The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on Tuesday explained to the Federal High Court in Abuja why it declared the presidential candidate of the Hopes Democratic Party (HDP) in the February 2019 general election, Ambrose Owuru wanted.
The anti-graft agency told Justice Nkeonye Maha that Owuru was declared wanted over alleged fraud charges pending against him in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
Counsel to the EFCC, Ibrahim Audu, gave the explanation yesterday at the hearing of Owuru’s fundamental rights enforcement suit challenging the legality of being declared wanted by the commission in a July 10, 2018 newspaper publication.
Justice Maha, sitting as a vacation judge, after hearing to parties in the matter, fixed October 7, 2019, for judgment on the legality of the publication and whether Owuru deserves the N500 million he is seeking as damages in the suit.
Audu, the EFCC counsel told the judge that Owuru was avoiding trial in the criminal case instituted against him by the commission, prompting the court in Port Harcourt to issue an arrest warrant against him.
The anti-graft agency said the criminal charges against Owuru bordered on obtaining money by false pretence, adding that Owuru, “Was evading his trial and the High Court duly issued an arrest warrant against him.
“It was on the basis of the arrest warrant that the publication was made”, Audu told the court.
It would be recalled that, on August 7, 2019 when the matter came up at the preliminary stage before another vacation judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, a lawyer representing Owuru, Mr. Eze Nnayenlugo, said the criminal case referred to by the commission involved “a land transaction”, and added that the case had been withdrawn.
But, the EFCC insisted that the criminal case was still pending before the Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court and was never withdrawn.
Earlier on Tuesday, Owuru’s lawyer, Chukwunoyerem Njoku, urged the court to grant his client’s prayers, including an award of N500 million for the damage allegedly done to his reputation with the EFCC’s publication.
He also sought other restraining orders against the anti-graft agency to stop it from further making such publication.
Njoku insisted that the commission had no power to declare anybody wanted without the backing of an order from a court of competed jurisdiction.
“There is nothing in the exhibit tendered by the respondent (EFCC) that empowers it to make that publication,” Njoku added.
Replying to that line of argument, EFCC, through his counsel, said there was also no provision of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) that made a court order a condition precedent to declare a defendant facing criminal charges wanted.
In his words, “There is nothing in ACJA that says for the publication to be made, there must be a court order” and added that the subject matter of the suit, “is not one of the enforceable rights under Chapter 4 of the Constitution or under the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules”.
He maintained that the suit ought to have been filed as a libel case instead of a fundamental rights enforcement suit.
The EFCC further argued that the Supreme Court had admonished other lower courts, “not to be misled in treating every infraction as an infraction of the fundamental rights”.
Justice Maha, after listening to the parties in the matter, fixed October 7, 2019, to deliver judgment.