By Uche Amunike
The Federal High Court, Abuja has mandated the Nigeria Immigration Service, (NIS), to release former River State Governor, Dr Peter Odili’s travel passport with immediate effect.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, gave this charge while delivering judgment in a suit on breach of fundamental rights, filed by the former governor and maintained that the Nigerian Immigrations Service(NIS) had no legal justification to seize Dr Peter Odili’s travel passport.
He went on to describe the seizure of the former governor’s passport as contemptuous and an infringement on his fundamental rights.
Justice Ekpo also gave a restraining order to the Nigerian Immigration Service from further arresting, intimidating or harassing Dr Odili henceforth.
Furthermore, he ordered the NIS to write a letter of apology to Odili for all the embarrassment he faced as a result of the manner in which his passport was seized.
He made it clear that the claim by the NIS that Peter Odili’s travel passport was seized because he was on the EFCC watch list was a total violation and disobedience of an earlier court order, adding that the claim was not backed by any evidence for the court to look into.
According to him, it is settled law that any pleading that is not backed by evidence is of no effect.
Justice Ekwo explained that the judgement in evidence submitted showed that the EFCC had no legal backing to seize Peter Odili’s travel passport.
He also dismissed the claim by the Nigerian Immigration Service that the person who filed the suit was different from the person whose passport was seized, saying that it was one and the same person.
He submitted that this was verified by comparing the photograph on Peter Odili’s travel passport with the one on the process filed in court.
The Court also ruled that the action of the Nigerian Immigration Service was primitive and humiliating for Odili and that no Nigerian deserved to be treated in such a manner, no matter their class or status, adding that the travel passport is not a document that can be taken away from its owner by the whims and caprices of any person, except in strict compliance with the law.
He called on enforcement agencies to understand that they are agents of the law who are expected to act according to the law.
Recall that Odili approached the court, challenging the seizure of his travel passport with number B50031305 by the NIS on June 20th for undisclosed reasons shortly after landing at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, upon his return from the United Kingdom where he went for his routine medical check-up.
He explained that an immigration official approached him while he was waiting for his luggage and demanded for his passport claiming that he wanted to do a routine check. He complied and handed it to the official who went away with it till date, firmly refusing to return it to him.
In the eight-paragraph affidavit which he deposed, he said he was a law abiding citizen that did nothing wrong to warrant the seizure of his passport and pleaded with the court to compel the NIS to release his passport to him, order a perpetual injunction stopping them from harassing him further and also to write a letter of apology to him for the embarrassment they caused him.
Thankfully, his demands were met today by the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.