By Abdulwahab Abdulah
ABUJA—A High Court sitting in Abuja presided by Justice Othman Musa has quashed the declaration of the Executive Vice Chairman of Aiteo, Benedict Peters, as a wanted person by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The court also ordered that the anti-graft agency has no power to declare the oil magnate or anyone ‘wanted’ without obtaining a court order, holding that the EFCC should remove from its website the purported declaration made against the applicant forthwith.
However, Justice Musa declared that the EFCC has the power to declare any person wanted within the ambit of the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, upon complying with the conditions precedent to the said declaration.
The court judgement was sequel to an originating motion filed by Benedict Peters, accusing the EFCC of declaring him wanted on its website without following due process.
Justice Musa held, “Peters has never been charged with, nor tried for any criminal offence in any Court of law, nor has he ever jumped bail for any offence in Nigeria and cannot be declared wanted by administrative fiat, without any prior order or leave of Court.
“The very act of declaring the Applicant (Benedict Peters) a wanted person on official website of the 1st Respondent (EFCC) without any prior order or leave of a Court of competent jurisdiction to that effect is unlawful, illegal, wrongful, ultra vires, unconstitutional and constitutes a flagrant violation of the fundamental rights of the applicant to personal liberty, private and family life, freedom of movement and right to not to be subjected to inhuman treatment and degrading treatment as guaranteed under Section 34, 37, 41 and 46 of the Nigerian constitution (As amended) and Articles 2, 3(1) & (2), 4, 5, 6, 7, and 12(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act 2004.”
On the 15th day of August, 2016, Peters was declared wanted by EFCC without an order of Court and in the absence of a valid charge in a Court of law. The said declaration was published in a cross section of the media and specifically on the official website of EFCC. It was also carried by top tier news platforms across the country.
EFFC claimed that Benedict Peters was summoned on several occasions before he was declared wanted. However, evidence presented in court showed that Peters was out of the country on health grounds and this was communicated to EFCC by his legal representatives.
Peters requested for a rescheduling based on the aforementioned reason, however, a day before the date on which he had been required to attend armed men and police officers at the behest of EFCC, invaded his company premises and made some arrests.