By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—–The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, held that the Nigerian Police Force, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, or the Department of State Service, DSS, lack the powers to execute a search warrant at the residence of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.
The court, in a judgment that was delivered by Justice Ahmed Mohammed, maintained that by virtue of the provisions of section 308 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the security agencies, whether by themselves, their servants, agents, officers or privies, cannot apply for, obtain, issue or in any way or manner howsoever, execute any court process that would require the appearance of the plaintiff who is currently a serving Governor.
Aside section 308 of the 1999 consitution which it said conferred immunity on Wike, the court stressed that sections 149 and 150 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, forbade the defendants from executing any search warrant at Wike’s residence in Abuja or any other location in Nigeria, especially where such process would require the governor to be present while the warrant is being executed.
Wike had in an Originating Summons he filed through his team of lawyers led by Mr. Sylva Ogwemoh, SAN, prayed the court to abort any attempt by the defendants to execute any search warrant at his residence in Abuja or any other part of the country.
He told the court that the defendants had perfected plans to obtain and execute a search warrant at either his house in Abuja or in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Insisting that he has not committed any criminal offence to warrant a raid at any of his residences, Wike, in a 24-paragraphed affidavit that was deposed to by the Attorney General of Rivers State, Mr. Emmanuel Aguma, SAN, contended that allowing the defendants to proceed with such plan would amount to a gross violation of his constitutional immunity.
Specifically, Aguma, SAN, told the court that the security agencies were planning to raid and search Wike’s residence situated at Ortega Close, off Hassan Usman Katsina Street, Asokoro Extension in Abuja.
“I know as a fact that a search warrant is a process of court. I also know that the plaintiff or his privy is obligated to be present during the conduct of the search at his premises.
“I further know as a fact that the owner of a building is obligated to give unhindered access to his premises to the defendants while the defendants are executing a search warrant.
“If not restrained by an order of the honourable court, the defendants shall proceed to execute the said search warrant. The plaintiff at the place and time hereinbefore informed me and I do believe him that (a) he has not committed any criminal offence (b) He is vested with constitutional immunity (c) The actions of the defendant shall violate his constitutional immunity, (4) The defendants are witch hunting him to silence him and tarnish his hard-earned reputation”, the Rivers Attorney General averred.
Therefore, Wike, in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/383/2017, posed three questions for determination of the court, among which included; “Whether section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) precludes the defendants from applying for and or obtaining any process of any Court requiring or compelling the appearance of Plaintiff who is the current Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria.
As well as, “Whether the defendants can combine effect or section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and sections 149 and 150 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 apply for, obtain, issue or in any manner or form effectively execute a search warrant at the residence of the plaintiff in Abuja or in any of the Plaintiff’s residence in other locations in Nigeria without the physical presence of Plaintiff or his privy in the course of the execution of such search warrant.
Upon determination of the questions, he applied for five principal reliefs, including, “A declaration that by virtues of the provisions of Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 the defendants cannot whether by themselves, their servants, agents, officers privies or in any manner howsoever apply for, obtain, issue or in any way or manner howsoever execute any court process requiring the appearance of the Plaintiff who is currently the Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria.
“A declaration that by virtue of the combined effect of section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and section 149 and 150 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, the defendants cannot whether by themselves, their servants, agents, officers, privies or in any manner howsoever execute any search warrant at the residence in any other place or locations in Nigeria where the issue and or execution of such search warrant would compel and or require the presence of the Plaintiff who is the Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria.
“An order that any purported court process or any application for any court process, search warrant or any process of court by whatsoever name so called, obtained by or being sought to be obtained by the defendants, their servants, agents, privies, officers or howsoever in so far as such court process or search warrant would have the effect of compelling or requiring the presence of the plaintiff in the course of such application and/or its execution while the plaintiff occupies the office of the Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria, is invalid, null, void and of no effect whatsoever.
Likewise, “An order of injunction restraining the defendants whether by themselves, their servants, agents, privies or in any manner howsoever from applying for, issuing, entering the residence of the plaintiff in Abuja or anywhere else in Nigeria by virtue of a search warrant or any court process whatsoever which shall compel or require the physical presence of the plaintiff who is currently the Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria, in order to search the said residence of the plaintiff and to remove from such residence/premises any items whatsoever during the tenure of the plaintiff as Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria, in contravention of the plaintiff’s immunity as preserved by section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended”.
However, all the Police, EFCC and DSS who were listed as defendants in the matter, urged the court to dismiss the suit.
Police lawyer, Mr. David Igbodo, argued that nothing under the law or the immunity clause in the 1999 constitution, stopped security agencies from searching homes of sitting governors.