A Federal High Court in Lagos has ordered the Federal Government, the State Security Service and the police to immediately release the passport of the suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Lamido Sanusi.
The court, in a judgment it delivered on Thursday, also directed the respondents, including the police, to pay N50m to him as exemplary damages for unlawfully detaining him and seizing his passport.
Justice Ibrahim Buba delivered the judgment in the fundamental rights enforcement suit instituted by Sanusi following his arrest, detention, and seizure of his passport on February 20, 2014.
The court dismissed the allegation of terrorism financing as the basis for arresting him and seizing his passport. It described the allegation as an afterthought.
He therefore ordered the respondents to “jointly and severally” pay N50m to Sanusi and issue a public apology to him for their actions.
The judge, who granted eight out of the nine prayers of the applicant, only refrained from granting an order of perpetual injunction restraining the law enforcement agencies from arresting, harassing or intimidating him without recourse to the law.
He held that such order was not necessary as the applicant could always return to the court if any form of rights infringement arose in the future.
The judge, who earlier in his judgment, dismissed the respondents’ preliminary objection to the suit, held that the respondents, acting through the SSS “do not have power to forcefully withdraw and seize the applicant’s passport for any reason.”
“An order is made restraining the respondents, their agents, privies, representatives or other law enforcement agencies of the government of the federation from further interference with or violation of the applicant’s right to personal liberty, freedom of movement and right to personal liberty,” he held.
The judge declared that the respondents, especially the SSS had acted without compliance with Section 5(1) of Passport (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, Cap 343 Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
This provision, according to him, empowers only the Minister of Interior to seize or cancel a person’s passport on certain conditions.
He stated that the respondents’ acts constituted an infringement of the applicant’s rights as guaranteed under section 35 and 41 of the 1999 Constitution.
Buba added that their acts also violated Articles 6 and 12 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap A9 LFN, 2004.
The police, through their counsel, David Abuo, had during the hearing of the case, said they had no case against Sanusi and were not aware of any allegations against him.
The judge held that his detention “without any allegation of commission of crime or charge” amounted to the restriction of his personal liberty and unlawful violation of his rights to personal liberty.
Buba agreed with Sanusi’s counsel, Kola Awodein (SAN), that the respondents gave conflicting reasons for the arrest of the applicant and for the seizure of his passport.
“The first (the Attorney-General of the Federation) and the third (the SSS) are not on the same page,” he held.
“The court observes that surely, it either there is no synergy between the respondents or the respondents are only singing discordant tunes as afterthought,” the judge added.
Buba said that the respondents failed to put any material before the court to back their allegations. He added that the respondents had “nothing to offer” against Sanusi’s denial.
Affirming that Sanusi had successfully proved his case, the judge said, “the applicant has made out a case of rights infringement.”
The judge had earlier in his judgment dismissed the preliminary objection filed on behalf of the Federal Government by the Attorney-General of the Federation.
Officers of the SSS had on February 20 arrested Sanusi and seized his passport at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos after arriving in the country from the Niger Republic.
His passport was seized shortly after he was suspended by President Goodluck Jonathan as CBN governor.
Counsel for the AGF, Dr. Fabian Ajogwu (SAN), had through the notice of preliminary objection, which was also adopted by the SSS and the police, urged the court to dismiss Sanusi’s suit for want of jurisdiction.
Ajogwu had argued that by the virtue of Section 254 (c)(1) of the 1999 Constitution, only the National Industrial Court had the jurisdiction to hear the suit because it was employment-related.
But Justice Buba affirmed jurisdiction to hear the matter and held that the matter was not labour or labour-related, but simply a case of passport seizure.
The judge said, “This is not a labour or labour-related matter. There is no relief relating to employment. There is no relief inextricably tied to employment other than the seizure of passport.
“This court can only come to the irresistible conclusion that this preliminary objection is misconceived, lacks merit and it is hereby dismissed.”
SSS spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar, said the service would appeal the judgment while the All Progressives Congress welcomed the verdict, saying it was the triumph of the rule of law.
“The judgment shows that there are sufficient laws in our statue books to protect the rights of individual citizens. It is for our Bench to have the courage to do the right thing,” it said through its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed.
The APC added that the verdict should also “serve as a lesson to our law enforcement officers to know that, the fact that one has fallen out of favour, is not an excuse for them to abuse people’s rights with impunity.