By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
Justice Inyang Eden Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, to immediately release the international passport of former Rivers State governor, Dr Peter Odili which was unlawfully seized from him in June this year.
The judge held that the action of NIS was not only unlawful but illegal, unconstitutional and ultra vires.
Justice Ekwo in the judgment in a suit filed by Odili to challenge the seizure of the passport upheld the submission of his counsel, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe SAN that the Immigration Service and its Comptroller-General lacked the constitutional powers to do what they did.
The reason adduced by the NIS 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 agents.
With the existing valid order of 2008, the Judge said that the NIS 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 constitutes 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 (Service) in this matter is condemnable as it is made in violation and disobedience to valid order of court.”
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 Immigration Service 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 passport 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 the NIS demanded for the passport, claiming to do a routine 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 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.