Monday, March 14, 2016

Court orders unconditional release of Dasuki’s aide March 14, 2016 •EFCC behaving like under military era, Judge says

A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, sitting in Jabi on Monday ordered the release of Col. Nicholas Ashinze, a former aide to the ex-National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) unconditionally from the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Nigerian Army without any condition.

Ashinze has been in detention since December 13, 2015 when he was arrested by EFCC operatives over an alleged link with the $2.1billion Dasuki arms deal. But, in spite of the long detention, he has not been charged with any offence.

Ruling on a fundamental human rights suit filed by Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) on behalf of Col. Ashinze, Justice Yusuf Haliru ordered that the applicant be released on bail on self-recognition.

Justice Haliru said the court will not allow the anti-graft agency to act as in the instant case as if it is above the law, adding that the era of over zealous officers arresting and detaining citizen without arraignment on alleged offence is over.

The Judge said Ashinze’s detention for over three months without trial, was illegal, wrongful, unlawful and constituted a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of the applicant”.

The judge also ordered the immediate release of documents and items the anti-graft agency seized from the house of the applicant.

The Judge held that although, fundamental human rights enforcement proceedings were not meant to be an escape route for suspects of crimes, they were to help in containing the excesses of government agencies and wondered why EFCC kept Col Ashinze in custody for long without charge or is it that he has been found guilty by EFCC or the Army without trial.

“The EFCC Act is not superior to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The respondents in this matter have not behaved as if we are in a civilised society. They have behaved as if we are in a military dictatorship ?where they arrest and release persons at will.

“The respondents, I must be bold to say- the EFCC and the Army- have behaved like illiterate”, Justice Haliru added and also held that by virtue of section 36 of the 1999 constitution, as amended, an accused person was deemed innocent until proven guilty in a competent court of law.

He said although, EFCC and the Nigerian Army who is Ashinze’s employer are creations of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, they are to operate within the ambit of the laws that established them.

In his words, “the detention of Col Ashinze for three months without arraignment before a competent court or an administrative bail is unfortunate.

“It is illegal, unlawful and a violation of his fundamental human rights to have detained him for more than 48 hours without charge”, he ruled.

Justice Halilu also asked, “Why has the 1st respondent kept the applicant without bringing him to court? Why was the applicant, being a serving military officer, who could be easily reached, not granted administrative bail? Or is it that the applicant has been found guilty and already serving his jail term?”

He added, “Nobody should be subjected to the whims and caprices of the EFCC. The essence of the rule of law and constitutional provisions is to ensure a just balance between the ruler and the ruled, between the powerful and the weak.

“Though the EFCC has the responsibility to investigate financial crime, it must however conduct its operations in accordance with the rule of law.

“The court is empowered to guard against i?mproper use of power by any member of the society or agency, EFCC inclusive.

The court refused Ashinze’s prayer for perpetual injunction to restrain the respondents from arresting him, saying that such an order will amount to stopping EFCC and the Army from carrying out its lawful functions.

Justice Haliru also declined to award N500million damage asked by the plaintiff for the wrongful arrest and detention, on the ground that Col Ashinze is a serving military officer and the damage asked of can not be justicable.

Earlier, before the ruling, counsel to the EFCC, James Ojogbana has announced an appearance and urged the court to adjourn the ruling to enable EFCC filed response to the suit.

Dismissing the EFCC application Justice Haliru said that all the respondents were duly served with the documents and hearing notices but failed to enter appearance or filed counter affidavit.

The respondents in the suit, the EFCC, the Chief of Army Staff and the Nigerian Army have not shown interest in the matter.

Ashinze had prayed the court for an order releasing him from custody, that his arrest and continued detention since December 23, 2015 “without being given any reason and without granting him administrative bail within 24 hours or 48 hours of his arrest and detention, is illegal, wrongful, unlawful and unconstitutional.”

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