The Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos has dismissed for incompetence the N100m fundamental rights enforcement lawsuit brought against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by a former Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, and his family.
The former minister, along with his wives, Fati and Moroophat, as well as his sons, Gbolahan and Babajide Obanikoro, had sued the anti-graft commission for unlawful invasion of their houses and seizure of some of their properties on June 14, 2016, urging the court to declare null and void the actions leading to the seizure of the items.
They also asked the court to award N100m damages against the EFCC for violation of their right to privacy.
But in a ruling on Monday, Justice Abdulaziz Anka struck out the suit for lack of competence.
The judge upheld the preliminary objection of the EFCC lawyer, E.E. Iheanacho, who contended that since their main claim was founded on tort, their principal reliefs are not maintainable under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009.
The judge noted that the applicants' houses were searched by the EFCC based on search warrants secured by the anti-graft agency from the Lagos State Magistrates Court.
Justice Anka said he could not declare the recovered items as null and void, so as not to foreclose the possibility of the EFCC tendering them as exhibits in an imminent criminal case against the Obanikoros.
In reference to the argument made by defense lawyer Lawal Pedro (SAN), the judge said the question was whether the court could be justified to declare the search warrant, as well as the evidence procured therefrom to be illegal considering the possibility of prosecution of the applicants by the EFCC in a criminal court. In his view, the court would be seen to have shut out the respondent whom by statutory duty has the power to investigate and prosecute persons involved in economic and financial crimes.
"The respondent, by the enabling law, has the power to investigate and prosecute offenders and in the process of carrying out their duties searches and arrests are imminent," he continued, adding that the legality of the method of obtaining the items should be taken before the criminal court.
The EFCC had stated in his preliminary objection that it searched the houses of the Obanikoros on the said date while investigating an alleged fraudulent payment of the sums of over N46.2 billion and $33.2 million paid by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to various companies without any accompanying contractual agreements and approvals.
Among the beneficiary companies, the EFCC stated, was one Sylvan McNamara Ltd. to which Obanikoro's children, Gbolahan and Babajide, alongside Ikenne Ezekwe and Theresa Matuluko, were signatories.
According to the EFCC, Sylvan McNamara Ltd., without any evidence of any work or job executed, received a total of N4.7 billion from the ONSA account domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria between April and December 2014.
Another beneficiary company, MOB Integrated Services Ltd., was said to have received sums of N130m and $1.01 million in August 2014 and March 2015 respectively from ONSA through its Fidelity Bank account.
The signatories to MOB Integrated Services Ltd., according to the EFCC, were Gbolahan, Babajide, Ezekwe and Miss Monisola Obanikoro.
"As part of the investigative steps, officials of the respondent applied to the Magistrates' Court in Lagos for search warrants so as to execute searches at the houses of the 3rd, 4th and 5th applicants with a view to recovering incriminating items/documents that would aid investigation,” the agency said, adding that they were granted and two search warrants were duly issued.
Tosin Owobo, an operative of the EFCC, said, "On June 14, 2016, my team executed the search warrants at the houses of the applicants in line with the search warrants and in the presence of the 1st and 2nd applicants."