CASE TITLE: MUHAMMAD v. (EFCC KANO) & ORS (2023) LPELR-60645(CA)
JUDGMENT DATE: 27th JUNE, 2023
- JIMI OLUKAYODE BADA, JCA
- FREDERICK OZIAKPONO OHO, JCA
- ABUBAKAR SADIQ UMAR, JCA
COURT DIVISION: LAGOS
PRACTICE AREA: CONSTITUTIONAL LAW – RIGHT TO PERSONAL LIBERTY.
This is an appeal against the judgment of the High Court of Kano State delivered by Ibrahim Umar, J.
The applicant/appellant filed a suit at the High Court to enforce his fundamental rights, which he alleged were breached by the Respondents. In his application, the appellant claimed the following reliefs:
- A declaration that the appellant is entitled to enforce his fundamental human right to personal liberty as enshrined and protected by the Constitution of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, against the respondents
- A declaration that the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respondents have no power in law to arrest and detain the applicant for 19 days in respect of an unknown offense
- A declaration that the closing of shop No. 27E Ado Bayero Road, Singer Kano, by the 2nd and 3rd Respondents belonging to the applicant is illegal and unconstitutional and amounts to a violation of the applicant’s right to his property.
- An order of perpetual injunction restraining the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respondents from further arresting and detaining the applicant
- An order directing the 2nd and 3rd respondents to pay the applicant N5,000,000.00 (five million naira) as general damages
- And for such further order(s) as this Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.
The crux of the appellant’s case was that the respondents acted in breach of his fundamental human rights when they arrested and detained him. The respondents also sealed off his shop without a court order. The appellant was, however, granted administrative bail, but he was unable to meet the bail conditions.
The Respondents in their arguments, stated that they acted within their powers when they arrested the appellant and detained him upon a reasonable suspicion of his having committed an economic offense.
They further argued that the grant of the application would jeopardize their investigation.
The trial court refused the application and held that the respondents had the liberty to decide how to go about conducting their investigation into an allegation of the commission of an economic crime.
Additionally, the respondents acted within their authority when they closed down the applicant’s shop on the grounds of a plausible suspicion that the applicant had sold subpar fertiliser products, which would constitute an economic crime.
The Court dismissed the application. This decision irked the appellant, and he promptly filed an appeal.
The appeal was determined on:
“Whether the trial Court was right in dismissing the Appellant’s application for lacking merit.”
The appellant’s counsel argued that the appellant’s right to personal liberty was violated when he was arrested and detained for 9 days on suspicion of committing an economic crime. The counsel referred to relevant sections of the Nigerian Constitution and the EFCC Act to support their argument. They asserted that the respondents had no legal authority to investigate, arrest, or detain the appellant for non-economic and financial crimes, as he was operating a legitimate business. He also argued that only the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) had the right to investigate the appellant’s activities in manufacturing fertiliser, and the respondents’ actions were illegal. They pointed to previous legal cases to support their claims and contended that the trial judge failed to consider the appellant’s 9-day detention without a warrant, which they deemed a violation of his personal liberty.
In response, the respondents’ counsel argued that the third respondent (EFCC) was not a juristic person capable of being sued or suing. They cited relevant legal precedents to support this claim. They also defended the respondents’ actions, stating that they acted within their powers when arresting the appellant based on reasonable suspicion of an economic crime. They argued that the appellant failed to show any flaws in the trial judge’s ruling and that the respondents were lawfully conducting their duties, not violating the appellant’s fundamental human rights. The respondents’ counsel further asserted that the appellant was subjected to investigation due to an intelligence report about substandard fertiliser production and distribution by his company, constituting an economic crime. They argued that the police and law enforcement agencies were empowered to investigate and arrest individuals suspected of committing crimes. Lastly, the respondents’ counsel highlighted that the case was about enforcing the appellant’s fundamental human rights, not determining the commission of a crime. They argued that the court should only address the issues raised before it. They also defended the sealing of the appellant’s shop during the investigation, citing relevant sections of the EFCC Act.
In conclusion, the appeal was dismissed.
CONSTITUTIONAL LAW – RIGHT TO PERSONAL LIBERTY: Whether the further stay in custody of a person who is yet to meet his bail conditions can be regarded as unlawful detention
“In this appeal, the Respondents on reasonable suspicion that the Appellant was adulterating and distributing substandard fertilizer, were arrested on August 23, 2019. He was, however, granted bail on August 24, 2019. It appears he was unable to meet the requirements and conditions to assess the bail granted him. If he cannot meet the conditions for bail granted to him, it cannot be said that the respondents are detaining him.
Where a person is arrested upon reasonable suspicion of having committed a criminal offense, if not entitled to bail and having not been charged before a competent court within one day, they shall be released either conditionally or unconditionally. See OSHUNAYA v. COP (2004), 17 NWLR PT 901 PG 1.
The general rule is that a person who has not been tried and convicted by a competent court for an offense known in law is entitled to be admitted to bail as a matter of course, unless some circumstances militate against his admission to bail. BOLAKALE v. STATE (2006) 1 NWLR PT 962 PG. 507. In this appeal, the Appellant was admitted on administrative bail. However, he apparently could not fulfill the bail conditions that would foster his release. This, as I said earlier, is not the fault of the Respondents, rather, it is the ineptitude of the Appellant in meeting the conditions for his bail.
Where the appellant failed to meet up with his bail conditions, he cannot complain that he was detained for the many days he was alleging against the respondents.” Per NDUKWE-ANYANWU, J.C.A.
Read more Latest Judgments on BE THE FIRST TO KNOW here.