The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, Friday, set aside the judgment of Justice Yetunde Idowu of an Ikeja High Court, which awarded N25 million compensation to comic actor, Babatunde Omidina, aka Baba Suwe, after he was detained by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) for allegedly carrying narcotic substances in 2011.
The appellate court in its judgment delivered by Justice Rita Pemu described the N25 million compensation as baseless and pervasive and held that the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to preside over the fundamental human rights suit filed by Baba Suwe’s lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, in October 24, 2011.
Justice Pemu said it was only the Federal High Court that has the right to adjudicate on the matter more especially when it is a drug-related matter, adding that the NDLEA has the prerogative to keep the respondent in custody, while investigation was being carried out.
According to the judge, the NDLEA had good reasons to detain the comedian, adding that the N25 million compensation was uncalled for.
"The constitution stipulates the right to personal liberty. The result of the scan carried out on the respondent were in consonance with the appellant's suspicion.
"The appellant took note of the respondent's rights and that was why it applied for an extension of time to keep the respondent in custody which the Federal High Court presided over by retired Justice Okeke rightly granted.
The detention of the respondent is therefore not unreasonable," Justice Pemu held.
Justice Yetunde Idowu of an Ikeja High Court, Lagos in her judgment delivered on November 24, 2011, had ordered the agency to pay Baba Suwe N25 million for detention on suspicion of drug ingestion, as well as mandated the NDLEA to tender public apology to the actor through two national newspapers.
Baba Suwe was arrested by the NDLEA operatives at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, on October 12, 2011, on his way to Paris, France and was detained by the agency initially for three days during which period he defecated but no drug was found in his faeces.
The NDLEA, through its Director of Prosecution and Legal services, Mr. Femi Oloruntoba had earlier applied to the court for an order of Stay of Execution on her judgment delivered on November 24, 2011 pending the determination of the Appeal filed by the agency on December 6, 2011 against the judgment.
The agency, while moving the application before the court, then argued that the agency will be prevented from performing its statutory functions as well prosecute the appeal if it is made to pay the judgment sum of N25 million as it is half of its monthly available resources.
Oloruntoba contended that keeping Omidina in custody between October 12 and 21, 2011, on the suspicion of drug ingestion, did not violate his rights.
Reacting to the judgment, Baba Suwe's counsel, Bamide Aturu dismissed the NDLEA's appeal, even as he insisted that the exhibits relied on by the agency were legally worthless.
Aturu said the NDLEA misapplied Section 35(1)(c) of the constitution, adding that the law did not empower the agency to keep Omidina or any other Nigerian citizen in custody indefinitely based on a "mere reasonable suspicion" of having committed a crime.
"The appellant seems to be confused over Section 35(1)(c) of the Constitution. They relied on mere reasonable suspicion. You cannot hold somebody indefinitely without charging the person to court," Aturu added.