The Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday awarded N50million damages against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in favour of a defendant, Babatunde Morakinyo, who was unlawfully re-arrested by the commission’s operatives last year.
The judge, Inyang Ekwo, ruled that the anti-graft agency abused its powers by re-arresting Mr Morakinyo after he was granted bail by another judge of the court, Ahmed Mohammed, on March 19, 2020.
Mr Ekwo ordered the commission to publish a public apology to Mr Morakinyo in two national dailies within 14 days for trampling on his rights when he was re-arrested on the court premises in Abuja shortly after he was released on bail.
The commission had claimed that Mr Morakinyo was rearrested for another charge filed against him in the Lagos Division of the court.
But Mr Ekwo dismissed the commission’s excuse for the rearrest.
Mr Ekwo, in the certified true copy of the judgment seen by PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday, described the re-arrest as an abduction of the applicant.
He declared that “the abduction and detention of the applicant from the court premises by the respondent on March 19, 2020 after bail was granted to the applicant by the Federal High Court, Abuja in Charge No.: FHC/ABI/CR/75/2020 is unlawful, unconstitutional and a breach of the applicant’s right to personal liberty as guaranteed by section 35 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.”
He also declared that “the abduction and detention” amounted to a breach of his “right to dignity of human person as guaranteed by S. 34 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.”
He also issued an order “directing the respondent to publish a public apology to the applicant in two (2) national dailies within 14 days of the grant of this order and notify the applicant accordingly.”
“An order is hereby made awarding the sum of Fifty Million Naira (N50,000,000.00) exemplary damages in favour of the applicant and against the respondent for abusing its statutory powers and arbitrarily trampling on the fundamental rights of the applicant,” the judge ordered.
Mr Morakinyo had, through his lawyer, Chikaosolu Ojukwu, sued the EFCC after his re-arrest by the commission last year.
The issue started after the trial judge in Abuja, Ahmed Mohammed, before whom Mr Morakinyo was arraigned on criminal charges, granted bail to the defendant on March 19, 2020.
The judge had immediately released Mr Morakinyo before meeting the bail conditions, based on the undertaking signed by his lawyer to take custody of the defendant and produce him whenever necessary.
The judge also ordered that the defendant be remanded in prison if the lawyer was unable to put in his written undertaking.
The defence lawyer, Mahmud Magaji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, wrote the said undertaking before the Deputy Chief Registrar (Litigation) as directed by the court, and the judge immediately issued and signed a release warrant for the defendant.
Mr Morakinyo’s lawyer said the EFCC in disregard of the order of this court, ”abducted the applicant forcefully from the court premises to its detention facility even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, knowing fully well that their actions is offensive and an affront in the face of the Court.”
EFCC justifies rearrest
On its part, EFCC, through its lawyer, E.E Iheanacho, claimed that it was investigating the applicant for about N9billion that was paid by Kwara State Government as contract fees between 2009 and 2016.
The commission alleged that the funds passed through over 50 bank accounts operated by several companies and persons including Mr Morakinyo.
It claimed that some of the suspects had been interviewed while others were still on the run.
It recalled that Mr Morakinyo reported to its office for investigation on January 20, 2020, after allegedly refusing to report on two previous invitations.
The anti-graft agency said it subsequently filed two separate criminal charges against the applicant in the Abuja and Lagos Divisions of the Federal High Court based on the facts of the cases and the venue where the alleged offences occurred.
According to the commission, while one of the cases was assigned to Mr Mohammed in Abuja, the other filed on 13 March, 2020 was assigned to R.M. Aikawa of the Lagos division of the court.
It added that the defendant was arraigned before Mr Mohammed on March 19, 2020, and was granted bail by the judge same day.
However, it added that it rearrested the defendant that day in order to arraign him before Mr Aikawa subsequently.
‘Defendant granted bail need not be rearrested’
Dismissing EFCC’s excuse for the re-arrest, Mr Ekwo ruled that a defendant that had been granted bail by a court needed not to be re-arrested.
He added that the commission’s excuse had no valid foundation.
The judge said, “Where a court has granted bail to a person and the person has met the terms of bail and release warrant has been issued to him, but he is facing arraignment in another court, he needs not be rearrested.
“He can be served the subsequent charge and given the opportunity to appear in court on the date fixed for his arraignment.
“The assumption that such a person is likely not to appear in court for the other trial is unfounded as his particulars of bail are in the custody of the court already.
“The court which he is appearing next has the discretion to grant him bail upon the previous terms or modify same.
“He is aware that it is in his interest to appear in court to answer to the allegations against him.
“Therefore, there is no valid foundation for the subsequent arrest of the applicant on the excuse of a pending charge in Lagos when he had been granted bail by a court of coordinate jurisdiction in Abuja upon arraignment for another charge.”
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...