By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
Justice Othman Musa of a Federal Capital Territory High Court sitting at Bwari, yesterday held that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has no arbitrary powers to declare any person wanted without securing the leave of a court of competent jurisdiction.
The EFCC published on its website, Punch Newspaper and Sahara Reporters, with his photograph attached that the Chairman of Aiteo Group, Mr. Benedict Peters was a wanted fugitive by the agency without firstly securing the leave of the court.
Sequel to the publication, the Aiteo boss through his counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, challenged the powers of EFCC to declare him wanted when he has not been charged with any criminal offence before any court or jumped bail.
He insisted that EFCC grossly and arbitrarily violated his fundamental rights to personal liberty, freedom of movement and his right not to be subjected to any degrading treatment.
Delivering judgment on the matter, Justice Musa invalidated the declaration of Mr. Peters, as a wanted man, by the EFCC, adding that it contradicted sections 34, 35 and 36 of the 1999 constitution, as well as sections 41 and 42 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
He held that a fundamental right enforcement suit was well founded.
Nevertheless, the court said its decision did not amount to a blanket declaration that EFCC could not declare anyone wanted when it is armed with a valid court order after fulfilling all the condition precedents.
“It is hereby declared that the act of declaring the Applicant wanted on the website of the 1st Respondent (EFCC) without firstly securing leave of court is unconstitutional, illegal, wrongful and same is hereby set-aside,” the court ruled.
It however declined to grant a prayer that sought to compel EFCC to tender an apology to the Applicant in two national dailies.
The applicant told the court that EFCC had sometime in 2015, asked him to appear before it in respect of an investigation into how the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Deiziani Allison-Madueke alleged used $115million to bribe officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, before the last general election.
He informed the court that he was receiving medical treatment in France when the invitation letter was extended to him by the EFCC, and therefore wrote a letter requesting that the appointment be deferred till June 2, 2015.
Going further, he stated that before the appointed date, armed operatives of the agency invaded the premises of Aiteo and arrested the Managing Director and the Executive Director, without warrant.
He further told the court that on June 1, 2015, EFCC operatives equally stormed his residence in Lagos and arrested his driver.
According to the Aiteo boss, he became suspicious of the motive behind the invitation and feared for his life, hence his decision to file the suit in July, 2015.
However, EFCC, on August 15, 2016, declared him wanted and published same on its website and on Punch Newspaper and Sahara Reporters, with his photograph attached
The Applicant told the court that on August 17, he wrote a letter to EFCC, expressing surprise that he was declared wanted and volunteered to assist the agency in its investigations.
He said he also gave a detailed written explanation of all he knew about the alleged bribery, a development that led EFCC to initially remove his name from its wanted list, only to re-publish it again.