The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday ordered the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) to immediately release the travel passport of former governor of Rivers, Dr Peter Odili.
Delivering judgment in a suit on breach of fundamental rights filed by Odili, Justice Inyang Ekwo held that the NIS had no legal justification to seize the former governor’s passport.
Justice Ekwo also declared that the seizure of Odili’s passport was contemptuous and constituted an infringement on his fundamental rights.
He also made an order restraining the NIS from further arresting, intimidating or harassing Odili.
The judge also ordered the NIS to write a letter of apology to Odili for embarrassing him in the manner in which his passport was seized.
He added that the claim by the NIS that Odili’s passport was seized because he was on EFCC watch list was done in violation and disobedience of an earlier court order.
He further said that the claim was not backed by any evidence for the court to consider.
“The reason given by the respondent for the seizure of the passport is that he was on the watch list of the EFCC.
“This claim is not backed by any evidence showing that the EFCC requested the seizure of his passport.
“It is settled law that any pleading that is not backed by evidence is of no effect,’’ the judge held.
Justice Ekwo also held that Odili tendered a judgment in evidence showing that the EFCC had no legal backing to order that his passport be seized.
The judge equally dismissed the claim by the NIS that the person who instituted the suit was different from the person whose passport was seized saying it was one and the same person.
He said this was verified by comparing the photograph on the travel passport with the one on the process filed in court.
The court further held that the action of the NIS was primitive and a humiliation of Odili and that no Nigerian deserved to be treated in such manner regardless of class or status.
“The travel passport is not a document that can just be taken away from a citizen by the whims and caprices of any person.
“Such seizure must be done in strict compliance with the law, Justice Ekwo ruled.
According to him, law enforcement agencies must understand that they are first and foremost agents of the law and must act in accordance with the law.
Odili, who was governor of Rivers from 1999 to 2007, had approached the court to challenge the seizure of his travel passport by the NIS.
He told the court that his passport with number B50031305 was seized from him on June 20 by NIS officials for undisclosed reasons, shortly after he landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.
He said the NIS had since refused to release the passport to him.
In an eight-paragraph affidavit to which the former governor deposed, Odili said he landed at the airport from the United Kingdom where he had gone for his routine medical check-up.
He averred that upon his arrival, his travel documents were checked and returned to him.
He added that while he awaited his luggage to be cleared, however, an Immigration official approached him and demanded for the passport on claim of routine check.
Odili told the court that he complied and handed his documents to the official who went away with his passport and failed to return it.
The former governor said that he is a law-abiding senior citizen of Nigeria that did not do anything to warrant the seizure of his passport, and prayed the court to intervene in the matter.
He prayed the court to compel the NIS to release the passport to him, and order a perpetual injunction stopping it from further harassing, embarrassing, intimidating or interfering with his fundamental right to freedom of movement.
Odili equally prayed the court to compel the NIS to write a letter of apology to him for the embarrassment it caused him.