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‘EFCC lacks power to declare anyone wanted without court order’

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A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Bwari, yesterday ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), lacked the powers to declare anyone wanted without first obtaining a court order.

Justice Othman Musa, while delivering judgment in a suit No. FCT/HC/CV/23/2017, between the Federal Government (Respondent) and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AITEO Group, Benedict Peters, stated that the anti-graft agency can only declare wanted anyone who failed to honour its invitation on investigation.

“But this power can only be exercised after it has obtained a court order to that effect,” the court ruled.

Justice Musa’s judgment was on a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by Peters.

The applicant had in the suit, accused EFCC of declaring him wanted on its website without following due process. The suit had EFCC and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) as respondents.

He stated through his counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), that the decision by the EFCC to declare him wanted without a pending charge against him or a valid court order to that effect was a violation of his fundamental rights.

But EFCC in its held that Peters was being investigated in relation to his alleged involvement in the $115million allegedly used by agents of the past administration to bribe officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during the 2015 election.

It argued further that it declared Peters wanted after it has obtained warrant of arrest from a Magistrate Court in Lagos, following his refusal to hononur invitations sent to him.

The Judge, after a thorough analysis of parties’ arguments and exhibits tendered, stated that Peters had made out his case to the satisfaction of the court.

The judge, who noted discrepancies in the dates contained in a copy of the bench warrant tendered by the EFCC, faulted the Commission’s claim that it relied on the warrant to declare the applicant wanted.

He therefore upheld the arguments by Ozekhome, stressing that it was wrong for EFCC to declare Peters wanted on the basis of the bench warrant, which he noted, did not contain any instruction to that effect.

The judge also faulted claim by the EFCC that the warrant was received from the Magistrate on August 4, whereas the same document was dated and stamped by the Magistrate on August 5.

The judge further held that EFCC’s decision to declare Peters wanted, without first obtaining a court order to that effect or filing a charge against him in court, was a violation of his fundamental rights, particularly the right to freedom of movement.
He consequently set aside the declaration of the applicant ‘wanted’ by the EFCC but refused to set aside the arrest warrant got against Peters by the EFCC.

The judge was however silent on the applicant’s prayer for an order directing the EFCC to publicly apologise to him. He also refused to award any cost against the respondent.

Earlier, the judge rejected the preliminary objection raised against the suit by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and held that both the state High Court and Federal High Court have concurrent jurisdiction over fundamental rights enforcement suits.


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