A court in the Nigerian capital Abuja has awarded damages to Godwin Emefiele, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), for his unlawful detention.
Justice Olukayode Adeniyi of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), on Monday, slammed the sum of N100 million against the federal government and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as fine for unlawfully detaining former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele.
But EFCC, on Monday, expressed dissatisfaction with the judgement.
A statement by the commission said the decision failed to take cognisance of the fact that the former CBN boss was held with a valid order of court.
“Consequently, the commission will approach the Court of Appeal to set it aside,” it stated.
In its judgement, Adeniyi barred the federal government or any of its agencies, notwithstanding Emefiele’s current trial, from re-arresting, detaining and harassing him over any alleged offence without first obtaining a warrant of arrest from a court of competent jurisdiction.
The judge made the order after declaring the detention of Emefiele for over five months by the Department of State Services (DSS) and EFCC as illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional.
Adeniyi said the federal government’s excuse that Emefiele was being investigated for other alleged infractions was not tenable, adding that the order of detention obtained from a Chief Magistrate Court in Wuse, Abuja, to keep Emefiele in custody for a period of 14 days pending the conclusion of investigation lacked probative value.
The judge, while calling to question the credibility of the remand order, pointed out that the said order was not certified and carried two different dates – October 27, 2023 as date of issue, whereas a careful look at the document read in part, “given under the hand of…. on April 26, 2023.”
Besides, the court described EFCC’s action of going to obtain a detention order when it had already filed charges before the high court as an abuse of court process and a breach of the defendant’s rights.
The judge berated the security agencies for arresting and detaining suspects before investigation, stressing that such act runs contrary to the law and should not be condoned by the court.
In addition, the court held that mere suspicion of the committal of an offence should not be a basis for infringing on the rights of citizens, as in the instant case.
According to Adeniyi, “Between June 13 and November 8, 2023, when the court ordered the release of Emefiele to his lawyers, was nearly five months.”
The court held that the period was well beyond the reasonable time for a citizen to be arrested and detained without trial. It held that rather than keeping Emefiele in custody, the federal government ought to have granted him administrative bail, when it withdrew the charge of alleged illegal possession of firearms filed against him before a Federal High Court in Lagos.
Adeniyi held that the court viewed the continued incarceration of the defendant without an order of court or further arraignment as a violation of the defendant’s fundamental rights to liberty, especially when the government claimed that it had intelligence on alleged infractions committed by Emefiele but refused to file further charges.
“They were only interested in the further incarceration of the defendant while searching for evidence to prosecute the defendant,” he added.
According to the judgement, Emefiele was suspended as CBN governor on June 9, 2023, arrested and detained the following day. “This presupposes that the respondents need not incarcerate the defendant to investigate, as the federal government did not produce any evidence to show Emefiele will interfere with investigation, more so, when he was said to have resigned as CBN governor while in custody,” the court held.
Having held that the federal government, through the DSS and EFCC, unlawfully violated the rights of the applicant to personal liberty, the court held that it was necessary to make an injunction order against the respondents so as to prevent further violation.
Adeniyi, subsequently, made an order restraining the respondents from “further re-arresting, detaining or harassing the defendant without an order of a competent court”.
The court ordered both the federal government, first and fourth respondents in the suit, to pay Emefiele N100 million compensation for damages suffered from his illegal detention.
The immediate past CBN governor had sued the federal government, Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Executive Chairman, EFCC, and the commission over alleged breach of his fundamental rights to life, personal liberty, fair hearing and freedom of movement.
Emefiele’s lawyer, Mr. Mathew Burkaa, in the suit, marked: FCT/HC/CV/040/2023, had told the court that the applicant was detained for 151 days contrary to the law stipulating 48 hours and had urged the court to enter judgement and award damages in favour of Emefiele.
He had argued that the assertion of the first and second respondents challenging the authority of the deponent to Emefiele’s affidavit in support of the originating summons, claiming that the deponent, Dr. Okanta Emefiele, never had any meeting with the applicant to make the deposition showed that the federal government held him incommunicado.
Burkaa argued further that the action of the respondents was enough ground for the court to enter judgement in Emefiele’s favour, adding that every Nigerian deserves the court’s protection.
He further told the court that Emefiele’s rights had been violated and the former CBN governor was apprehensive of being further arrested, going by the activities of the respondents after the applicant filed the enforcement suit and his arraignment before Justice Hamza Muazu, also of the FCT High Court.
The applicant’s further harassment by agents of the respondents, Burkaa submitted, might eventually affect Emefiele’s life.
On his part, counsel to the first and second respondents, Oyin Koleosho, urged the court to dismiss the suit for lacking in merit. Koleosho submitted that the government’s opposition to the suit was based on the authority and the source of information of the deponent to the affidavit in support of the originating summons.
He said Emefiele was transferred to the custody of EFCC on October 26, while the application was filed on October 31. He said between that period there was no contact or communication between Emefiele and the deponent.
He added that in Emefiele’s further and better affidavit, there was nowhere reference was made to the time, date and venue where the applicant and the deponent met, submitting that this rendered the deposition incompetent.
Counsel for the third and fourth respondents, Farouk Abdullah, while praying the court to dismiss the suit for being misconceived and brought in bad fate, stated that Emefiele was brought to EFCC custody on October 26 and the commission obtained a remand order on October 27 to remand the applicant for 14 days.
He said while he would not trivialise the activities of the federal government, there were different ministries, departments and agencies with different mandates.
According to him, Emefiele, in his originating summons, made certain allegations in which he alleged some infractions were made by the DSS, adding that the DSS ought to have been brought into the suit.