Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, leader of a Shia Muslim group, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), and his wife, Zeenah, have sued the Director General of the State Security Service (SSS) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) for N4billion over the seizure of their passports.
In their separate suits filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja, the plaintiffs said their passports were seized from them after they returned from a government-supervised medical trip to India in 2019.
Mr El-Zakzaky and his wife were then standing trial at the Kaduna State High Court on charges of culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, among charges filed against them in connection to the bloody clash between IMN members and soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna State, in December 2015.
The couple, who were freed of the charges with the Kaduna court declaring them not to have any case to answer in a July 28 ruling, said, in their rights enforcement suits, that the Indian trip “was supervised and controlled” by the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the SSS.
The trip “was aborted for reasons best known to the federal government,” the couple said, adding that their passports and other travelling documents were then taken from them “and kept in the custody of the respondents.”
Following the Kaduna court’s ruling, the couple’s lawyer, Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), wrote separate letters to the NIA, the SSS, and the AGF, demanding the release of their passports allegedly seized after the Indian trip.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the NIA denied holding their passports in its reply to Mr Falana’s letter.
The couple said in their suit that while NIA replied to their letter, both the SSS and the AGF ignored them.
‘Barred from travelling abroad’
According to them, they subsequently approached the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) to verify the status of their passports “to enable them to travel for urgent medical attention” only to be told that “there is a restriction” placed by the SSS stopping them from travelling outside Nigeria.
NIS officials informed them that their passports and other travel documents seized from them cannot be replaced unless the restrictions are lifted and the passports released to them, the couple said.
Their lawyer argued through their suits that the seizure of their passports and travel restrictions placed on them, actions which they attributed to SSS and the AGF, violated their rights to “freedom of movement guaranteed by Section 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) and Article 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Act (CAP A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”
The couple, in their suits filed on October 14, urged the court to declare that the seizure of their passports was “illegal and unconstitutional.”
The plaintiffs also argued that the action of the SSS and the AGF violated their fundamental right to “freedom of movement guaranteed by Section 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) and Article 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Act (CAP A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”
The plaintiffs also urged the court to declare that the “Red Flag Travelling Restrictions” placed on their passports and land borders by the respondents without a court order is illegal and unconstitutional as it violates their right to fair hearing guaranteed by Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
They, therefore, asked the court to declare that the refusal of the SSS and the AGF to allow them to travel abroad for medical treatment “constitutes a threat to their lives guaranteed by Section 33 of the Nigerian constitution”.
The “Red Flag Travel Restrictions” placed on Mr El-Zakzaky’s passport with number A50578740 and that of Zeenah numbered A50578739 violates their rights, their lawyer argued.
Each of them asked the court to order the respondents to pay them N2billion, totalling N4billion, “as general and exemplary damages” for the violation of their “rights to freedom of movement, fair hearing and property”.
They also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents from further violating their “fundamental rights in any manner whatsoever and howsoever without lawful justification.”
The couple, who were released from custody after the court ruling freeing them of charges, said, they were “currently” facing deteriorating health conditions.
The said in a medical report dated September 24, 2021, a doctor, Ramatu Abubakar, a consultant family physician of the Department of family medicine, Barau Dikko Hospital, Kaduna, “advised access expedient medical attention at an adequate medical facility outside the country”.
They said that in another medical report dated October 1, 2021, Kazim Dhalla, a consultant ophthalmologist, “reiterated the imperativeness of the medical attention” they both required.
Both reports were said to be attached to the suit as Exhibits 5 and 6.
The respondents – the SSS and the AGF – have yet to file their defence.
History of legal battle
This is not the first time the couple would be instituting legal action against the government for illegal detention since the December 2015 bloody clash between IMN members and soldiers in the convoy of the then Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai.
Following a suit instituted by the couple, through Mr Falana, to challenge their illegal detention, the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered their release within 45 days in a judgement delivered on December 2, 2016.
The judge, Gabriel Kolawole, who has since been elevated to the Court of Appeal, also ordered the federal government to provide them with accommodation, their residence having been allegedly burnt down by the Army and the Kaduna State government after the December 2015 incident.
The court also awarded N50million as compensation for the illegal arrest and detention of the couple.
The judgement was never complied with. Instead of releasing the couple, the Kaduna State government filed the now-dismissed charges against them in May 2018.
Since the December 2015 incident, there has been a recurrence of bloody clashes between IMN members and security operatives in Abuja and other places.
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