A judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory has ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to remove from its website the name of the chairman of Aiteo Energy Resources Ltd, Benedict Peters, who had been declared wanted by the agency.
In a judgment delivered on Thursday, O.A Musa, the judge, ruled that the act of declaring an individual wanted on the EFCC website without any prior order or leave of court constitutes a violation of the person’s fundamental rights.
He, however, held that the EFCC has the power to declare any person wanted within the ambit of Nigerian laws and upon complying with statutory conditions.
The judge did not set aside the arrest warrant on Mr. Peters.
But he frowned at the arrest warrant procured by the EFCC which showed the issuing magistrate’s signature dated 5th August, 2016, while the commission claimed it received it on 4th August, 2016.
“Could this have been a mistake?” the judge asked.
“If it was, I expected the 1st respondent (EFCC) to have filed a further and better counter-affidavit in order to fully explain why there exist this sort of anomaly.
“I am left with no option but to conclude that the 1st respondent has presented to this court an absurd and unimaginable case of receiving a signed document a day before it was actually signed by the person who purported to have signed it.”
Mr. Peters had dragged the anti-graft agency before the court seeking a declaration that the act of declaring him wanted on the EFCC website without a court order was a violation of his fundamental rights.
He also sought an order quashing the declaration and a “formal written apology” by the respondents to be addressed to him as well as a perpetual injunction restraining them from further infringing on his rights.
Joined in the suit was the Attorney General of the Federation.
According to the EFCC, an investigation that began in 2016 showed that Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former petroleum minister; Bernard Otti; Aiteo Energy Ltd; Northern Belt Oil and Gas Company Ltd and others were involved in conspiracy, stealing and money laundering amounting to $300 million.
Mr. Peters is the chairman of both companies, according to the EFCC.
“To carry out a holistic investigation and get applicant’s (Mr. Peters) response, the EFCC wrote a letter inviting the applicant to assist in investigation,” the EFCC stated in court papers filed before the court.
“The applicant wrote several letters to the commission pleading to come at various dates which he never honoured till the time of filing the suit.”
The EFCC said it approached a magistrate in Lagos who issued a warrant of arrest against Mr Peters, after which it declared him wanted.
The commission further stated that Mr. Peters claims of ill health does not hold water because there are Nigerian hospitals capable of managing his ailment.
After an EFCC invitation to appear before it on June 2, 2016, Mr. Peters wrote to the commission claiming he was receiving treatment in France.
On 1st June, 2016, Mr. Peters said EFCC operatives invaded Aiteo’s premises and arrested Ewarieze Useh and Tunde Akinpelu, a Managing Director and an Executive Director respectively without any warrant of arrest.
On the same day, according to the Aiteo boss, armed EFCC operatives at about 2 p.m. invaded his Ikoyi home and arrested his driver.
Mr Peters said the invasions were repeated on July 20, 2016, and August 4, 2016.
On August 15, 2016, Mr Peters was declared wanted and the information uploaded on the EFCC’s official website.
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