The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Tuesday, imposed N2million fine on the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) over its lawyers’ absence from the post-judgement proceedings initiated by Peter Odili, a former Rivers State, to enforce the court’s order for the release of his seized passport.
NIS operatives had seized Mr Odili’s passport at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport in Abuja upon his arrival from a trip to the United Kingdom on 20 June, 2021.
Dissatisfied with the seizure, Mr Odili, who said the reason for the seizure was not disclosed to him, sued the NIS and its Comptroller-General to retrieve his passport.
But, in a judgement last October, the judge, Inyang Ekwo, ordered the NIS to immediately release Mr Odili’s passport.
Mr Ekwo had described the action of the NIS as “illegal and unconstitutional,” adding, “No citizen of this country should be treated like this, irrespective of class or social status.”
Despite the subsisting orders, the NIS has continued withholding Mr Odili’s passport.
The development compelled Mr Odili to return to the court, complaining about the service’s serial violations of the court’s orders.
Adedayo Adedipe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), representing Mr Odili, informed the court at Tuesday’s proceedings that the NIS “chose to treat the orders of the court with levity, contempt and disdain.”
The senior lawyer noted that it was regrettable the respondents had shown utter disrespect for the judicial process.
“Until lawyers are held accountable, we are not going to make progress in this country,” Mr Adedipe lamented of the NIS’ lawyer’s conduct in handling the suit.
The court had at the last sitting ordered the NIS, through its lawyer, Jimoh Adamu, to appear in court, but the order was ignored.
Ruling on the consistent absence of the service, the court held that the respondents (NIS and its Comptroller-General) had been given “reasonable and ample opportunity to comply with the orders of this court.”
The judge recalled that “the respondents have not complied with the orders of this court to release the international passport of the applicant (Mr Odili) as ordered by this court.”
“Consequently, I make an order directing the respondents to pay the cost of N2 million to the applicant (Mr Odili) for making the applicant come to court when they knew that they were not going to be in court.”
Judge orders disciplinary action against NIS lawyer
Mr Ekwo further directed the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), who is also a respondent in the suit, to “take disciplinary action against Jimoh Adamu, who is the lawyer to the respondent, for his unprofessional conduct in the handling of this case.”
Thereafter, the suit was adjourned till January 21, 2022, for the NIS to show cause why further orders should not be made against them.
The former Rivers State governor said in his fundamental rights enforcement suit which he instituted against NIS and its comptroller-general that his passport was seized from him at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport in Abuja for undisclosed reasons.
He claimed the passport numbered B50031305 was seized from him on June 20 by NIS operatives upon his return to Nigeria from the United Kingdom where he had gone for his medicals.
He said his traveling documents were checked and returned to him, but while waiting for his luggage, an official of NIS demanded his passport for a routine check.
According to the ex-governor, he gave the passport to the official who never returned it.
He claimed to be a law-abiding and senior Nigerian citizen with no record to warrant the seizure of the passport from him.
He prayed the court to compel the two respondents to release the passport to him and issue an order of perpetual injunction against the respondents “from further harrassing, embarrassing, intimidating or interfering with his fundamental right to freedom of movement.”
However, the NIS said in its defence that the former governor’s passport was seized based on a request of the EFCC.
The anti-graft agency had attempted to prosecute Mr Odili for corruption after he completed his second and final term as governor in 2007, but was barred by a judge of the Federal High Court, Ibrahim Bawa, who issued an order of perpetual injunction shielding him from trial.
The NIS, through its lawyer, Jimoh Adamu, tendered a letter by EFCC requesting NIS to seize the passport on the basis that the ex-governor was on a watch list.
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