In recent times, security agencies have become fond of haphazardly declaring people wanted without following the procedures of the law.
There appears to be no clear process leading to the declaration of a wanted person. Security agencies just issue arbitrary press statements, sometimes without even having contacted the affected person at all. Here are some instances:
The case of Dino Melaye, controversial senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District, is the latest of such recklessness and lawlessness by the Police in declaring a ‘suspect’ wanted.
One would naturally expect that a wanted person is one who has committed an offence but whose whereabouts is not immediately known to the authorities. So, how does one explain that Melaye was attending the Senate plenary at the National Assembly, Abuja, on Wednesday, same day the Kogi State Police Command declared him wanted?
After narrating how six suspects, including two who confessed that Melaye supplied them arms, escaped from police custody, Ali Janga, Commissioner of Police, added that “all the six suspects, Senator Dino Melaye and Mohammed Audu were sent for watch listing and red notice by the INTERPOL for immediate arrest anywhere we see them”.
“The Command hereby appeals to the members of the public to assist the Police with useful information on the whereabouts of the suspects by reporting to the nearest police station,” Janga said.
Seriously? Useful information on Melaye’s whereabouts?
The Melaye saga came a one month after the Police arbitrarily declared Kazeem Afegbua wanted. The crime of Afegbua, Ibrahim Babangida’s spokesman, was that he issued a press statement in which his principal opposed Buhari’s reelection bid in favour of younger blood.
However, the Police deemed it was capable of “instigating public disturbance throughout the country”.
The Police never contacted Afegbua before going on air to declare him wanted, neither was an arrest warrant obtained against him from a court of competent jurisdiction.
When eventually Afegbua reported at the Police Headquarters the next day, it turned out to be a mere courtesy visit, as he was warmly received, exchanged banters with officers and left. The end.
AHMAD SALKIDA, AISHA WAKIL, AHMED BOLORI
In 2016, the Nigerian Army declared Ahmad Salkida, a journalist; Aisha Wakil, a lawyer; and Ahmed Bolori, a social worker, wanted for their alleged links to Boko Haram.
“They must therefore come forward and tell us where the group is keeping the Chibok Girls and other abducted persons to enable us rescue them,” the Army had said.
At the time, Salkida was based in the UAE, his exact location unknown to the security agencies. Wakil, also known as ‘Mama Boko Haram’, is a known figure in the anti-terrorism campaign and she was never in hiding. Same also goes for Bolori. However, they were all declared wanted without prior invitation.
They did report themselves to the army authorities and as usual, nothing happened; no charges were pressed against them.
Only two days ago, Justice Othman Musa of the FCT High Court chided the EFCC for declaring Benedict Peters, Vice Chairman of AITEO, wanted for alleged corruption.
The EFFC claimed it had summoned Peters on several occasions before declaring him wanted. However, evidence presented in court showed that Peters was out of the country on health grounds and this was communicated to EFCC by his lawyers.
Another date was agreed between the EFCC and Peters’ lawyers for him to honour the invitation, but a day before the agreed date, the EFCC raided his office premises and made some arrests.
Delivering his judgement, Justice Musa held that “Peters has never been charged with, nor tried for any criminal offence in any Court of law, nor has he ever jumped bail for any offence howsoever in Nigeria and cannot be declared wanted by administrative fiat, without any prior order or leave of Court”.
“The very act of declaring the Applicant (Benedict Peters) a WANTED PERSON on the official website of the 1st Respondent (EFCC) without any prior order or leave of a Court of competent jurisdiction to that effect is unlawful, illegal, wrongful, ultra vires, unconstitutional and constitutes a flagrant violation of his Fundamental rights,” Musa ruled.
The ruling by Justice Musa of the FCT High Court sums it up. Declaring a person wanted is not and cannot be done arbitrarily and at the whim and caprices of the security agencies.
Security agencies cannot afford to be seen as making a mockery of due process and the rule of law by always declaring ‘innocent’ people wanted without a valid court injunction. Law enforcement agencies should not be seen as flouting the very laws they are supposed to uphold.