It has been an everyday matter in the current Nigeria we’re in today, it’s visibly inferable that the courts of law established as a weapon for the enforcement of justice and the rule of law are now used as a shield for one to escape from all atrocities committed at the expense of the rule of law. It’s so unpleasing and uncalled for how an individual who is clearly involved in a criminal activity in the community to use the court as a toy or let me say shield to escape from that offence committed, by the process of obtaining a court order stopping the appropriate law enforcement agencies be it the economic and financial crimes commission or the police or any law enforcement agencies from conducting investigation on the matter.
If that’s done what’s the state of rule of law in our country? What’s the use of giving such order? This and a lot of questions were left unanswered in the minds of many Nigerians. This isn’t exhaustive we’re all witnesses to how investigation will clearly expose the guilt of an individual but a court order will restrain the appropriate agencies from effecting his arrest, if this method used in Nigeria by our politicians is allowed to persist what will be the outcome of rule of law in the coming years of our beloved country? What type of society will the coming generation live in?
From the purview of the law what’s the meaning of “investigation”. The word investigation has been given judicial interpretation in a plethora of legal authorities including but not limited to the case of DANGABAR v. FRN (2012) LPELR-CA/A/256/2012 where the learned justices held that: “The word investigate is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th Edition to mean to examine and inquire into with care and accuracy, to find out by careful inquisition, examination, the taking of evidence, a legal inquiry. Also, Legal and Commercial Dictionary 6th Edition by Tapash Gan Choudhury defines ‘investigation’ at page 479 as: Careful search, study, closes inquiry, scrutiny, detail examination, collection of facts, inquiry to ascertain facts, inquiry, exhaustive study, and systematic search.” Per BADA, J.C.A. (Pp.35-36, Paras. E-A).
Investigation is among the first stages of criminal trial which aims at providing evidence to indicate the guilt of an accused which will be used against him in the court of law. A lot of controversies were raised regarding S35(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended which provided for personal liberty. Some contend that an arrest may mean breach of fundamental human rights but this isn’t in accordance with sub c of the said section which provided that right to personal liberty can be limited for the “purpose of bringing an accused before the court of law, or upon reasonable suspicion of him committing a crime or to such extent to prevent him from committing a crime” vividly we can see that no breach of fundamental human right occurred. It’s a trite law that an arrest for investigation doesn’t amount to breach of fundamental human rights this was given judicial echo in the case of AYABAM v. C.O.P BENUE STATE (2019) LPELR-CA/MK/185/2017.
The court in a plethora of pronouncements have deemed it unlawful for a court to grant an injunction against economic and financial crimes commission or any law enforcement agencies from performing their statutory duties as placed on them by law placing reliance on the case of MUSTAPHA v. FRN (2017) LPELR-CA/L/497/2016 where the court held that; “I have earlier in this judgment found and held that the EFCC, by the community relevant provisions of the EFCC Act and the Constitution, is vested with and so possesses the statutory power and authority to investigate and prosecute the offences with which the Appellant was charged. The argument by the Appellant that the prosecution of the offences is ultra vires the statutory duties of the EFCC has been decided and overtaken by the finding. On that ground, in line with the above authorities, an injunction would not lie against the EFCC to prevent it from the performance and discharge of such statutory duties and functions or exercise of the statutory power to prosecute the offences charged. In the case of Kalu vs. FRN (supra) at page 19-20. it was held by the Apex Court that – “For a person to rush to Court to place a clog or shield against criminal investigation and prosecution is a clear interference with the powers given by law and the Constitution to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in the conduct of Criminal investigation and prosecution. It is clearly an abuse of due process of the law.” The case of Abacha vs. FRN (2014) 6 NWLR (1402) 43, Dariye vs. FRN (2015) 10 NWLR (1467) 323 and A. G. Anambra State vs. Uba (supra) were referred to by the final Court.” Per GARBA, J.C.A. (Pp. 122-123, Paras. B-B).
Same was held in the case of CHROME INSURANCE BROKERS LTD & ORS v. EFCC & ORS (2018) LPELR-CA/L/1429C/2016 where the court held that: “At the outset, I stated that the allegation of infringement of fundamental rights was a question of fact and was not dependent on the sabre-rattling from the forensic arsenal of learned counsel. The affidavit evidence did not disclose any evisceration of the Appellants’ fundamental rights. It seems that the object of the Appellants’ action and the perpetual injunction they sought was to shield themselves from the investigation of the criminal allegation against them. In A-G ANAMBRA STATE vs. UBA (2005) 15 NWLR (PT947) 44, Bulkachuwa, JCA (now PCA) held: “For a person, therefore to go to Court to be shielded against criminal investigation and prosecution is an interference with powers given by the Constitution to law officers in control of criminal investigation. The plaintiff has no legally recognisable right to which a Court can come to his aid…The plaintiff cannot expect a judicial fiat preventing a law officer in the exercise of his constitutional power.”
Put simply, a Court cannot stop a law enforcement agency from investigating a crime; and whether to or how it is done is a matter within the discretion of the law enforcement agency. See IGP vs. UBAH (2014) LPELR (23968) 1 at 27-28, FAWEHINMI vs. IGP (2002) 7 NWLR (PT 767) 606, HASSAN vs. EFCC (2013) LPELR (22595) 1 at 29 and SALIHU vs. GANA (2014) LPELR (23069) 1 at 34.” Per OGAKWU, J.C.A. (Pp. 29-30, Paras. B-C)
From what’s aforementioned we can confidently say that using the court as a clog or a shield from one’s criminal responsibility is clearly unconstitutional and an abuse of due process of the law. We solicit with our learned judiciaries to refrain from using the law as an escape tool for offenders. Whoever comes to seek for a restraining order against the investigation conducted on him has clearly shown that he has an element of guilt, if not why wouldn’t he go to the court to prove his innocence instead of seeking for an injunction. Granting of such orders frequently puts the law enforcement agencies in a state of confusion and hardship as they are estopped from exercising their primary duty which is observance of law and order in the society and this shouldn’t be encouraged in any way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR;
Shuaibu Bashir Mukaddam is a 200l student of faculty of law, Maryam American University of Nigeria. He is an enthusiastic reader, researcher and legal writer with more than 15 articles published. He’s one of the writers of Iko Africa. His interest and vast knowledge in the legal sphere covers all aspects of the law. Shuaibu has won many awards including but not limited to, the award of legal advocate of the year 2023 by Legal Minds, Most Brilliant Member 2023 by Legal Minds and Leadership Award of 2023 by International Forum of Legal Ideas.
He’s the executive legal research officer hiLAWrious Organization and the executive national president of the African Law Students Association(Nigerian Chapter).
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Prepared and settled by;
Shuaibu Bashir Mukaddam