The arrest and detention of a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Export and Import Bank (NEXIM Bank), Orya Roberts Ungwaga, for about 15 days by the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have been declared unlawful and a breach of his fundamental rights.
Justice M. A. Ikpambese of the High Court of Benue State in Makurdi made the declaration an in judgment on a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by Ungwaga.
Respondents in the suit, marked: MHC/2393M/2020 are the EFCC, Inspector General of Police (IGP), the State Security Service (SSS), the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and NEXIM Bank.
Justice Ikpambese also declared as unlawful the invasion and search of the applicant’s house by the law enforcement agencies without exhibiting a valid search warrant or court order authorising them to so act.
In the judgment delivered on 21 March this year, a copy of which The Nation sighted in Abuja on Monday, Justice Ikpambese dismissed the objections raised by the respondents.
He upheld the argument by the lawyer to the applicant, M. S. Agaku, that the respondents’ continued detention of the applicant and their failure to charge him to court within a reasonable time as required by law, were unlawful.
The judge noted that “it is trite law that where the arrest and detention of a person are unlawful and unconstitutional any subsequent arraignment of that person before a court of law cannot and would not cure the illegality or unconstitutionality.”
Justice Ikpambese found that the applicant was subjected to unlawful treatments by the security agencies upon several petitions written to them by the bank in respect of a transaction involving a credit facility extended to a firm, Luxurium Leisure Services Limited.
He added: “The arrest and detention of the applicant by the first to fifth respondents is multiple and duplication of same set of facts, hence it is unlawful as there is no legal foundation to base the multiple arrest and detention.
“The applicant was not released unconditionally or on conditions, hence the harassment of the applicant by the first to fifth respondent at the behest of the sixth respondent (NEXIM Bank) has continued unabated and ad-infinitum.
“It is established beyond per adventure that the first and second respondents (EFCC and IGP) arrested and detained the applicant for four days, seven days and four days respectively.
“The finding in the preceding paragraphs proves that the respondents, particularly the first and second respondents also breached the applicant’s right to freedom of movement and right to acquire and own property under Sections 41 and 43 of the Constitution,” he said.
The judge proceeded to award N50 million damages against NEXIM Bank for instigating and managing the duplication and multiplication of petitions against the applicant and cautioned it (the bank) against using government agencies as agents of a witch hunt.
Justice Ikpambese ordered that the EFCC and IGP, “being the organs used by the sixth respondent, are to tender a public apology to the applicant and refuse to be used as witch hunts.”