A lawyer and Company Secretary of one of the foremost micro-finance banks in Nigeria, e-Barclays Microfinance Bank, Oby Onwukeme, recently won a landmark case against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the abuse of her rights and unlawful detention.
The lawyer, Oby Onwukeme, said that her right to dignity of her person contained in Section 34 (1) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was infringed upon when the EFCC arrested and detained her unjustly and without any record of her arrest.
The drama started on January 21, 2013, when one Mr. Musa Giwa Yusuf, an operative of the EFCC, stormed the Abuja Head Office of e-Barclays Microfinance Bank, where Onwukeme works as secretary and requested for the account statement belonging to one of the bank’s customers without a court order or subpoena.
Onwukeme referred Yusuf to her superiors who advised that the matter between EFCC and the customer in question, on account of which EFCC had made the request, was pending before a court of law and therefore subjudice. There was a letter to that effect from the customer’s solicitors.
The next day, Yusuf returned and Onwukeme handed a written response to him, demanding for a court order to enable the bank disclose or release customer information.
The EFCC later invited Onwukeme to its office for a chat with the Commission’s boss. She honoured the invitation.
Yusuf told Onwukeme he would detain her until the documents were brought. He immediately entered a case of obstruction against her.
Onwukeme said: “I even accepted to sign an undertaking at the insistence of Mr. Yusuf, to produce the required documents the following day, but they still refused to allow me to leave. Not even the interventions of my Managing Director could help the situation. In fact, I went through hell.”
When she was detained, she was stripped of her belongings and thrown into EFCC cell for three days.
An operative of the EFCC who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed the story, adding: “The situation was so tense. The woman even requested to speak with the members of her family and make arrangements to bring back her two children from school, but Yusuf refused.”
Another source in EFCC said that the documents were actually brought on the same day. The Managing Director (MD) and other officials of e-Barclays Microfinance Bank told Onwukeme they had handed the documents to the EFCC.
Onwukeme immediately instructed her lawyers to file processes for the enforcement of her fundamental rights which she said had been breached.
The lawyer said that EFCC was so angry that she took the matter to court, that its operatives, after the matter was mentioned in court, arrested and detained her a second time without a warrant of arrest.
The EFCC instituted a matter in an Abuja court where Onwukeme was charged with obstruction of justice.
The EFCC claimed that Onwukeme willfully declined to furnish the Commission with account information of a customer of e-Barclays MFB whom they alleged, was being investigated for obtaining money under false presence and issuance of dud cheque to the tune of N4.2 million.
On July 8, 2013, Justice Jude O. Okeke of the Federal High Court Abuja, entered judgment in favour of Barr. Onwukeme and held that EFCC breached her fundamental rights.
Justice Okeke denounced the conduct of the EFCC, describing it as oppressive, high-handed and malicious.
The judge went ahead to award exemplary damages to serve as a deterrent to future occurrence of such high handedness.
Okeke also said that the EFCC and its operative Yusuf, needed to be cautioned, notwithstanding their powers under the Nigerian Constitution and the EFCC Act.
Okeke awarded the sum of 7,000,000.00 against the EFCC and Yusuf jointly and severally in favour of Onwukeme.
The EFCC has however refused to comply with the ruling of the court by paying the damages of N7, 000,000. Onwukeme said she was looking forward to returning to the court to seek enforcement of the ruling of Justice Okeke.