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Court awards N12.5m damages against EFCC over illegal detention

Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, awarded N12.5m exemplary damages against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in favour of Senator Abdulaziz Nyako for unlawful frozen of his private and company bank account and illegal detention.

Senator Abdulaziz Nyako, son of former Adamawa State governor, Air Vice Marshal Murtala Nyako (rtd), was illegally detained by the EFCC in its custody between February 12 and 17, 2014 some weeks after his father was removed from office.

Justice Gabriel Kolawole, who gave the order while delivering judgment in the fundamental rights enforcement suit brought by Senator Abdulaziz, held that he was detained in the custody of the Commission in excess of the period prescribed by law.

The law prescribed that a suspect should not be held in custody more than 48 hours.

“In the instant case, the applicant was in the custody of the respondent between February 12 to 17, 2014 and released on the February 17 without being charged to court. No matter the date, the question is has there been a violation of his right?

“I hold that there was an infringement of his fundamental human rights because he was detained for three days in excess of the period prescribed by law” the judge added.

Justice Kolawole berated the anti-graft agency over what he described as “reckless tampering with the rights of citizens in the name of discharging its statutory duties.”

The court also held that by declaring the applicant wanted without evidence of crime amounted to a breach to his fundamental human rights.

Justice Kolawole further berated the Commission for embarking on a judicial fiat which he said “is unpardonable exhibition of ignorance of the law as the National Assembly never intended to give it the powers of an accuser and a judge.

‎”The reckless tampering with the rights of citizens in the name of carrying out statutory duties is an act to subvert not only the letters, but the spirit of the constitution.”

Justice Kolawole further held that the EFCC acted illegally beyond their powers to have frozen his personal and company account for two years (July 14, 2014) till date without a valid court order.

“The action of the respondent (EFCC) amounted to usurping the powers of court by entering a final determination of quilt on the applicant‎” the judge stated.

He said the prove of guilt can only be undertaken by courts ‎of competent jurisdiction and not by any agency including the EFCC.

“It is only after a conviction that the court can make a final order of forfeiture as the rights of suspects are not determined by exparte application without hearing from them.

“The constitution has not allowed any agency to have the capacity to act on its own whims and caprices without subjecting their actions before the court of law for a review” he averred.

Justice Kolawole said the National Assembly cannot therefore empower any agency or statutory body to act in defiance to the constitution.

“I hold that the EFCC acted with a guilty knowledge just to injure the applicant’s status and pride as son of ‎a former governor” the judge further added.

Justice Kolawole held that the EFCC acted against sections 28 and 29 of its Act by freezing the personal account of the applicant for two years without obtaining from the court, an interim order of attachments or forfeiture.

On the issue as to whether his arrest was illegal, the court held that the EFCC acted within its powers under section 7 of its Act.

Justice Kolawole said the applicant was arrested based on a petition dated October 10, 2011 by one Alhaji Sahid Umar, a former Commissioner of Finance over alleged mismanagement of funds belonging to the Adamawa State.

‎The court also frowned at what it described as “recent trend” where remand orders are obtained from Magistrate courts which have no jurisdiction on the alleged offences, by government agencies to keep an accused in custody beyond the constitutional period, adding that such actions amount to abuse of court process.

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