Justice Mohammed Yunusa of the Federal High Court in Lagos has refused an application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to withdraw from adjudicating a fundamental rights suit brought by a businessman, Jyde Adelakun.
The commission said it was denied fair hearing. It asked for an order disqualifying the judge from the case.
But Justice Yunusa said EFCC’s prayer came late. He said he was nevertheless obligated to hear every application before him “no matter how downright stupid” it might be.
EFCC had asked for a stay of further proceedings and that the case-file be returned to the Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta for re-assignment.
The commission said the judge allegedly refused an application to consolidate the case with another related to it, and allegedly ignored a pending order freezing the applicant’s bank account.
EFCC said the judge also refused its application for a short adjournment to file a further and better affidavit.
It claimed Justice Yunusa forced its lawyer to adopt its counter-affidavit or deem it abandoned. The lawyer had to do so “reluctantly”.
“The EFCC will not be treated fairly in this case as there is a real likelihood of bias against it,” the commission’s legal officer Israel Akande said in a supporting affidavit.
Ruling on Wednesday, Justice Yunusa said he had a duty to declare “what the law is and not what the law should be”.
He added that EFCC did not object to the case since it was filed in August, or ask that it be re-assigned to another judge, until Tuesday.
Besides, he said the fact that EFCC did not get a favourable ruling in a previous case was no reason to accuse him of bias. He said judgment in the case was ready and would not be arrested.
The judge, therefore, dismissed the application, saying it was “lacking in merit.”
Delivering judgment in Adelakun’s fundamental rights suit, Justice Yunusa held that the applicant was wrongfully detained by the commission.
He said EFCC did not obtain a court order before detaining him, adding that keeping him beyond 24hours violated his rights.
“The respondent admitted arresting the applicant, but he was not arrested with a warrant of arrest. No arrest warrant was exhibited. For an arrest to be valid, there must be a warrant. The respondent (EFCC) acted irrationally.
“The exercise of arrest powers merely to obtain information from a suspect is illegal. There is nothing to show that they did basic preliminary investigation.
“Why was the report of investigation not attached to the counter-affidavit? The court cannot rely on mere averments. It must be substantiated,” the judge said.
Justice Yunusa said security agencies should be careful not to get intoxicated by their powers to the extent that they harass the citizens they were meant to protect.
“The Constitution provides that no person should be detained unnecessarily. Once a person is arrested, their liberty is curtailed. It does not matter how long the detention lasted,” the judge said.
The judge declared the applicant’s arrest illegal. He ordered that his bank account be unfrozen and Adelakun given “unhindered or unfettered access to his funds.”
He also restrained EFCC from arresting and detaining him.
Meanwhile, the commission has filed a criminal charge against Adelakun and his company, Touch of Fame Energy Company, at the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja.
According to the information, the defendants were accused of conspiracy to receive stolen property, about $2,181,000 (N434,040,810) from JP Morgan Chase Bank, USA, “knowing same to have been stolen.”
EFCC’s prosecutor Kayode Oni said the alleged offences contravene Section 326 (1) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, No. 11, 2011.
He said the accused persons would soon be arraigned.