The Federal High Court in Abuja has fixed October 18 to determine the legality of the seizure of a former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili’s passport by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).
The judge, Inyang Ekwo, on Friday, fixed the date for judgement after parties made closing arguments in the case filed by Mr Odili to challenge the passport seizure.
NIS operatives had seized Mr Odili’s passport upon his arrival from a trip to the United Kingdom on 20 June.
Displeased with the seizure, Mr Odili sued the NIS and its Comptroller General to retrieve his passport.
However, the NIS said in its defence that the former governor’s passport was seized based on a request of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which claimed to have him on a watchlist.
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 the trial.
Meanwhile, the legal teams of the former governor and NIS adopted their final written addresses during Friday’s hearing.
Mr Odili’s lawyer, Ifedayo Adedipe, said his client’s passport was unlawfully seized from him.
He said in the absence of any court order, the seizure violated the ex-governor’s property to own property and freedom of movement.
He added it was baseless for NIS to claim Mr Odili was on EFCC’s watchlist as he had neither been interrogated for any crime nor charged with any offence.
“The applicant is a senior citizen of Nigeria and he is 73 years old, a former deputy governor, a two-term governor of Rivers State, and an accomplished medical doctor as well as a holder of national honours.
“EFCC is not a body that can instruct immigration service to seize passport in place of a court order,” Mr Adedipe said.
He urged the court to reject a letter from the EFCC “exhibited by NIS” to justify the seizure of the passport. He said the letter could not take the place of a court order.
But the NIS, through its lawyer, Jimoh Adamu, insisted on Friday that Mr Odili’s passport was impounded on EFCC’s request.
Mr Adamu tendered a letter by EFCC requesting NIS to seize the passport.
He also urged the court to reject the case because the name on the seized passport did not correspond with the name of Peter Odili that instituted the court case.
He urged the court to dismiss the suit.
The NIS, in the affidavit deposed to by Okwe Ernest of the Legal Department of the agency, claimed the former governor was not entitled to the prayers contained in his suit.
Mr Ernest said NIS’ action was a result of collaborations of all the federal government’s security agencies.
He said since the passport was seized by the NIS, Mr Odili had not made any attempt to demand it.
The NIS, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the suit for being premature.
The judge, thereafter, fixed October 18 for judgement.
Meanwhile, Mr Odili 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 travelling 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 harassing, embarrassing, intimidating or interfering with his fundamental right to freedom of movement.”