By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – An Abuja High Court sitting at Maitama, on Thursday, declared that the detention of a former Minister of the FCT, Mr. Bala Mohammed for a period of 49 days by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was illegal and unconstitutional.
The court, in a judgment delivered by Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf, held that the detention of the ex-Minister after he was granted bail by a court of competent jurisdiction, amounted to a flagrant disobedience to the judicial process and a gross abuse of his fundamental human rights.
Consequently, the court ordered EFCC to pay the sum of N5million to the applicant as compensation for his illegal detention.
The court noted that though his arrest by the EFCC could not be faulted, it said his detention beyond the statutory period of time, amounted to a violation of his rights under section 46 (1) and (2) of the 1999 constitution.
It dismissed EFCC’s claim that the erstwhile Minister was kept in detention based on his alleged complicity in many fraudulent activities, including his alleged involvement in the award of fictitious contracts worth N1billion, as well as the allocation of plots of land to his family members.
Justice Baba-Yusuf said the fact that the ex-Minister had fraud allegations against him was not sufficient reason for the anti-graft agency to perpetually retain him in its custody.
More so, the Judge held that no evidence was placed before his court to support EFCC’s claim that the detention was based on high-scale fraud involving the applicant.
“Where a party admits the detention of another, the onus to prove that such detention is legal lies on it. In the instant case, no material evidence of fraud, irregular allocation of plots of land among others is placed before this court.
“All other averments relating to fraudulent activities against the applicant remain largely in the realm of imagination of the respondent and unproved as there is no such document before the court. The result is that the respondent has not proven the allegation to warrant the court to decide otherwise.
“The detention of the applicant after the court ordered for his release on bail beyond 48 hours amounted to a constitutional infringement of his right to personal liberty and freedom of movement, as he was entitled to be released immediately. The altitude of the respondent to get a remand order against him was a deliberate attempt to disobey the order of this court”, Justice Baba-Yusuf held.
The former Minister had in a fundamental rights enforcement suit he filed through his lawyer, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, prayed the court to declare his prolonged detention as illegal, as well as to award N100million damages against EFCC.