EFCC To Pay N7.M To Abuja Lawyer For Unlawful Detention And Rights Abuses
Oby Onwukeme, a lawyer and Company Secretary to one of the foremost micro-finance banks in Nigeria, e-Barclays Microfinance Bank recently won a landmark case against EFCC for the abuse of her rights and unlawful detention.
Reports available to African Free Press revealed that the publication of Sahara reporters and on the EFCC website on the matter are inaccurate and a gross misrepresentation of facts.
On January 21, 2013, a certain Mr. Musa Giwa Yusuf, an operative of the Economic Financial Crimes Commission EFCC, stormed the Abuja Head Office of e-Barclays Microfinance Bank where Mrs Onwukeme’s works as Company Secretary and requested for the Account Statement belonging to one of the bank’s customers without a court order or subpoena.
Onwukeme had referred the operatives to her superiors who advised that the matter between EFCC and the customer in question, on account of which EFCC had made the request, was pending before a court of law and therefore subjudice. There was a letter to that effect from the customer’s solicitors.
The next day when Mr. Yusuf returned, Onwukeme handed the operatives a written response demanding for a court order to enable the bank disclose or release customer information. No used to law and order , the EFCC operatives invited Mrs Onwukeme to their office for a chat with the Commission’s boss. Her honoring the EFCC invitation marked the beginning her ordeal for which she nearly lost her life.
“I didn’t know I was walking into a trap”, she said as she narrated her side of the story to African Free Press.
It was gathered that, Mr. Yusuf decided that Onwukeme must be detained after he made a few consultations presumably with his superior officer, even though they were duly informed that the documents in question were in a vault and an application must be made in order to secure their release.
It was after all entreaties had failed that Mr. Yusuf told Onwukeme he would detain her until the documents were brought. He then immediately entered a case of obstruction against her.
“I even accepted to sign an undertaking by the insistence of Mr. Yusuf, to produce the required documents the following day but they still never allowed me to leave. Not even the interventions of my Managing Director could help the situation. In fact I went through hell”.
Mr. Yusuf afterwards instructed for Onwukeme to be detained. She was subsequently stripped of her belongings and thrown into EFCC dungeon for three harrowing days.
An operative of the EFCC who spoke to our correspondent on conditions of anonymity confirmed the story saying that their “boss” was particularly incensed by the fact that the woman [Onwukeme] demanded for court order.
He said, “Oga was like, who does she think she is? Court order my foot”
He further said, “The situation was so tense. The woman even requested to speak with the members of her family and make arrangements to bring back her two children from school but (Mr.) Yusuf refused”.
Another of our sources in EFCC confirmed that the documents were actually brought the same day. The Managing Director (MD) and other officials of e-Barclays microfinance bank who had come to see her told Onwukeme they had actually handed over the documents to the EFCC and there was nothing to worry about any longer.
Onwukeme told our reporters that her right to dignity of her person as clearly spelt out in Section 34 (1) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was infringed upon when the EFCC arrested and detained her unjustly and without any record of her arrest.
The EFCC high command in Abuja had no inkling about Onwukeme’s case nor her arrest and consequent detention. Onwukeme immediately instructed her lawyers to file processes for the enforcement of her fundamental rights which had been breached.
That Onwukeme took the matter to court so infuriated EFCC officials that on the same day the matter came up for mention, she was arrested and detained for the second time without warrant of arrest by operatives of the agency.
Thereafter, the EFCC instituted a matter in an Abuja court where she was charged with obstruction of justice.
They claimed she willfully declined to furnish the Commission with account information of a customer of e-Barclays MFB who they said was being investigated for obtaining money under false presence and issuance of dud cheque to the tune of N4.2 million.
However, on July 8, 2013, His Lordship Justice Jude O. Okeke of the Federal High Court Abuja entered judgment in favour of Barr. Oby Onwukeme and held that EFCC had breached her fundamental rights.
In the case of obstruction of justice brought against her by the EFCC, the court held that the actions of Onwukeme did not amount to obstruction. She was discharged and acquitted as she was only adhering to the regulations and policy of her employer e-Barclays microfinance bank.
Justice Okeke denounced the conduct of the EFCC describing it as oppressive, high handed and malicious and ought to be condemned. He went ahead to award exemplary damages to serve as a deterrent to future occurrence of such high handedness in dealing with persons – particularly lawyers who appear before them to discharge their professional duties.
His Lordship also said the EFCC and its operative Musa Giwa Yusuf needed to be cautioned and that notwithstanding their powers under the constitution, the police act, the EFCC Act and the Criminal Procedure Code, they ought to be cautious. The reckless use of power by their operatives or staff, as in the case of Oby Onwukeme can be costly and would not augur well for the reputation the anti –graft agency.
Justice Okeke awarded the sum of seven million naira (7,000,000.00) against the EFCC and Musa Giwa Yusuf jointly and severally in favour of Barr. Onwukeme.
So far, the EFCC has refused to comply with the ruling of the court by paying the damages of N7,000,000. Onwukeme says she is looking to returning to the court to seek the enforcement of the ruling of His Lordship, Justice Okeke.