The rights enforcement suit filed by a former Governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, to challenge the seizure of his passport by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) was stalled on Tuesday, at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that this was due to the absence of the NIS’ legal team in court.
When the matter was called, Mr Odili’s counsel, Ifedayo Adedipe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, told the judge, Inyang Ekwo, he was ready to proceed with the hearing.
There was, however, no counsel representing the NIS in court.
The trial judge said since the matter was coming before him for the first time, it was in the interest of justice to give the NIS an opportunity to be present in court.
“This matter is coming before the court for the first time, parties have exchanged pleadings and joined issues, but as the matter came up, the respondents are absent and not represented by counsel. It will be good to give them an opportunity to respond.
“The matter is adjourned at the instance of the respondents, and on the next adjourned date, the process of any party absent in court will be deemed as adopted,” the judge said.
He adjourned the matter till October 5 and ordered that hearing notices be issued to the parties.
‘Why Odili’s passport was seized’
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that the NIS had earlier told the court that the former governor was placed on the watch list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, ( EFCC).
A judge of the Federal High Court, Ibrahim Buba, had in 2007 issued a controversial order of perpetual injunction blocking Mr Odili, who was Rivers State governor between 1999 and 2007, from prosecution for corruption allegations levelled against him by the EFCC.
In response to Mr Odili’s fresh fundamental human rights suit challenging the seizure of his passport, NIS said in a counter-affidavit that it took the action because he had been placed on a watchlist based on EFCC’s request.
“The applicant’s passport was seized because he is on the service’s (NIS’) watch list as requested by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC),” the NIS’ counter-affidavit filed through its lawyer, Jimoh Adamu, read in part.
How my passport was seized – Odili
Giving details of how his passport was seized in his supporting affidavit, the former governor said his suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/965/2021, “In the early hours of Sunday, June 20, at about 5 am, I returned to Nigeria from the United Kingdom where I had gone for my medicals, through the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
“My travel documents, including my Nigerian passport No: B50031305, were checked and given back to me by the immigration officials.
“However, while waiting for my luggage, an official of the immigration service came over to me and demanded for my aforesaid passport.
“I demanded to know why he wanted it and he stated that it was for a routine check and that it will be given back to me the following day.
“No official explanation, other than the conversation, was given to me. I gave him the passport and up till now, same has not been returned to me.
“The seizure of my passport by the respondents has denied me movements in and out of Nigeria, thereby restricting my movement in violation of my constitutional right to freedom of movement.
“I know as a fact that I am a very senior citizen of Nigeria, law-abiding and I have done nothing to have warranted the seizure of my passport by the respondent”, Mr Odili stated.
He prayed the court to compel the respondents to release the passport to him and sought a perpetual injunction restraining the respondents from further harassing, embarrassing, intimidating or interfering with his fundamental right to freedom of movement.
The former governor also demanded a written apology from the NIS.