LAGOS (AFP) â€“ A Nigerian court on Thursday said intelligence agents broke the law when they seized the passport of ousted central bank governor Lamido Sanusi and ordered the government to pay damages and publicly apologise.
Sanusi was suspended on February 20, less than four months before his terms was set to expire, after accusing the powerful state oil firm of stealing nearly $20 billion (14.5 billion euros) of public funds.
Hours after the suspension was announced, Sanusi returned to Lagos from a regional bankers meeting in Niger and was met by intelligence agents at the airport who confiscated his passport.
The ex-central bank boss immediately filed a complaint claiming that his rights had been breached.
At a hearing at the Federal High court in Lagos, judge Ibrahim Buba ruled that the actions of the Directorate of State Services (DSS) â€œdeserve condemnationâ€ and ordered it to return Sanusiâ€™s passport immediately.
The DSS â€œhas no power to seize the passport of any citizenâ€ without due process, Buba added.
He ordered Nigeria to pay Sanusi 50 million naira ($300,000) in damages and issue a public apology.
Defending the DSS actions, justice ministry lawyers suggested that Sanusiâ€™s passport was taken because there was evidence that he had financed terrorism.
Buba said the state lawyers had mentioned the allegation as â€œan afterthoughtâ€, noting that Sanusi has not been charged with any crimes.
President Goodluck Jonathan said Sanusi was removed for â€œfinancial recklessnessâ€, allegations the ex-central bank boss has fiercely denied.
Sanusi, whose tenure had been applauded by economists in Nigeria and abroad, has said he was removed because of his vocal criticism of government corruption and perceptions that he was loyal to leading opposition figures.
Last month, lawmakers approved the former head of Zenith Bank Godwin Emefiele as the new central bank chief.