The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has released the seized passport of a former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili, a development that came over two months after the agency was ordered by the Federal High Court in Abuja to return the document to him.
NIS’ lawyer, Jimoh Adamu, disclosed this at a post-judgement hearing at the court on Monday.
Mr Odili’s lawyer, Ifedayo Adedipe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, during the hearing, confirmed the release of his client’s passport.
He had initiated the post-judgement proceedings months after the agency refused to comply with the court’s October 2021 verdict ordering the agency to release his client’s passport.
On December 21, 2021, the judge, Inyang Ekwo, slammed a N2million fine on the NIS and its lawyer for ignoring its order to appear to explain why they refused to comply with the October 2021 verdict.
On Monday, however, Mr Adamu told the court the agency had since complied with the judgement in December, referring to an affidavit of compliance he filed on February 7, 2022, to report the agency’s release of Mr Odili’s passport to him.
He said the agency complied with the judgement despite filing an appeal against it, and urged the judge to revoke the N2 million fine slammed on him and the NIS.
He protested the alleged embarrassment caused him and his client by the lead counsel to Odili’s lawyer by allegedly misleading the court to impose the fine on him and his client.
He said contrary to the information given by the lawyer during the post-judgement proceedings on December 21, 2021, the passport was released to the former governor about 24 hours earlier on December 20, 2021.
According to the lawyer, the passport was released through Mr Odili’s daughter who is a judge of the FCT High Court, Njideka Nwosu-Iheme.
The lawyer tendered the letter of acknowledgment by Mr Odili confirming receipt of the document and urged the court to reverse the N2 million fine imposed on him and the NIS.
He also urged the court to also reverse another order asking the AGF to penalise him.
In his ruling, the judge, citing the information by the NIS’ counsel and confirmation by Odili’s lawyer that the order of the court had been obeyed, ordered the reversal of his previous orders.
He reversed both the order the N2 million fine slammed on the NIS and its counsel and that the AGF should penalise him.
Subsequently, Mr Ekwo adjourned the suit till May 25 for report of the Court of Appeal proceedings in respect of the appeal regarding the case.
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.
In a judgement last October, the judge, Inyang Ekwo, ordered the NIS to immediately release Mr Odili’s passport.
Mr Ekwo, in his judgement, 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 continued withholding Mr Odili’s passport.
The development made Mr Odili to return to the court, complaining about the service’s serial violations of the court’s orders.
Both NIS and its lawyers ignored the court’s repeated summons to appear for the post-judgement proceedings initiated by Mr Odili.
At the December 21, 2021 proceedings, Mr Odili’s lawyer told the judge that the NIS “chose to treat the orders of the court with levity, contempt and disdain.”
Ruling on the issue, 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.”
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.”