Senate President Bukola Saraki, Senators Ben Murray-Bruce and Dino Melaye should submit themselves to the police for investigation for alleged breach of the public peace, a Federal High Court in Abuja ruled yesterday.
Justice Okon Abang, in a judgment, declined a prayer by the three senators for an order nullifying the October 6 and 8, 2018 letters of invitation sent to them by the police.
The police invited the trio in relation to their conduct during October 5, last year public protest in Abuja by some leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), shortly after the party lost the last the Osun State governorship election.
Justice Abang said the police, by virtue of the provision of Section 4 of the Police Act, was empowered to invite anyone, irrespective of status, while carrying outs itheir statutory functions of detecting and investigating crimes.
The judgment was in a fundamental rights enforcement suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1095/2018 and filed on October 8, 2018 by the Senators, in which they claimed the invitation letters from the police breached their rights.
The judge said the invitations sent to Saraki, Melaye and Murray-Bruce by the police did not amount to harassment and intimidation, as claimed by them.
Justice Abang was also of the view that the police, having alleged, in its response to the suit, that the PDP’s protest was dispersed following the protesters’ riotous and criminal conduct, it was within its (police’s) powers to invite suspects for questioning.
The judge added that the police invitation extended to the applicants remained valid, subsisting and must be honoured “without fail”.
Justice Abang said the applicants could only complain of rights violation depending on the outcome of their honouring of the police invitation.
The judge said: “The court cannot restrain the police from carrying out their statutory function; and in this case, they have acted within the provision of Section 4 of the Police Act.
“They issued the letters dated October 6 and 8 inviting the applicants for questioning over their roles in the procession of the PDP that held on October 5, 2018.
“The police acted in public and national interests. The letters of invitation dated October 6 and 8, 2018 remain valid and subsisting. The applicants shall respond and report to the police without fail.
“It is the outcome of the applicants honouring the invitation that would determine if their rights have been violated; certainly not before honouring the invitation.”
Justice Abang dismissed the suit for lacking in merit and awarded N50, 000 cost against the senators.
In the earlier part of the ruling, the judge upheld the preliminary objection filed by the respondents and struck out the suit for being incompetent.
The judge had, however, decided to rule on the merit of the suit, in case the superior courts later hold that he was wrong to have struck out the case at the preliminary stage.
He said the suit was incompetent because it violated Order 2(4) of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules.
The judge noted that the provision of the rules expects the three applicants to file a separate suits and separate affidavits personally deposed to in support.
The judge observed that Saraki, Melaye and Murray-Bruce, not only failed to file separate suits, but also failed to personally depose to the affidavit filed in support of their joint suit.
“The affidavit in support of this suit, which was deposed to by Efut Okoi, a legal practioner in the law firm of Mahmud Magaji & Co., amounted to documentary hearsay,” the judge said.
He equally said since the applicants did not show that they were in custody, or their movements restricted when the suit was filed on October 8, 2018, the situation did not fall under the exception under the rules which would have allowed another person to be able to depose to the supporting affidavit on behalf of the plaintiffs.
The judge said: “The applicants ought to have filed separate suits. This suit is in contravention Order 2(4) of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules and it is liable to be struck out.”
Saraki, Melaye and Murray-Bruce had urged the court to declare the police’s invitation letters, and the act of policemen, using tear gas to disperse their protest, violated their rights under sections 34, 35, 39 and 41 of the Constitution, as well as Article 11 of the African Charter on Peoples’ and Human Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
They prayed for, among others in the suit, an award of N500m as “exemplary and pecuniary damages.”
In their response, the respondents – the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the Commissioner of Police, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command, said over 100 hoodlums participated in the protest, in the course of which the procession allegedly made a “riotous attempt” to force their way into the police headquarters.
The respondents accused Saraki, Melaye and Murray-Bruce of unlawfully obstructing streets, causing a disturbance of public peace, unlawful assembly, and committing felony among other crimes.
They stated that it was within their power to invite persons suspected to have committed a crime for questioning.