Obey Court Order, Release Ubani Now – Igbo Lawyers Tell EFCC
We have watched with dismay the flagrant disregard of a valid and subsisting court order and the 1999 Constitution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) led by its Acting Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu.
It is recalled that Justice Sylvanus Oriji of the Federal High Court had in a ruling on March 26, 2019 granted an ex-parte motion filed by Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN directing the EFCC to charge former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Vice President, Mr. Monday Ubani and his co-applicant to court “on or before Friday, 28/3/2019.”
The court in the alternative ordered that “If the Applicants are not charged to court on or before 28/3/2019, EFCC is directed to release them on bail” upon fulfillment of some listed conditions.
It is a matter of deep concern and national embarrassment that the EFCC has chosen to brazenly disobey this order of the court. It has neither charged the former NBA Vice President to court nor granted him any administrative bail.
Aside from the EFCC and its leadership being in clear breach of the extant order of the Federal High Court, the continued detention of Mr. Ubani also violates Section 35 (4) of the 1999 Constitution which provides that “Any person who is arrested or detained in accordance with subsection (1) (c) of this section shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time.” The maximum detention period is 48 hours, except extended by a competent court. Mr. Ubani has been in EFCC custody for about three weeks.
It also violates the detainees’ right to dignity of human persons, right to personal liberty, and right to freedom of movement as set out in sections 34, 35 and 41 respectively of the 1999 Constitution.
This culture of impunity as consistently exhibited by EFCC and its leadership continues to ridicule Nigeria in the comity of nations and sabotage efforts at attracting foreign direct investment. Investors only go to jurisdictions where the rule of law and respect for human rights are guaranteed while shunning countries where ‘rule of men’ predominate.
It is even more worrisome that this blatant disobedience of a valid court order by the Magu-led EFCC is coming on the heels of serial disobedience of court orders by the Federal Government directing the release from custody of former National Security Adviser, retired Col. Sambo Dasuki and leader of Shi’a Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife. Is Mr. Magu merely taking a cue from the Federal Government?
We note that by the continued disobedience of the order of Federal High Court, Mr. Magu and the EFCC have displayed utter contempt for our courts and the country’s judicial system. It is ironic that these are the same courts the EFCC routinely runs to for orders which they zealously implement in the discharge of their mandate under the EFCC Act. It is not for EFCC and its leadership to pick and choose which court orders to obey or disregard. That is an invitation to anarchy. What is more, he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.
It is further recalled that the courts have severally cited the EFCC and its chairman for contempt, even as stiff damages have been awarded against the commission, thereby dissipating scarce public resources.
It is more worrisome that Mr. Ubani, an ardent critic, activist and social crusader, was asked to personally take his client on bail by Mr. Magu, the EFCC having rejected top civil servants it earlier demanded. Was this a ploy to silence the former NBA chieftain and unrelenting social critic?
Also, the fact that EFCC is apparently complicit in the alleged disappearance of Mr. Ubani’s client further questions the modus operandi and institutional integrity of the anti-graft agency. This follows Mr. Ubani’s posers thus: “Why will EFCC from another unit (Enugu) invade the home of a suspect (Dr. Mrs. Olejeme) who is on bail with them, more so when the matter they came for is purely a civil matter which was already in court? Why the long wait to charge a woman whom EFCC declared wanted since last year and who came back in December and was granted bail early January and up to now, no charge? Was this issue of rejecting valid sureties and insisting that I should be the one to stand for her a ploy to embarrass me for bringing the woman back from abroad to respond to her charges? Why am I being asked to produce her when it is the same EFCC that invaded her home when she was under bail? It is pertinent to point out that later in the day, the investigating officer in Abuja confirmed that the EFCC officials who came from Enugu got permission from the Acting Chairman (Magu) to come and arrest Dr. Olejeme. These and many other questions demand answers!”
We demand immediate release of Mr. Ubani and his co-applicant in line with the subsisting order of the Federal High Court.
Further, we demand a high-powered judicial enquiry into the allegations of complicity and dereliction of duty leveled against the EFCC and its leadership. The time to sanitize EFCC and rid it of corruption is now! Enough is enough!
We urge the Federal Government to take immediate steps to ensure that EFCC does not derail its avowed commitment to the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights of citizens. This has become more pressing given the presence of many senior lawyers including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo SAN in the Buhari Administration.
The EFCC’s Gestapo-style regime of holding citizens for weeks and months without trial and at times without valid court orders must stop. Nigeria is not a banana republic. Attempts by institutions of state to ridicule the country and make it seem like a lawless fiefdom must be resisted by all citizens and the international community.
Chief Chuks Ikokwu
Otu Oka Iwu (Law Society)