A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has granted the prayers of human rights lawyer Mike Ozekhome (SAN) restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from intimidating him in form of threats to arrest, detain and humiliate him.
He claimed that the Commission’s grouse with him was his vitriolic criticism of lopsided battle against corruption under the immediate acting chairman of the Commission, Ibrahim Magu.
The applicant had made speeches regarding the way and manner the commission fought the corruption war under Magu.
Delivering judgement in a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by Ozekhome on Thursday, Justice Inyang Ekwo, held that serial acts of intimidation and constant invitations by the EFCC, as well as threats to arrest, detain and humiliate him, were illegal, and unconstitutional.
The judge further held 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.
Defendants in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/324/2018, were the EFCC, Magu and one of its lead operatives, Abubakar Aliyu.
He said one of the several instances of intimidation by the commission was the freezing of his bank account shortly after he was paid a legal fee of N75 million by the former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose.
He also alleged that the EFCC made him its primary target because he secured so many legal victories against it in various hierarchies of courts in the country.
He told the court that threats from the respondents were to shut him up from further criticising “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.
Ozekhome then 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 was 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 an unreserved apology to him in three prominent dailies for the breach of his right.
He also prayed for another order directing the respondents to jointly and severally pay the sum of N5 billion to him as exemplary damages for violating 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 an intelligence report from the Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit (NFIU).
Delivering judgment in the matter on Thursday, Justice Ekwo said he was satisfied that Ozekhome established a case of intimidation and harassment by the respondents.
He held that though the court would always restrain itself from interfering with the functions of statutory bodies like the EFCC, “that is only in so far as such agency is demonstrably shown to be acting according to the veritable spirit of the law”.
The judge said, “Where the act of such a statutory body is shown to be manifestly predicated on ill will, malice and animosity, the law will intervene. The court will never allow the law to be used as an instrument of vendetta or vindictiveness as established in this case.”