The Federal High court sitting in Lagos has awarded the sum of 5 million Naira against Economic And Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the unlawful arrest, detention and the freezing of the Account of one Mr Charles Aiyeni for standing surety to Chief Jerome Itepu, a friend of his who was arrested and released on bail to him.
In an enforcement of his fundamental human rights which Mr Charles Aiyeni, the Applicant is alleging to have been contravened, he sought for several declarations and Orders to wit:
(a) A declaration that the several invitation of the Applicant by EFCC, the Respondent numbering over 10 times between July, 2018 and January, 2019 with threat of further detention for failure to produce Chief Jerome Itepu is illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void as they constitute a gross violation of the Applicant’s Fundamental Rights as guaranteed under Sections 34, 35 and 44 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as Amended.
(b) A declaration that the freezing of the Applicant’s Bank Account with First Bank of Nigeria PLC, by the Respondent was illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void as it constitutes a gross violation of the Applicant’s Fundamental Rights as guaranteed under Sections 34, 35 and 44 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as Amended.
(c) An order directing the Respondent and its officers, agents etc or otherwise howsoever to forthwith cease from harassing, intimidating, and threatening the Applicant with arrest, detention on the subject matter of non production of Chief Jerome Itepu.
(d) An order directing the Respondent to pay the sum of 500 million Naira to the Applicant as exemplary and aggravated damages for the illegal arrest, detention and freezing of his bank account and finally
(e) An order of perpetual injunction restraining the Respondent and its officers from further arresting and detaining the Applicant on the same subject matter.
The Applicant told the court that on the 10th of December, 2018, he went to his bank to withdraw money but could not because restriction had been placed on his account by the Respondent.
He went to the office of the Respondent for an explanation, only to be arrested and told that his account was placed on No debit Notice because Chief Jerome Itepu he stood surety for has not honored their further invitations. He was thrown into their cell on the 11th of December, 2018 and kept incommunicado for 24 hours.
All attempt to release him on administrative bail failed. He was eventually released on bail on 22nd December, 2018 after 12 days of detention. The Applicant said that even after his release on bail, his bank account remained frozen till date and the Respondent told him that his account will remain frozen until he produced Chief Jerome Itepu.
The Respondent in their counter affidavit agreed that the Applicant took one Chief Jerome Itepu on bail. They however alleged the Applicant had after the release of the said Accused Person disappeared with the suspect and that all invitations by the Respondent for the Applicant to produce the Accused Person were dishonored.
They further alleged that part of the money fraudulently obtained by the suspect were traced to the bank account of the Applicant, hence the order that the account be frozen. They also stated that the Applicant was charged with Obstructing the Cause of Justice for failure to produce the Suspect and the Applicant volunteered a statement and was granted administrative bail.
In a landmark judgement the Federal High Court presided over by Hon Justice I.N Oweibo held as follows:
1. The arrest, detention of the Applicant because he could not produce a suspect he stood surety for is NOT A CRIME KNOWN TO LAW.
2. The charge of Obstructing the Cause of Justice for his failure to produce the suspect was an offence not made out in the exhibits that the Respondent attached on their counter affidavit.
3. The only liability for the Applicant for failure to produce the suspect is to show cause or forfeit the sum of 18 million Naira bail bond.
4. The Arrest, detention of the Applicant was not justified and therefore unlawful.
5. The non production of any valid court order authorizing the freezing of the Applicant’s bank account makes it unlawful and unconstitutional.
6. Taking into account the status of the Applicant, the time it took the Applicant to prosecute the case including the effect of the freezing of the account on his family, the Court awarded the sum of 5 million Naira as compensation in favour of the Applicant in the case.
Cost of 30,000(thirty thousand Naira) was also awarded in favour of the Applicant against the Respondent.