank account after he was paid his legal fees totalling the sum of N75million, 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 hierachies 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.
Besides, he told the court that the account from which the N75m was paid to him, belonged to the former governor of Ekiti State, Fayose, who he said had not been convicted by any court to warrant labelling the money as proceed of crime.
Ozekhome averred that it took the intervention of the Federal High Court in Lagos to unfreeze his bank account.
Consequently, he 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 sought an order directing the respondents to jointly and severally pay the sum of N5billion to him as examplary damages for wanton 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.
It told the court that the applicant received various sums of money at different times from DAAR Investment & Holding Company Limited, Ekiti State Government and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, without payment of taxes due to both the Federal and Ekiti state governments.
More so, the EFCC told the court that further investigation revealed an attempt by wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, to launder money through the Applicant in the sum of N1billion.
Delivering judgment in the matter on Thursday, Justice Ekwo said he was satisfied that Ozekhome established a case of intimidation and harrasment 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”, he added.
According to the Judge, “Where the act of such statutory body is shown to be manifestly predicated on illwill, 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.
“On the whole, I Find that the applicant has established clear case of animus by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents in the manner of incessant invitation to him.
“This has established the fact that his fundamental rights as enshrined in Ss. 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 are likely to be contravened.
“In other words, the essence of this case in my opinion is to stop the respondents from the likely contravening the rights of the applicant by their actions toward him; where the case is that of likely breach, that is, threat on the part of the Respondents”.
Though the court made consequential orders restraining the respondents from inviting, arresting or detaining the Applicant, it however declined to either award damages in his favour or compel EFCC to apologize to him.
It held that such reliefs would only apply, “where the case is founded on where the infringement has occured or is occurring”.
Court Stops EFCC from arresting Ozekhome over criticism of Magu, agency, declines awarding damages
By Uemi Oyeyemi, Abuja