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Court rebukes NIS over seizure of Odili’s passport

"I found that the seizure of the applicant's International passport was wrongful, illegal, contemptuous, arbitrary and above all unconstitutional".- Justice Ekwo

By Olalekan Awojodu
Abuja

The Federal High Court on Monday ordered the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, to immediately release the International passport of former Rivers State governor, Dr Peter Odili. This was the verdict that Justice Inyang Eden Ekwo handed down.

Gavel International reports that Odili’s passport was unlawfully seized from him in July this year, an action which prompted him to seek relief in court.

While uphelding the submission of Chief Ifedayo Adedipe SAN, counsel to Odili, the judge held that the action of Immigration was not only unlawful but illegal, unconstitutional and ultra vires. He added that the Immigration and its Comptroller General lacked the constitutional powers to do what they did.

The reason adduced by Immigration that Odili’s passport was impounded because he was on the watchlist of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to justify the passport seizure was rejected by the court on the ground that such use of power is not known to any law in the country.

Justice Ekwo noted the Federal High Court judgment of March 5, 2008 in which an order of perpetual injunction was granted against EFCC, prohibiting the anti-graft agency from investigating Odili on the activities of Rivers State government between 1999 and 2007 when he held sway as the executive governor.

The Judge held that until the order is voided and set aside by a competent court of records, the order remains binding on EFCC, its operatives and agents.

With the existing valid order of 2008, the Judge said that the Immigration lacked validity on what it did and that its action is contemptuous and should not be allowed to stand.

“I found that the seizure of the applicant’s International passport was wrongful, illegal, contemptuous, arbitrary and above all unconstitutional.

“From the evidence which has not been controverted in this case, the seizure of the applicant’s passport upon his return from his medical trip was done in a manner that dehumanized, belittled, harassed and derided him.

“Declaration is hereby made that the seizure of the applicant’s international passport without any reason is illegal and constitute an infringement on his fundamental human rights to freedom of movement and to own moveable property as guaranteed under sections 41 and 44 of the 1999 constitution.

“An order is hereby made directing the respondents to immediately release and return the applicant’s international passport.

“The action of immigration in this matter is condemnable as it is made in violation and disobedience to valid order of court.”

While ordering that the passport with numbers B5003305 be immediately returned to the former governor, Justice Ekwo ordered Immigration to tender apology to Odili in writing for the embarrassment caused him with the seizure of his passport.

Justice Ekwo thereafter granted order of perpetual injunction against Immigration restraining it and its agents from harassing, intimidating or infringing on the fundamental rights of Odili to freedom of movement inside or outside Nigeria.

Odili had dragged the Nigeria Immigration Service and its Comptroller General before the federal high court in Abuja, challenging the seizure of his password at the Nnamdi Azikwe International airport in Abuja for undisclosed reasons.

In the fundamental rights enforcement suit, he had claimed that the international passport with numbers B50031305 was seized from him on June 20, 2021 by operatives of the Immigration Service and has since been withheld.

In an 8 paragraph affidavit he personally deposed to, the former governor claimed that the passport was seized from him upon his return to Nigeria from the United Kingdom where he had gone for his medicals.

Odili averred that on his arrival, his traveling documents were checked and given back to him and that while waiting for his luggage, an official of Immigration demanded for the passport on claim of routing check which he complied with but that the document has since been withheld.

He claimed to be a senior citizen of Nigeria, law abiding and had not done anything to warrant the seizure of the passport from him.

Odili prayed the court to compel the two respondents to release the passport to him and to grant order of perpetual injunction against them to prevent his further harassment, embarrassment, intimidation or interfering with his fundamental right to freedom of movement.

The former governor also demanded a written apology for the embarrassment caused him by the Immigration.

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