By Alex Enumah
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Monday ordered the immediate release of the international passport of former Rivers State Governor, Dr Peter Odili, seized by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS).
Justice Inyang Ekwo made the order in a judgment he delivered in a suit by Odili challenging the action of the NIS.
Justice Ekwo, in the judgment, did not only hold that the action of the NIS was unlawful but described it as illegal, unconstitutional and ultra vires.
The judge agreed with Odili’s lawyer, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), that the NIS and its Comptroller General lacked the constitutional powers to seize the said documents.
The defendants had predicated their actions on the claim that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had placed the former governor on its watchlist.
In his decision, Justice Ekwo noted that a Federal High Court in a judgment delivered on March 5, 2008, issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from investigating Odili over his tenure as Rivers State Governor between 1999 and 2007.
According to Ekwo, until the order is voided and set aside by a competent court of records, the order remains binding on EFCC, its operatives and agents.
“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,” he said.
While ordering that the passport with number B5003305 be immediately returned to the former governor, Justice Ekwo ordered the NIS to tender an apology to Odili in writing for the embarrassment caused him with the seizure of his passport.
Justice Ekwo thereafter granted an order of perpetual injunction against the NIS 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 NIS 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 eight-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 travelling documents were checked and given back to him and that while waiting for his luggage, an official of NIS 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 an 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.