Justice A. O. Musa of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, sitting in Kubwa, on Thursday, March 22nd, affirmed the right of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to declare anybody wanted.
The court made the declaration while delivering a judgment in a case $300million oil fraud involving Benedict Peters, Chairman and Managing Director of AITEO Energy Resources Limited.
Peters and his company are being investigated by the EFCC in connection with oils scams involving a former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Madueke; Benard Otti; Northern Belt Oil and Gas Company Limited and other persons of interest in respect of conspiracy, stealing, money laundering to the tune of over $300million.
In the course of the investigation, the EFCC in a letter dated May 9, 2016, invited Peters for an interview, on May 12, 2016.
On that same day, (May 9, 2016) Peters responded through his counsel Wole Olanipekun, SAN, acknowledging the receipt of the letter, and requested that the interview be adjourned to June, 2016 as the applicant was outside the country on health grounds.
The EFCC granted the request and shifted the interview to June 2, 2016.
On June 1, 2016, the Commission received a letter dated June 1, 2016 from Olanipekun requesting a rescheduling of the same interview to either the last week of August 2016, or early September, 2016 and was obliged.
Albeit, Peters did not show up for the invitation. Instead, several letters were received by the Commission, alleging medical grounds.
The EFCC got tired of his antics and on August 4, 2016, through its Legal Department at the Lagos zonal office, applied to the Magistrate court in Lagos for a warrant of arrest, which was duly granted on August 5, 2016.
Acting on the warrant of arrest issued, the EFCC declared Peters wanted.
Consequently, on December 27, 2017, Peter filed a fundamental human right enforcement action, through his lawyer Mike Ozekhome, SAN, against the EFCC, seeking among other reliefs:
“A declaration that the very act of declaring the applicant a wanted person on the official website of the first respondent without any prior order or leave of a court of competent jurisdiction to the effect is unlawful, illegal, wrongful, ultra vires, unconstitutional and constitutes a flagrant violation of the fundamental rights of the applicant to personal liberty, private and family life, freedom of movement and right to not to be subjected to inhumane and treatment as guaranteed under section 34, 35, 37, 41 and 46 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as altered) and Articles 2, 3 (1) & (2), 4, 5, 6, 7 and 12 (1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement ) Act, 2004”.
In the same application, the applicant alleged that the operatives of the EFCC, on June 1, 2016; June 17, 2016; July 28, 2016, and August 4, 2016; fully armed, invaded the business premises of Peters and his residential premises, shooting, torturing and brutalizing his people.
The Commission on receipt of the processes was alarmed that a man who was on the run and has failed to honour invitations could make such spurious allegations.
The anti-graft agency quickly filed a counter affidavit of 13 paragraphs, attaching the arrest warrant duly issued by a Magistrate Court.
During the hearing of the suit on February 21, 2018, the EFCC tendered certified true copy of the warrant of arrest, alongside the letter written to the Magistrate Court for the certified true copy and tendered it as an exhibit.
While delivering its judgment today, the court after reviewing the processes filed by both parties, though without making reference to the certified true copy of the warrant of arrest duly tendered in court, held that “the only issue for consideration from the processes is whether the EFCC has right to have declared the applicant wanted in the peculiar circumstances of this case”.
It said it was not persuaded by the allegations contained in the applicant’s application and held that “The EFCC has statutory right of power to investigate and to declare anyone wanted within the confines of the law and that the act of declaring the applicant a wanted person in the circumstances of this case by the first respondent is unconstitutional, constitutes a violation of his right and hereby set aside”.