The Makurdi High Court in Benue State has awarded N50 million as damages against the Nigerian Export-Import (NEXIM) Bank over the unlawful arrest and detention of its former Managing Director, Robert Orya, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Inspector General of Police (IGP).

The court tongue-lashed the EFCC and the IGP “for turning themselves tools of persecution in the hands of the NEXIM Bank authorities”.

It ordered them to apologise to Mr Orya.

Mr Orya had filed the suit marked MHC/2393/2020, against the EFCC, the IGP, and NEXIM Bank, among others, accusing the defendants of breach of his fundamental human rights to freedom of movement and to own property.

The rest of the respondents are, the State Security Service (SSS), rhthendependent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Code of Conduct Bureau, and NEXIM Bank.

In an affidavit deposed to in support of the fundamental human rights enforcement suit, Mr Orya told the court that the NEXIM Bank (6th respondent) led by Abba Bello wrote series of petitions accusing of corruption.

He said one of the petitions was submitted to the EFCC and then Special Presidential Panel on Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), which was headed by Okoi-Obono Obla.

The applicant further deposed that he was arrested and detained by the EFCC for four days before he was requested to continue to report on a daily basis and then weekly for the period covering 2016 to 2018 at the Capital Market and Insurance Fraud Section of the anti-graft agency in Abuja.

In October 2017, the NEXIM Bank management wrote to the SPIP and Mr Orya was apprehended and detained at the 2nd respondent’s (IGP) police station at the Federal Secretariat in Abuja for four days, where he was denied access to his lawyers.

Some of the respondents, EFCC, IGP, SSS, ICPC, CCB, and NEXIM Bank, had in their preliminary objections, challenged the court’s jurisdiction to entertain and determine the case.

Preliminary objection dismissed

They had argued that the suit ought to be instituted at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, being where the alleged cause of action arose.

However, the presiding judge, M. A. Ikpambese, in a ruling held that the Federal High Court and State High Court have concurrent jurisdiction to grant redress for an infringement of fundamental rights, citing Section 46 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Having established that the applicant is from Ushongo Local Government Area of Benue State and resides at Plot No. C38 Hudco Quarters, North Bank, Makurdi, Benue State, the High Court of a State in Benue State and the Federal High Court or State High Court in Abuja have concurrent jurisdiction to entertain the application brought under chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

“I make bold to hold that this matter comes within the territorial jurisdiction of the High Court of Benue State by virtue of Section 46 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended),” the judge said.

‘Multiple arrests illegal’

In a certified true copy of the ruling dated March 31, 2021, which was seen by our reporter on Thursday, Mr Ikpambese further held, “the arrest and detention of the applicant by the 1st to 5th respondents is multiple and duplication of same set facts hence it is unlawful as there is no legal foundation to base the multiple arrests and detentions.

“The findings in the preceding paragraphs proves that the respondents particularly the 1st defendant (EFCC) and the 2nd respondebt (IGP) breached the applicant’s right to freedom of movement and right to acquire and own property under Sections 41 and 43 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

The court noted that by the provisions of Section 35(1) (C) and 6 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended, a person who is unlawfully arrested and detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from appropriate authority or person.

EFCC, IGP ordered to apologise to applicant

Mr Ikpambese, then held, “the 1st and 2nd respondents (the EFCC and the IGP) being the organs used by the 6th respondent (NEXIM Bank), are to tender public apology to the applicant and refuse to be used as witch hunts.

“In respect of the five hundred million naira (N500, 000, 000. 00) general damages for breach of applicant’s fundamental rights, the 6th respondent (NEXIM Bank) shall bear the consequences of such conduct.

“The sum of fifty million naira (N50, 000, 000. 00) is awarded in favour of the applicant (Mr Orya) against the 6th respondent with a stern warning to desist from using the institutions established by the Federal Government of Nigeria to witch hunt the applicant in the guise of statutory powers even when exercised outside the ambit of the established legislations/statutes,” the court declared.

Background

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had in 2019 accused Mr Orya of corruption and fraud.

 

The apex bank had accused the past management of the export/import bank of plotting the removal from office of its deputy governor in charge of Economic Policy Directorate, Joseph Nnanna.

Mr Nnanna is also the chairman of the Board of NEXIM, which commissioned forensic audit into the lending business of the bank.

The CBN said the audit “exposed different levels of procedural abuses fraught with high level of fraud in the disbursement of the loans by the former management (of the bank)”.

PREMIUM TIMES had reported how Mr Orya, who was the MD of NEXIM from inception in August 2009 till February 2016,. described the accusations of fraud in the disbursement of loans against him as “wild, inappropriate, unacceptable and untrue.”

He was succeeded by the Executive Director, Business Development of the Bank, Bashir Wali, who held the office in an acting capacity until April 2017, when the incumbent Managing Director, Abubakar Bello, took over.

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