Court slams ex-Minister Agunloye with N.5m fine for suing EFCC


A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, threw out a lawsuit filed by a former Minister of Power and Steel, Dr Olu Agunloye, to sanction the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC over his purported unlawful arrest.

Justice Obiora Egwuatu, in a judgment, awarded a fine of N500, 000 against Agunloye for failing to prove the alleged breach of his rights by the EFCC.

Justice Egwuatu held that though it was within the ex-minister’s right to file a suit, he said the instant case was an attempt to shield himself from the criminal investigation and an act to make the court interfere with the mandate of the commission to invite him for integration pursuant to Sections 6 and 7 of the EFCC Act.

The judge, who commended the anti-graft agency for its civility in handling the matter, said: “in totality, I am unable to see any breach of the applicant’s right to personal liberty, freedom of movement, etc.”

Agunloye had, in the originating motion on notice marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/863/2023 dated and filed June 27, 2023, by his lawyer, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN, sought seven reliefs.

He sought a declaration that his continuous invitation, interview and interrogation by the anti-graft agency in connection with the award of contract to Messr Sunrise Power and Transmission Company Limited (SPTCL) by the Federal Government of Nigeria, which contract is subject of ongoing arbitral reference between SPTCL v. Federal Government of Nigeria — ICC Case No: 26260/SPN/AB/CPB; which duty was performed by him in his official capacity as the Minister of Power and Steel and approved by the Federal Government of Nigeria at the material time, was arbitrary, malicious, unconstitutional and unlawful.

He said it constituted a gross violation of his rights to dignity of human person, personal liberty and freedom of movement and therefore contrary to Sections 34, 35 and 41(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended) and Articles 4, 5, 6, and 12(1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act) Cap A9 LFN, 2004.

He sought a declaration that the threat of arrest and/or detention and invitation in order to arrest and detain him was unlawful.

He also urged the court to declare that the EFCC’s action or conduct by continuously inviting, interrogating and subsequently threatening to arrest and/or detain him in order to cajole and intimidate him to make false and incriminating evidence and fishing for evidence to criminalise the contract awarded by the Federal Government to SPTCL, which is subject of the ongoing arbitral at the International Criminal Court, ICC, and to use such false and incriminating evidence to scandalise and criminalise the said contract before the Arbitral Tribunal or Court, in order to aid the federal government to evade its contractual obligation to SPTCL, was illegal and unconstitutional.

Agunloye, therefore, sought an order of perpetual Injunction restraining the commission and its agents from arresting, detaining, harassing, further inviting, interrogating or inviting in order to arrest and/or detain him with respect to the award of contract to SPTCL by the Federal Government of Nigeria, among others.

The former minister also sought an order directing the EFCC to pay to him the damages in the sum of N100 million as damages for the oppressive, unlawful, unconstitutional and continuous invitation, interrogation, threat of arrest and detention and unlawful interference with his rights, among others.

In his affidavit, he averred that the anti-corruption agency delayed him for over eight hours on May 16, 2023 when he honoured its invitation.

He alleged that due to the condition he was subjected to, he took ill and was admitted in an hospital.

He said despite overwhelming evidence that the allegation against him was baseless, the commission kept sending invitation to him to appear in their office.

He said he could not honour the commission’s invitation for long interview on May 19, 2023 due to ill-health and he wrote the agency to intimate them, but had continued to harass him.

However, the EFCC, in its 42-paragraph counter affidavit refuted the allegations, urging the court to dismiss the suit.

The anti-graft agency said it never threatened to arrest or detain Agunloye.

It said Agunloye was not subjected to inhuman treatment on the day he was interviewed and that the interview session did not last more than three hours contrary to the ex-minister’s claim.

It said contrary to Agunloye’s submission, the Federal Government did not award Mambilla contract to SPCL and that the former minister refused to show up at the commission on May 19, 2023, even after he was granted administrative bail on self-recognizance.

Delivering the judgment, Justice Egwuatu said having read the entirety of the processes in the case, the sole issue for determination was whether Agunloye was entitled to reliefs sought.

The judge held that there was no documentary evidence before the court to prove that the ex-minister was detained for over eight hours during the interview.

He said there was no exhibit to show the time the minister arrived at the commission and the time he left on May 16, 2023, when he was interrogated.

“The exhibits brought were not relevant to the issue, except the statement the applicant made which contained the time the statement was made and when it was completed,” he said.

According to the judge, it was safe to presume that it was after the applicant arrived the respondent’s office that he took the statement.

“And looking at the time on the statement, it could not be proved that he was delayed for over eight hours,” he added.

The judge said from the statement Agunloye made, the time he started the writing was 1:58pm and he ended it at 3:20pm, which was below the right hours he claimed.

Besides, Justice Egwuatu said the EFCC, based on the relevant laws that created it, had the power to invite and delay a suspect alleged to have committed an offence with the aim of establishing a case against him or her.

“The applicant was informed by the respondent that he is being investigated on allegations in which his name featured.

“It is clear that the invitation of the applicant was pursuant to Section 31(c) of the constitution,” he said.

He said from the evidence before the court, the applicant was released on the same day he was invited on self-recognizance and failed to honour the EFCC’s invitation on May 19, 2023.

“No fundamental right should be above a state or country and no court should be use to stop investigating agency from doing their work.

“There is evidence before the court that two of the applicant’s lawyers were present when he was being interviewed,” he said.

The judge, who held that he saw no breach of Agunloye’s right in the invitation, said Sections 6 and 7 of the EFCC Act backed the commission up.

Justice Egwuatu, who said that the case was likely to fail, dismissed the suit and awarded a N500, 000 fine against Agunloye.

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