The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday, restrained the EFCC from inviting, harassing and threatening to arrest or detain Mr Mike Ozekhome, SAN, for criticising the former Acting Chairman of The commission, Ibrahim Magu.
Delivering judgment, Justice Inyang Ekwo held that serial acts of intimidation and constant invitations the EFCC extended to Ozekhome were illegal, unlawful, wrong and unconstitutional.
The lawyer had told the court that the intimidation, invitations as well as threats to arrest, detain and humiliate him were over publications and speeches he made.
The respect to the “apparent opaqueness and lopsidedness” of the corruption fight of the EFCC under the leadership of Magu.
The court held that the action of the agency constituted a violation of Ozekhome’s fundamental rights as enshrined in sections 35, 37, 39 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The court said the action of the anti-graft agency also contravened 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.
The judgement was sequel to a fundamental rights enforcement suit instituted by Ozekhome in the court.
The EFCC, Magu and one of its lead operatives, Abubakar Madaki were named as the first to third respondents in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/324/2018.
Ozekhome had told the court that aside from repeatedly summoning him to appear for questioning, the EFCC froze his bank account after he was paid his legal fees totalling the sum of N75 million, by the former governor of Ekiti, Ayodele Fayose.
The lawyer maintained that one of the reasons the EFCC made him its primary target, was due to the fact that he secured so many legal victories against it in various courts in the country.
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.
He further told the court that the account from which the N75 million was paid to him, belonged to the former governor of Ekiti, who he said had not been convicted by any court to warrant labelling the money as proceed of crime.
Ozekhome averred that it took the intervention of the Federal High Court in Lagos to unfreeze his bank account.
Consequently, he prayed the court to among other things, declare that he was entitled to receive legal fees for professional services he rendered to clients.
He 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 asked the court for an order directing the respondents to jointly and severally pay the sum of N5 billion to him as damages for the violation of 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 intelligence report from the Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit, (NFIU).
It told the court that Ozekhome received various sums of money at different times from DAAR Investment & Holding Company Limited, Ekiti Government and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC) without payment of taxes due to both the Federal and Ekiti state governments.
The EFCC also told the court that further investigation revealed an attempt by the wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, to launder money through Ozekhome in the sum of N1 billion.
Justice Ekwo in his judgment said that 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 pursuant to the veritable spirit of the law.
“Where the act of such 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 instrument of vendetta or vindictiveness as established in this case.
The judge, however, declined to either award damages in his favour or compel EFCC to apologise to him. (NAN)