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Can The EFCC or The Police operate as debt recovery Agencies?

Can The EFCC or The Police operate as debt recovery Agencies?

CASE CITATION: DIAMOND BANK PLC v. H.R.H. EZE (DR) PETER OPARA & 2 ORS. (2018) 3 S.C. (Pt. II) 50

DATE OF JUDGMENT: FRIDAY, THE 9TH DAY OF MARCH, 2018
COURT: SUPREME COURT
SUIT: SC. 375/2012

CORAM:
1. IBRAHIM T. MUHAMMAD (Presided)
2. KUMAI B. AKAAHS
3. AMINA ADAMU AUGIE
4. PAUL ADAMU GALINJE
5. SIDI DAUDA BAGE (Delivered the Leading Judgment)

ISSUE(S): EFCC and The Police – Whether debt recovery Agencies – When Invitation by the Police or EFCC may constitute an Abuse of Process

CASE SYNTHESIS

‘’It is important for me to pause and say here that the powers conferred on the 3rd Respondent, i.e. the EFCC to receive complaints and prevent and/or fight the commission of Financial Crimes in Nigeria pursuant to Section 6(b) of the EFCC Act (Supra) does not extend to the investigation and/or resolution of disputes arising or resulting from simple contracts or civil transactions as in this case.

The EFCC has an inherent duty to scrutinize all complaints that it receives carefully, no matter how carefully crafted by the complaining party, and be bold enough to counsel such complainants to seek appropriate/lawful means to resolve their disputes. Alas! The EFCC is not a debt recovery agency and should refrain from being used as such.

Generally, abuse of process involves circumstances and situations of infinite variety and conditions and which may be occasioned by malice, bias and desire to misuse or pervert the system of administration of justice. See Saraki v. Kotoye (1992) 12 S.C. (Pt. I) 1. I agree entirely with the lower court in its judgment at Page 312 of the record of appeal when the court held:-

“The complaint of the Appellants, which unfortunately the learned trial misconceived, is that the 1st Respondent is resorting to multiplicity of the complaints against them over the same issue to law enforcement agencies purposely to harass and emasculate them from complaining about the fraud of the 1st Respondent subjecting their account to illegal charges to its benefit and to the detriment of the Appellants. A banking consultant employed by the Appellants detected the fraud. Thereafter the Appellants and the 1st Respondent mutually agreed and the matter was referred to the Bankers Committee (sub-committee) on ethics and professionalism for arbitration. The 1st Respondent admits this fact and avers in the Counter Affidavit that the “committee – is yet to finally adjudicate on the matter.” While the matter is yet to be finally adjudicated upon by the committee the 1st Respondent reported the Appellants to the police. The 1st Appellant Was arrested and detained, and had to unwillingly pay N2,000,000.00K to the 1st Respondent in order to be granted bail.”

Looking at all that has been said, I am convinced by the learned counsel for the 1st & 2nd Respondents that, the actions of the Appellant were aimed at frustrating the investigation that is before the Bankers Committee. The subsequent actions of reporting the matter to the police and to the 3rd Respondent were nothing but abuse of process of law. What is even more disturbing in recent times is the way and manner the Police and some other security agencies, rather than focus squarely on their statutory functions of investigation, preventing and prosecuting crimes, allow themselves to be used by overzealous and/or unscrupulous characters for the recovery of debts arising from simple contracts, loans or purely civil transactions. Our security agencies, particularly the police, must know that the citizenry’s confidence in them ought to first be ensured by the agencies themselves by jealously guarding the integrity of the uniform and powers conferred on them.

The beauty of salt is in its taste. Once salt loses its own taste, its value is irredeemably lost. I say this now and again, our security agencies, particularly the police, are not debt recovery agencies. The agencies themselves need to first come to this realization, shun all entreaties in this regard and they will see confidence gradually restored in them.

Where we are now in this country is that place where our “Men – in black & blue” command almost no respect from the citizenry because of how low we have sunk. But it is my belief, which belief, I must say I hold very dearly, that all hope is not lost, many women and men of deep integrity are in our security agencies, and they only need to rise now to the occasion.’’

DIAMOND BANK PLC v. H.R.H. EZE (DR) PETER OPARA & 2 ORS. (2018) 3 S.C. (Pt. II) 50 @77-79 Para 10-15

Click to Read Full Judgment

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Publishers of Judgments of The Supreme Court of Nigeria (S.C Report) - on the Authority of the Supreme Court of Nigeria

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