A federal high court in Abuja has issued an order restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from arresting Mike Ozekhome, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
In the judgement delivered on Thursday, Inyang Ekwo, presiding judge, held that serial acts of intimidation and constant invitations extended to the senior lawyer by the EFCC, were unlawful.
The judge also declared that “threats to arrest, detain and humiliate him” over publications and speeches he made “in respect of the apparent opaqueness and lopsidedness of the corruption fight of the 1st respondent (EFCC) under the leadership of the 2nd respondent (Ibrahim Magu)”, were against the law.
Ekwo held that the action of the agency “constituted a blatant violation of the applicant’s fundamental rights as enshrined in Sections 35, 37, 39 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and Articles 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12 & 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Ratification and Enforcement Act, Cap. A9 LFN 2004″.
Ozekhome had instituted a fundamental right enforcement suit against the EFCC; its former acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, and one of its lead operatives, Abubakar Aliyu Madaki.
The senior lawyer had accused the commission of harassment owing to the fact that he is a vocal critic of the nature of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war led by Magu.
He told the court that aside from repeatedly summoning him to appear for questioning, the agency froze his bank account after he was paid his legal fees totalling the sum of N75 million by Ayodele Fayose, former Ekiti state governor.
He submitted that the N75 million was paid to him directly from the account of the former governor, who has not been convicted by any court to warrant labelling the money as a “proceed of crime”.
Ozekhome noted that it took the intervention of the federal high court in Lagos to unfreeze his bank account.
Consequently, he prayed the court to declare that he is entitled to receive legal fees for professional services he rendered to clients — including Fayose — and that he is not bound or obligated to determine the source of funds paid to him for legal services.
He also prayed the court to compel the respondents to publish an unreserved apology to him in three major newspapers.
The SAN further urged the court to award N5 billion as exemplary damages in his favour against the respondents.
However, in a counter-affidavit, the anti-graft agency told the court that Ozekhome is being investigated for several cases bordering on money laundering and tax evasion, based on an intelligence report from the Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit (NFIU).
In the court’s judgment, Ekwo said Ozekhome established a case of intimidation and harassment by the respondents.
“Where the act of such statutory body is shown to be manifestly predicated on ill will, malice and animosity, the law will intervene,” the judge said.
“The court will never allow the law to be used as an instrument of vendetta or vindictiveness as established in this case.
“On the whole, I find that the applicant has established a clear case of animus by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents in the manner of incessant invitation to him.”
Ekwo, however, refused to award cost or compel the EFCC to apologise to the senior lawyer.