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Court dismisses businesswoman’s suit against IGP, others

By Yetunde Ayobami Ojo
07 March 2023   |   3:05 am
Justice Ismail Ijelu of a Lagos High Court, Ikeja, has dismissed a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by a Lagos-based businesswoman, Happiness Doosuur Akile, against the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and four others, for lacking in merit and without substance.

Gavel

Justice Ismail Ijelu of a Lagos High Court, Ikeja, has dismissed a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by a Lagos-based businesswoman, Happiness Doosuur Akile, against the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and four others, for lacking in merit and without substance.

Apart from dismissing the suit, the judge also ordered Akile and her company, UMZ Venture Resources, to pay the sum of N50, 000 each, totaling N200, 000, to the first to fourth respondents in the suit.

Others are, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, his Osun State counterpart; Superintendent of Police, Eludire Clement and Olak Roofing Nigeria Limited, listed as second to fifth respondents in the suit marked ID/14466MFR/2022.

The businesswoman in her fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by her counsel, I. N. Onyekwere, asked the court for, “a declaration that the threat to arrest and detain her by the respondents without any just cause at all or genuine allegation of having or being about to commit any crime amounts to infringement and breach of her fundamental rights.

“A declaration that the blocking of her business bank account (Fidelity bank account), UMZ Venture Resources) by the respondents without any just cause is unlawful, illegal and brazen violation of the applicant’s fundamental right as entrenched in the 1999 Constitution (as altered).

She prayed the court to unblock her bank account number and also pray for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents, either by themselves, their agents, servants and/or privies from inviting or threatening to arrest and detain her or block any of her bank accounts or disrupt her business.

She, therefore, prayed the court to award “general, compensatory, exemplary and aggravated damages of N2 million against the respondents jointly and severally for the threat and actual violation of the Applicant’s rights.”

During trial, the applicant told the court that on October 3, 2022, the fourth respondent came to her office on Ikorodu Road, Lagos, in the company of other police officers and they told her manager that while investigating a case of fraud and stealing against one Orisumbola Adekunle John, they traced the sum of N30 million, which was suspected to be part of the proceed of the stolen fund to her UMZ Ventures Resources account number 5600748621 domiciled with Fidelity Bank, and therefore, needed clarification on the issue.

The applicant told the court that immediately her manager informed her of the development on phone, she spoke with the police officers on phone and informed them that the said Orisumbola Adekunle John, who also trades under the name and style of Chriskayjay Ventures, has been her regular customer for a long time and that she had some of the receipts/waybill of the goods he purchased from her.

She told the court that the fourth respondent informed her that someone brought a complaint that he gave a certain amount of money to the said Adekunle to supply goods to him but he failed to supply all the goods and never returned the balance and that they traced some of the money to her (applicant) account.

She said that her manager made available to the first to fourth respondents, duplicates of waybills and receipts for goods purchased from her by the said Adekunle on different dates, including his last purchase on July 22, 2022 to the tune of N34 million, wherein he paid the sum of N30, 620,000 and still owed her the sum of N4 million balance.

It was the case of the applicant that she was surprised about after making available these verified information and evidence of purchase to the 4th respondent and his men, he called his manager on phone on November 8, 2022 and threatened to arrest her and her workers and also shut down her business if she failed to return the said N30, 000,000 paid by Adekunle for the goods he purchased from her.

The applicant stated that she kept receiving calls of threat of arrest and incarceration from men and officers of the first to fourth respondents that if the said money was not returned, not minding that the said Orisumbola Adekunle John purchased goods from her in the course of her legitimate business.

And that there is verifiable evidence to that effect, which they also verified and that in fulfilment of their threat of arresting, incarcerating as well as disrupting her business the respondents went ahead to block her aforesaid bank account, thereby, making it difficult for her to trade, inflicting economic hardship on her for unjust cause.

The applicant further told the court her fundamental rights are being threatened as well as violated, as a result of the actions of men and officers or respondents, who want to extort money from her in the guise of investigation and she finds it difficult to go about her business and sleep in her house because of the pressure, harassment and threats from the throttling men of the respondents that keep threatening her on phone. She said since the respondents blocked her business account, she has found it difficult to trade, and have been thrown into extreme hardship.

She, therefore, urged the court to grant all the reliefs sought against the respondents.

However, the first to fourth respondents counsel, Mr. Morufu Animashaun, urged the court to dismiss the applicant’s suit for being incompetent.

Animashaun urged the court to dismiss the suit against the first to fourth respondents and filed a counter-affidavit, stating that contrary to the applicant’s deposition that the sum of N30 million received from one Adekunle was payment for the purchase of roofing sheets.

He told court that a petition dated September 26, 2022 addressed to Commissioner of Police, Osun State Police Command, was received from Kayode Ajibola, a lawyer on behalf of one Alhaji Ibrahim Olaiya, director OLAKS Ventures Nigeria Limited, on criminal allegations of fraudulent diversion/stealing of the sum of N105 million against the applicant and Adekunle of Chriskayjay Ventures.

