The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Wednesday dismissed an appeal the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed against the judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja that the commission abused its power in handling a case with a businessman, Babatunde Morakinyo.
A three-man panel of the appellate court held that EFCC’s decision to re-arrest Morakinyo on the premises of a court after he had met his bail conditions was an abuse of power and a breach of his fundamental rights in an “oppressive, repressive and condemnable” manner.
The panel, which partially upheld the March 1, 2021 judgment by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja, held that EFCC’s detention of Morakinyo after two High Courts in Lagos and Abuja had admitted him to bail was a gross abuse of statutory powers.
The appellate court also held that the commission’s claim that it arrested Morakinyo after he had perfected the earlier bail the courts in Lagos and Abuja granted him was misconceived and untenable in law.
Justice Hussein Mukhtar, in the lead judgment, said the verdict of the Federal High Court in Abuja was unambiguous and without misdirection or error, adding that the re-arrest of the respondent was willful, unlawful and condemnable.
The judge averred that the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens to liberty and human dignity, guaranteed under Section 35(6), was unassailable and could not be ignored as the EFCC did in its handling of Morakinyo’s case.
But he reduced the N50 million damages the Federal High Court awarded against the commission to N10 million on the grounds that the fine was excessive.
The EFCC had, on March 19, 2021, arraigned Morakinyo on a 23-count charge in which he was accused of engaging in money laundering.
The respondent pleaded not guilty to the charge and was granted N200 million bail with two sureties, among other conditions.
He met the bail conditions few days later, following which the court endorsed his release order.
But before he left the court premises, EFCC agents arrested him on March 19, 2020 and detained him in its Jabi, Abuja facility until April 4, 2020, claiming he was to face another charge before a Lagos High Court.
Morakinyo challenged his re-arrest and detention via a fundamental rights enforcement suit he filed before Justice Ekwo.
In his judgment on March 1, Justice Ekwo faulted EFCC’s conduct and awarded N50 million in exemplary damages against the commission “for abusing its statutory powers and arbitrarily trampling on the fundamental rights of the applicant”.
The judge ordered the EFCC to tender a public apology to Morakinyo in two national dailies over his illegal arrest and detention.
He also held that the conduct of the EFCC was “an aberration of the tenets of the democracy we profess to practise”.
Justice Ekwo, who said EFCC’s decision to arrest Morakinyo in the court was disrespectful of the Judiciary, added that in a democracy, no arm of government is to be made to appear as subjugated to the other.
“Unconstitutional and illegal courthouse arrest is condemnable and punishable. And the courthouse arrest of the applicant by the respondent is no less so.
“Where the court has granted bail to a person and the person has met the terms of bail and a release warrant has been issued to him but he is facing arraignment in another court, he needs not be re-arrested.
“He can be served the subsequent charge and given the opportunity to appear in court on the date fixed for his arraignment.
“The assumption that such a person is likely not to appear in court for the other trial is unfounded as his particulars of bail are in the custody of the court already.
“The court, in which he is appearing next, has the discretion to grant him bail upon the previous terms or modify same. He is aware that it is in his interest to appear in court to answer to the allegations against him.
“Therefore, there is no valid foundation for the subsequent arrest of the applicant on the excuse of a pending charge in Lagos, when he had been granted bail by a court of coordinate jurisdiction in Abuja upon arraignment for another charge,” the judge said.