An Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has rejected a request by fugitive former pension boss, Abdulrasheed Maina, seeking payment of N100 million in damages for what he described as an abuse of his fundamental rights.
The court also ruled that the inability of Mr Maina to enjoy the rights, as enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution resulted from ”his personal decision and cannot be blamed upon anti-graft agency the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)”.
On the flipside, the court ruled that the commission must seek an order of a court to continue publishing its declaration of Mr Maina as a fugitive on the website of the EFCC or on any media.
Judge F. O. Ogunbanjo made the ruling in a fundamental rights suit filed by Mr Maina, a year after PREMIUM TIMES publication truncated his controversial reinstatement in 2017.
Copies of the judgement delivered on January 31 was obtained by this newspaper on Monday.
Mr Maina disappeared after a Senate investigation into his alleged involvement in a pension fraud of N100 billion resulted in an arrest warrant issued against him.
The said investigation was propelled by discoveries about the alleged fraud, two years after Mr Maina was drafted into the system in 2010 by former President Goodluck Jonathan to sanitise it.
Based on the allegation of corruption, Mr Maina was invited by the Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment and State and Local Government Administration.
The Senate after completion of its investigation issued a warrant of arrest against Mr Maina.
Ignoring the panel, Mr Maina went ahead to sue the Senate and the then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar.
He thereafter went into hiding after being declared wanted by the police.
Consequent upon this, Mr Maina was dismissed by the Head of Service for allegedly absconding from duty.
He was on July 21, 2015, charged by the EFCC alongside Stephen Oronsaye and two others before a Federal High Court on a 24-count charge bordering on procurement fraud and obtaining by false pretence.
While Mr Oronsaye and the two other accused were in court and pleaded not guilty to the charge, Mr Maina remained at large, till his controversial reinstatement in October 2017.
Fundamental rights suit
A year later on September 5, 2018, Mr Maina approached the Federal High Court to seek the determination of certain issues, in line with his constitutionally enshrined rights.
According to the court papers, Mr Maina ‘s application and replies by the respondents: namely the EFCC and Nigerias’ Attorney General, provided two main issues for determination before the court:
“Whether the EFCC can declare him wanted in its official website or on any other media platform, without an order from the court to do so.
“Whether the publication of his name on the EFCC’s official and his declaration as a wanted man in the site was not an abuse of his fundamental rights as enshrined in sections: 35,37,41 and 42 of the constitution.”
In deciding both issues, the judge said the answer to the two questions were all in the negative.
“To my mind, the answer to the above questions are no and no, respectively.”
In a further explanation, Mr Ogunbanjo said the section relied upon by the EFCC to support its action, was misplaced.
The EFCC had cited section 41 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, which provided the necessary guidelines for such a declaration to support its action.
But according to the judge, the said section does not apply to people regarded as defendants.
“To start with, a suspect who has appeared before a court in a criminal charge is no longer a suspect, but a defendant standing trial for an alleged offence. To suggest that the word: “after evidence or before,” used in the section 41 of the ACJA applies only to cases “Where the suspect has appeared before the court and decided to abscond” cannot be correct.
“The effect of the purport of Section 41 and 42 of the ACJA is to the effect that there must be judicial intervention before the first defendant can publish the name of its defendant on its website,” the court ruled.
“Haven obtained a warrant of arrest from a court and (having) been unable to effect the arrest of the plaintiff, the defendant ought to have applied to any appropriate court, seeking an order to publish the name and particulars of the plaintiff on its official website in line with section 41 and 42 of the ACJA.”
Mr Maina had also asked the court to determine whether his right to freedom from torture and other inhumane treatments as enshrined by section 8 (1) of the ACJA had not been abused.
While deciding on that issue, Mr Igunbanjo said Mr Maina’s reliance on that section was faulty.
“The plaintiff’s reliance in section 8 (1) of the ACJA is misplaced and his submission on this is misguided: as this section of the act is in respect of a suspect who has been arrested and is in custody of the arresting law enforcement agency, as provided in the head note of that section which states: “humane treatment of arrested suspects.”
“The suspect: that is the plaintiff has not been arrested by any law enforcement agency and therefore cannot rely in section 8 (1) of the ACJA in support of his case.”
The court added therefore that the claim by Mr Maina that his rights have been abused were not proven in court.
“It is the duty of a person who alleges that his fundamental rights have been abused to furnish the court with sufficient evidence of the abuse. I dare to say that in the entire gamut of the plaintiff’s claim, the plaintiff has not furnished the court with any evidence of the alleged abuse of his fundamental rights.”
“The plaintiff’s decision to curtail his own personal liberty, enshrined under section 35 of the constitution or/and deny himself of private and family life as enshrined in section 37 of the Constitution and/or deny himself freedom of movement, enshrined under section 41 of the constitution is self-imposed as nobody, let alone the respondents has done anything to infringe upon his fundamental rights.”
Among the specific prayers brought before the court, Mr Maina’s request for a perpetual injunction against the EFCC from further declaring him wanted on its website, without a court order was granted.
The court made the ruling after affirming that the decision by EFCC to declare Mr Maina wanted, on its website without a valid court order was unlawful.