Animashaun clarified before the court that investigation revealed that on September 22, 2022, Alhaji Olaiya, mistakenly transferred the sum of N105, 474 million, into Fidelity bank account number 5600676876 by two tranches in the sum of N100 million and N5, 472 million, which turns out to be the bank account of one Adekunle, trading under the name and style of Chriskay Jay Ventures. Animashaun added that immediately Orisumbola Adekunle received the alert of the money in his account, he fraudulently transferred the sum of N30 million to UMZ Building Ventures and the sum of N10 million into the bank account of LIFE GOES ON operated by one Akanmu Waheed.

He further told the court that Adekunle, having made the fraudulent funds transfers, removed his sim card from his phone and escaped with to Cotonou, Republic of Benin and on getting to Republic of Benin, Adekunle procured three African countries’ visas, namely: Republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana and was about to procure visa to South Africa and that Interpol then through intelligence, tracked him with the assistance of law enforcement agents in Republic of Benin.

He added that Adekunle was apprehended and brought back to Nigeria. He told the court that Adekunle in his confessional statement volunteered on October 4, 2022, admitted to have received an alert in the sum of N105,472 million, through his Chriskayjay Ventures with Fidelity Bank account number 5600676876, on September 22, 2022, at about 4.00pm.

Animashaun told court that Adekunle further admitted, in his statement that he immediately transferred the sum of N30 million to the applicant UMZ Ventures, in Fidelity bank account number 560074862 for roofing sheet for customer in Ondo state and made a transfer of the sum of N10 million to one Akanmu Waidi to offset a debt and he used N18 million, to build a three-bedroom apartment in Ogijo, Ogun State, and used N3 million, to purchase a plot in Ogijo and the remaining sum he used to pay off debt.

The first to fourth respondents’ counsel further stated that it was in view of the findings that the applicant was invited by them to state her own side to the criminal complaints, but the she never honoured the invitation and that there was never a time they threatened her with arrest or threat of incarcerating her nor was there any threatening calls to her.

He also told the court that when the applicant willfully refused to honour police invitations, her counsel, Onyekwere wrote a letter dated November 16, 2022 requesting for more time for UMZ Ventures representatives to honour the invitation.

Animashaun said that, rather than honour the invitation, the applicant filed the fundamental right suit.

While it was discovered that the applicant upon receipt of the illicitly transferred sum of N30 million, and an attempt at concealing the origin of the fund, hurriedly prepared receipts of payments and transferred the said money to two different accounts on the same day of September 22, 2022.

“It was such acts of dissipating the funds that order was applied for and secured by fifth respondent in temporary freezing of the applicant’s account in the interest of justice and fairness and for completion of investigation into the criminal complaints against the applicant,” he said.

He said the applicant never honoured the police invitation and was never arrested or detained nor threatened with arrest, noting that she did not indicate how her fundamental rights had been violated.

He, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the applicant’s suit with substantial cost.
Justice Ijelu, in his judgment, after citing several decided cases of higher courts, held that the question of curtailment of the applicant’s fundamental rights does not arise in any way or manner.

The judge said: “The applicant has not even alluded to any specific provision of the chapter four of the Constitution of Nigeria, that has been violated or is being violated or likely to be violated.

“An invitation to the applicant to come forward to tell her side of the story in an investigation of a case in which her bank account has been fingered, cannot be said to be infringement of her fundamental rights. That is a figment of the applicant’s fertile imagination.

“A citizen has an implied obligation under the Constitution to assist the law enforcement agencies to unravel crimes whenever he is called upon to do so. If every citizen rushes to the court for enforcement of fundamental rights just upon being invited by the security agency in a case where he speculates or fears he would be indicted, arrested or detained, anarchy will reign supreme in the land.”

The judge held further that the police cannot be stopped from investigating crimes, adding that the society will suffer for it.

“The court does not deal with speculations, but facts. The applicant has speculated that she would be arrested and made to refund the sum of N30 million, paid into her account from the proceeds of a crime committed by one Adekunle, whom she regarded as her customer, and it was the speculated fear of this ‘arrest and detention’ that has prevented her from honouring the police invitation. This is unacceptable in a community of persons governed by law such as ours.

“The court therefore, finds that the first-fourth respondents were well within their statutory functions in inviting the applicant. The applicant cannot use the court as a shield against investigation by the police. Therefore, the court finds that there is nothing unreasonable in the invitation to the applicant by the 1st-4th respondents.

“In the final analysis, the applicant has not established any infringement of the rights cognisable under chapter four of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as altered). It is apparent that this suit was not commenced to vindicate any fundamental right of the applicant but only to prevent the police from taking further steps in investigating the criminal allegations in which her account with Fidelity Bank is suspect.

“Fundamental rights application cannot be used as a shield against criminal investigation and prosecution – Attorney General, Anambra State Vs Uba (2005) 15 NWLR (Pt 947) 44. The suit is an obvious case of misuse and abuse of the process of court,” the judge held.

The court, therefore, dismissed the suit with costs assessed at N50, 000 in favour of the first to fourth respondents on one hand and fifth respondent on the other.

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