By Ola Ajayi
AN Oyo State High Court has declared that attempts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to extend its powers to debt collection or recovery will be tantamount to “meddlesomeness and interloping”.
The court which was presided over by Justice Iyabo Yerima delivered the judgment in a suit marked No. M/377/2020.
A businessman, Mr. Kolawole Oyedeji filed the suit against EFCC and Messrs Segun Oloruntuyi and Olubunmi Adejorin.
The applicant, Mr. Oyedeji, had through his counsel, Mr Olusola Akintola approached the court to challenge his arrest and detention by the EFCC and its operative, the second respondent, Oloruntuyi, over a breakdown of contract.
A United States licensed auto dealer, Oyedeji explained in the affidavit deposed to by his counsel that he and Adejorin had transacted business together on three different occasions without any hitch and the breakdown of contract that led to the current problem was due to the global lockdown occasioned by the outbreak of COVID 19 pandemic in 2020.
The applicant insisted that the dispute between him and the third respondent that led to his arrest and detention by the EFCC “is a purely civil/commercial dispute that does not concern the first and second respondents in any way, but they acted like meddlesome interlopers in the dispute.
“The first and second respondents have failed to carry out their duties to maintain peace, law and order and to take the necessary steps to protect and safeguard the Nigerian citizens as provided by the law. They rather meddled in the dispute between the applicant and the third respondent”, he added.
Oyedeji insisted that his arrest and detention “is wrongful, illegal and unconstitutional as it is a gross violation of his Fundamental Human Rights as guaranteed by Sections 35 and 44 of the Nigerian Constitution”, but which was countered by the counsel to the third respondent, Abiodun Ayodele who asked the court to determine whether the rights being claimed by the applicant were absolute.
Citing various authorities and precedents, Justice Yerima said, “the EFCC has not been empowered by its establishment Act of 2004 nor by any other law guiding the Commission to meddle in civil transactions. As the first and second respondent arrested and detained the applicant over a commercial contractual issue that arose between him and the third respondent, they acted outside the scope of their authority and therefore breached the applicant’s right as set out in Section 35 of the Constitution.
“I hold that the detention of the applicant by the first and the second respondent over an issue that is contractual in nature amounts to a breach of the applicant’s fundamental rights as guaranteed under Section 34, 35 and 44 of the constitution”, the judge added.
Justice Yerima, while giving the order awarded N200,000 damages to the applicant against all the respondents in the suit.
The court held that “the dispute between the applicant and the third respondent is civil, it is not the place of first and second respondents to harass, intimidate or threaten the applicant or try to recover the third respondent’s money. I therefore find that it was unlawful and illegal for the first and second respondents to have involved themselves in the failed transaction between the applicant and the third respondent”.