The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory on Thursday ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission lacks the powers to declare anyone wanted without first obtaining a court order for that purpose or charging the suspect with an offence.
Justice Othman Musa ruled that although the EFCC could declare as wanted persons who fail to honour its invitation for investigation, it could only do so if it obtains a court order for that purpose.
The judge made this pronouncement in a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by the Chief Executive Officer of AITEO Group, Benedict Peters.
Peters had, in the suit marked, FCT/HC/CV/23/2017, accused EFCC of declaring him wanted on its website without following due process.
The EFCC and the Attorney-General of the Federation were the respondents to the suit.
The plaintiff, through his lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), contended that his declaration as wanted 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.
The EFCC had said Peters was being investigated in relation to his alleged involvement the $115m allegedly used by agents of the past administration to bribe officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission during the 2015 election.
The anti-graft agency said it declared Peters wanted after obtaining an arrest warrant from the Magistrates’ Court in Lagos, following his refusal to hononur invitations sent to him.
But Justice Musa, in his judgment, noted that there were discrepancies in the dates in a copy of the bench warrant tendered by the EFCC.
He said it was wrong for the 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 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 ruled, “The 1st respondent (EFCC) has the power to declare anyone wanted upon meeting all the conditions precedent.
“There cannot be a valid restraint of individual’s right to movement without the order of a court.”
He set aside the declaration of the applicant wanted by the EFCC.
But the judge refused to set aside the arrest warrant got against Peters by the EFCC.
The judge did not also make any pronouncement 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 EFCC.
The judge had earlier dismissed the preliminary objection by the AGF challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter.
The judge held that contrary to the AGF’s contention, both the state High Court and the Federal High Court had jurisdiction over fundamental rights enforcement suits.