The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, on Tuesday, explained to the Federal High Court in Abuja that it declared the Hopes Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in the last election, Ambrose Owuru, wanted over fraud charges pending against him in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
EFCC’s lawyer, Ibrahim Audu, said this at the hearing of Owuru’s fundamental rights enforcement suit challenging the legality of being declared wanted by the commission in a July 10, 2018 newspaper publication.
Justice Nkeonye Maha after hearing parties to the case on Tuesday, fixed October 7 for judgment on the legality of the publication and whether the former presidential candidate was deserving of the N500m sought as damages in the suit.
Audu told the judge that Owuru was avoiding trial in the criminal case instituted against him by the commission, prompting the court in Port Harcourt to issue an arrest warrant against him.
The commission said the criminal charges against Owuru bordered on obtaining money by false pretence.
Audu said, “He was evading his trial and the High Court duly issued an arrest warrant against him. It was on the basis of the arrest warrant that the publication was made.”
Earlier on August 7, 2019, the matter came up at the preliminary stage before another vacation judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja, Justice Taiwo Taiwo.
A lawyer representing Owuru, Mr. Eze Nnayenlugo, said the criminal case referred to by the commission involved “a land transaction”, and that the case had been withdrawn.
But the EFCC insisted that the criminal case was still pending before the Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court and was never withdrawn.
Earlier on Tuesday, Owuru’s lawyer, Chukwunoyerem Njoku, urged Justice Maha to grant his client’s prayers, including an award of N500m for the damage allegedly done to his reputation with the EFCC’s publication.
He also sought other restraining orders against the anti-graft agency to stop it from further making such publication.
Njoku insisted that the commission had no power to declare anybody wanted without the backing of a court order.
“There is nothing in the exhibit tendered by the respondent (EFCC) that empowers it to make that publication,” Njoku added.
But replying to that line of argument, Audu said there was also no provision of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act that made a court order, a condition precedent to declare a defendant facing criminal charges wanted.
“There is nothing in ACJA that says for the publication to be made, there must be a court order,” he added.
Audu said that the subject matter of the suit, “is not one of the enforceable rights under Chapter 4 of the Constitution or under the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules”.
He maintained that the suit ought to have been filed as a libel case instead of a fundamental rights enforcement suit.
He also argued that the Supreme Court had admonished other lower courts “not to be misled in treating every infraction as a violation of the fundamental rights”.
Justice Maha, after listening to the parties, on Tuesday, fixed October 7 for judgment.
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal had on August 22, 2019 dismissed an election petition filed by Owuru to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory at the February 23, 2019 poll.
He had since filed his notice of appeal before the Supreme Court to challenge the tribunal’s decision.