LAGOS â€” Suspended Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, yesterday, secured a major victory in his legal battle against the Federal Government as a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, declared as unlawful, his arrest and seizure of his international passport on February 20.
The court in a judgment delivered by Justice Ibrahim Buba on the suit filed by Sanusi for the enforcement of his fundamental rights also awarded him N50 million as damages. The court further ordered the Federal Government to tender a public apology to him.
Respondents in the suit were the Attorney-General of the Federation, Inspector-General of Police and Department of State Services, DSS.
DSS to appeal judgment
Meanwhile, the Department of State Services, DSS, had served notice last night that it was appealing the judgment.
Deputy Director, Public Relations of DSS, Marilyn Ogar, confirmed the decision of the security agency to Vanguard.
â€œWe are appealing the judgment immediately,â€ Ogar said but did not give details.
Earlier, the Police had said that they would not comment on it until it got the certified true copy of the verdict.
Force PRO, Mr Frank Mbah, said that the force was unaware of the judgment as at press time.
The court first ruled on the preliminary objection by the Attorney-General of the Federation, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit, which it dismissed.
The AGF had argued that the suit was wrongly instituted before the Federal High Court since the matter bordered on the employment of the applicant and so, should be within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court.
Dismissing the objection, the court held that the provisions of Section 11 of the Labour Act, cannot take away the jurisdiction bestowed on the Federal High Court by the Constitution, noting that the provisions of Section 251 of the constitution vest jurisdiction on the Federal High Court, to entertain matters touching on enforcement of fundamental human rights.
The court said the applicant had brought the suit under the provisions of Chapter 4 of the Constitution, seeking an enforcement of his rights, and so, is not a dispute relating to his terms of employment.
According to the court, â€œthe averment by respondent that the matter is labour related is far from the truth. The first respondent is trying to set up another case for the applicant. It is a case of â€˜shifting the goal postâ€™ and making a case for the applicant.
â€œThe fact deposed in the applicantâ€™s originating summons and his affidavit speaks for itself. It is a suit for enforcement of his fundamental right which is recognisable by the Federal High Court. The court allows any person who perceives that his rights are likely to be infringed on to approach the court for redress.â€
The court consequently dismissed the preliminary objection and held that it had the jurisdiction to hear and determine the applicantâ€™s suit.
Respondents fail to answer questions raised
On the main suit, the court held that from the totality of averments in the applicantâ€™s originating summons, there was no doubt that the respondents had failed to answer all the questions raised.
The court noted that the first and third respondents presented conflicting averments in their counter affidavits, which shows that they were not on the same page on the issue and had acted in bad faith.
The court declared: â€œThe averment of the second respondent is frugal, as it stated clearly that they had not been briefed by anyone to investigate or arrest the applicant.
â€œThe first respondent laboured to submit that the applicant was not entitled to a grant of perpetual injunction, but this court is of the opinion that for every infraction, the applicant is entitled to a relief.
â€œThis court believes that the action of the respondents in this suit, deserves condemnation and exemplary damages. This court has no doubt that the applicant has made out his case against the respondents, and so, resolve all the issues in favour of the applicant.
â€œFor the avoidance of doubt, the court makes the following declaratory orders:
â€œA declaration that the first respondent acting through the officers of the third respondent or its privies, does not have any power to forcefully withdraw and keep the passport of the applicant for any reason whatsoever.
â€œA declaration that the respondent does not have any power to forcefully withdraw and seize the passport of the applicant without compliance with section 5 (1) of the Passport Miscellanous Provisions Act 2004.
â€œA declaration that the forceful seizure and detention of applicantâ€™s passport, is an unlawful violation of his right to freedom of movement, enshrined in section 35 of the 1999 Constitution and article 12 of the Charter on Human and Peoples Right Act.
â€œA declaration that the conduct of respondents acting through the officers of the DSS, in forcefully arresting the applicant without due allegation or suspicion of a crime, is an unlawful violation of his right to personal liberty.
â€œAn order of this court is hereby made restraining the respondent, their agents, privies or any other law enforcement agency of the respondents, from further interfering, harassing or infringing on the personal liberty of the applicant.
â€œAn order for immediate release to the applicant of his international passport forcefully withdrawn and seized on February 20, is hereby made. Having granted a restraining order, the order of perpetual injunction cannot be granted because for every infringement, the applicant has a right to come to court.
â€œAn exemplary damages against the respondents jointly and severally is also awarded in the sum of N50 million only.
â€œAn order is also made directing the respondent to make a public apology to the applicant for unlawful arrest, detention and harassment.â€
Commendations greet judgment
Meanwhile, commendations across the country yesterday greeted the court judgment
Reacting to the judgment, a member of the inner bar, Mr Sebastian Hon, SAN said: â€œThe Supreme Court had in the case of Director of SSS vs Agbakoba, held that it is wrong for security agencies to impound anybodyâ€™s international passport because it infringes on the personâ€™s right of freedom of movement which is guaranteed by the constitution.
â€œI believe that the Federal High Court in Lagos must have drawn strength from that judgment. Mind you, the award of the N50 million damages may not actually be because he was detained or interrogated few hours by security agents, but because of the continued withholding of his passport.
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Jubril Okutekpa, said: â€œThe issue of seizure of passport was settled in the case of Agbakoba vs the SSS. We are not in a military regime. Judges have been authorized by the constitution to give judgment irrespective of whose ox is gored. We must commend the judge for being bold enough to interpret the constitution as it is.
â€œThe constitution guarantees freedom of movement to every citizen. How can that be possible if security operatives seize peopleâ€™s passports on mere ground that it is investigating one allegation or the other?â€
In his reaction, Yunus Ustaz Usman, SAN said: â€œI have not read the judgment so it will not be fair for me to start criticizing it deeply at this time. However, I hold the view that Nigeria is not under a military rule. Therefore, the constitution and its provisions remain sacrosanct.â€
Human rights crusader, Mr Bamidele Aturu, in his reaction commended the judgment but expressed worry that the Federal Government may not learn any lesson from the episode.
Aturu said: â€œI hope that will teach the Federal Government a lesson not to violate peoplesâ€™ rights. If they violate peoplesâ€™ right and they go to court, then the court will act to defend citizensâ€™ right.
â€œThat is what I can say about the judgement. It should be a lesson to them not infringe on peoplesâ€™ right but I know that at the end of the day, government does not learn any lesson but I hope they will learn from this.â€
CNPP applauds ruling
The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, also applauded the judgment. Reacting to the court verdict, via telephone conversation with Vanguard in Abuja, National Publicity Secretary of CNPP, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, said the verdict was a victory for rule of law.
He said: â€œIt is a good judgment and welcome development.â€
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