Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Obla, has filed a N1 billion fundamental rights enforcement suit against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Obla was detained by the EFCC for allegedly offering a N5 million gratification to Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia.
In the suit, Obla is asking the court to declare that his detention beyond 24 hours was unlawful and has also urged Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos, before whom he filed the suit, to declare that seizure of his mobile telephone was a violation of his fundamental right to own property.
Arguing Obla’s case on Monday, his lawyer, Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), told Justice Idris that his client visited the EFCC office on November 8, 2016 and had been detained by the anti-graft agency since then without a lawful court order.
He said in order to confer a purported legality on Obla’s detention beyond the 24 hours which the constitution stipulated, the EFCC went before a magistrate’s court to obtain a remand order pursuant to the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) of Lagos State.
Adedipe, however, urged Justice Idris to strike down, once and for all, provisions of the ACJL which the EFCC relied on to remand suspects beyond 24 hours and insisted that the ACJL’s provisions were in conflict with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
“It is either we have a Constitution or we do not and we do have a Constitution. The provisions of the ACJL that they fly up and down cannot override the provisions of the constitution and I urge My Lord to strike them down.
It is high time Your Lordship made an order,” Adedipe said.
He further argued that the EFCC violated Obla’s right by seizing his phone after the commission said it had concluded its investigation.
“The respondent is oppressing my client and I urge My Lord to put an end to this,” Adedipe said.
He urged Justice Idris to order the immediate release of his client and his mobile phone and to award N1bn damages against the EFCC “so that tomorrow, they won’t do it.”
But in opposition to Obla’s prayers, the EFCC, through its counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, urged Justice Idris to hold that all the steps it took against Obla were allowed by law.
Oyedepo told Justice Idris that the EFCC was probing Obla for allegedly offering a gratification of N5m to Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia, at a time when the SAN was appearing in a suit numbered FHC/L/482c/2010 before the judge.
He said Obla’s detention was based on reasonable suspicion of commission of a crime, adding that the EFCC, having realised that it could not conclude its investigation on November 8, obtained an order of a magistrate’s court to remand Obla for 14 days on November 9.
“By virtue of Section 264 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State, the magistrate’s court has the power to order the remand of any suspect having found that there was a reasonable suspicion,” Oyedepo argued.
He said since the remand order was made, Obla had neither applied to the magistrate court to vary it or filed any appeal against it.
He urged the court not to order the release of Obla’s mobile phone, saying it had been listed as an exhibit in the criminal charge filed by the EFCC against Obla before the Lagos State High Court.
He added that Section 44(2)(a) of the Constitution allowed for the temporary taking over of a suspect’s property for the purpose of enquiry.
“Your Lordship is enjoined not to be used as a shield against lawful prosecution. We should not be restrained from carrying out our lawful assignment,” Oyedepo prayed.
He urged Justice Idris to dismiss Obla’s claim of N1bn damages against the EFCC, arguing that the SAN had not shown anything to prove that he was entitled to the damages.
After listening to the parties, Justice Idris adjourned till November 25, 2016 to give his ruling.