The suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Thursday won a major victory in his legal battle against the federal government since his ouster, as a Federal High Court ordered the government to return his seized international passport to him, stating that the terrorism charge preferred against was an afterthought.
Sanusi had filed a suit at the Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, seeking an order restraining the police and the Department of Security Service (DSS) from infringing on his fundamental human rights, following his detention and seizure of his passport at the Murtala Muhammadu Airport in Lagos on the day he was removed as the CBN governor.
Joined in the suit were the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Inspector General of Police (IG), and the DSS, as first, second, and third respondents respectively.
The SSS had hinged its decision to arrest Sanusi and confiscate his passport on allegations that he was aiding terrorists. However, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court ruled in Sanusi's favour and also asked the government to apologise to him for the seizure of his international passport by the DSS.
In his judgment, Justice Buba not only dismissed the preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the suit filed by Dr. Fabian Ajogwu (SAN) on behalf of the AGF, he also restrained the police, DSS and their privies from further harassing and arresting the suspended CBN governor.
The judge ordered the government to pay Sanusi N50 million as exemplary damages for the embarrassment he suffered from the seizure of his international passport and the brief detention he was subjected to at the airport.
In the judgment, which touched on every aspect of the reliefs sought by the suspended governor, the judge held that it was wrong for the DSS to have detained him before it began to look for evidence to support its action.
He stated that under the law, only the Minister of Interior could withdraw the international passport of a Nigerian and that this was not the situation in Sanusi's case.
He further held that without a passport, a Nigerian cannot exercise his right of free ingress and egress in and out of the country as provided for under Section 38 (1) of the constitution and that Sanusi had made a case for the infringement on his fundamental rights and that the averments of the DSS that the suspended governor was being investigated for financing terrorism was an afterthought.
He added that this was more so when Sanusi had denied the allegation and the DSS had nothing to say to counter his denial.
Justice Buba agreed with Sanusi that his affidavit contained the basis for him to bring this application, as there was evidence the act of infringement on his fundamental rights was still being carried out with the seizure of his international passport. He dismissed the preliminary objection of the AGF, saying that it was misconceived and lacked merit
He submitted that the questions for determination, the reliefs sought, and the averments in the 33-paragraph affidavit in support of the originating summons, clearly revealed that the claim of the suspended CBN governor was for an infringement on his fundamental human rights and not an employment matter as alleged by the AGF. While the AGF had argued that the CBN boss was being investigated for financial recklessness, the IG had said they were not aware that he was being investigated for any crime at all and that they did not arrest him.
On its part, the secret police claimed that the governor was being investigated for financing terrorism.
But the judge said it was the duty of the police to prevent and detect crime as provided under the Police Act and that since the police knew nothing about the investigation of the suspended CBN boss on such serious allegations as financing terrorism, it showed that there was either no synergy between the respondents or that the respondents were singing discordant tunes as an afterthought.
Justice Buba however refused to grant Sanusi a perpetual injunction restraining the police and DSS from arresting and harassing him, saying he could always come back to court for any infringement on his rights.
Ajogwu had argued that the suit was wrongly instituted before the Federal High Court, since the matter bordered on the employment of the applicant, and so, should be within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Industrial Court (NIC).
The lawyer also submitted that Sanusi's claim was constitutionally not grantable, as law enforcement agencies could not be perpetually restrained from carrying out their duties.
He added that there was an investigation that was being carried out on Sanusi by law enforcement agencies, apart from the numerous queries already issued him by the federal government.
"My Lord, this suit is speculative, hypocritical and an attempt to shield Sanusi from the machinery of the administration of justice, which the federal government has kick-started, so I urge the court to wash its hands off the suit and strike out same," Ajogwu argued.
But in his response, Sanusi's lawyer, Mr. Kola Awodein (SAN), said Section 251 of the constitution specifically vested the Federal High Court with jurisdiction over the case, because the operative words in the section said: "Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution."
The lawyer also maintained that Section 11 of the NIC Act, which vested the NIC with jurisdiction over such instant cases, was inconsistent with the constitution, to that extent, it was unconstitutional.
Awodein told the court that his client was not afraid of arrest, rather he just wanted the court to restrain the federal government from arresting him without following due process of the law.
He further stressed that from the conflicting reports of the DSS and police on Sanusi's investigation, the respondents had clearly shown that there was bad faith in the investigation and that there was no reasonable suspicion of commission of crime.
He argued that the suit had nothing to do with the terms of employment of the applicant or industrial relations, since it was not a case of the applicant against the CBN.
He argued that the applicant never sought an order of perpetual injunction, as the reliefs he sought were qualified.
"It cannot be suggested that the applicant is restraining the respondents from performing their duties, but they must be restrained from doing so without due process of the law.
"The seizure of the applicant's international passport by the third respondent is a derogation of his freedom of movement," he said.
Awodehin also argued that the different submissions by the three respondents showed that laws were being violated in the manner Sanusi was treated.