Sanusi Versus FG: Before you Attack that Judgment By Inibehe Effiong

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Inibehe Effiong

I read several comments, especially on social media, on the historic judgment of the Federal High Court Lagos, delivered today by Honorable Justice Ibrahim Buba in favor of the embattled/suspended governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, against the Federal Government, especially on the 50 million naira awarded as damages. Some commentators have berated the judge and castigated the judgment especially the award which they say is excessive, one commentator even referred to the judge as an idiot. This I take strong exception to. Although I have not had the privilege of perusing the judgment, I rely in good faith on the litany of media reports on the case.

I pardon those unlearned minds who have expressed misgivings about the judgment as they are not versed with the law. Sanusi instituted a fundamental right enforcement action against the Federal Government of Nigeria, the State Security Service (SSS) and the Nigeria Police over his unlawful arrest and the illegal seizure of his international passport which the court today upheld as meritorious. Therefore, the sole option available to the Federal Government of Nigeria and the other defendants if they are dissatisfied with the judgment is to bring an application for a stay of execution before the court and proceed to file a notice of appeal at the Court of Appeal.

Those angry with the 50 million naira damages awarded against the Federal Government of Nigeria should note that what the court awarded is not compensatory damages which are meant to reimburse the plaintiff for their economic loss or physical injury but EXEMPLARY DAMAGES.

Exemplary damages is punitive, the essence is to serve as a deterrent to the defendant and is normally high base on established principles of award of damages as laid down in plethora of cases. See the popular case of Chief F.R.A. Williams Versus Daily Times of Nigeria Ltd (1990) 1 NWLR (pt. 124) 1.
In awarding exemplary damages, the court considers some factors including the conduct of the defendant.
In the instant case, this factor was obviously resolved against the defendants as their conduct was obviously appalling.

There is no basis for the angry commentaries, the judgment is sound in law. The Supreme Court had laid down in the celebrated case of SSS Versus Olisa Agbakoba (1999) 3 NWLR (pt. 595) 314 that seizure of a citizen’s traveling passport without legal justification amounts to a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of movement guaranteed by the Constitution (See Section 41 CFRN 1999 as amended).
The court having declared as lacking in merit the allegation of sponsorship of terrorism leveled against the suspended Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor was right to declare the seizure of his passport unconstitutional.
Also, the order of the court that the passport be returned immediately is consequential to the declaration that the seizure was unconstitutional.

Again, the order that the Federal Government of Nigeria should tender a public apology is in order especially given the status and standing of the plaintiff in the society.
Equally, the injunction restraining the defendants from arresting the plaintiff is not absolute. The injunction is only against further UNLAWFUL ARREST of the plaintiff, as such, the contention that the injunction is an attack on the constitutional powers and functions of law enforcement agencies is totally misplaced.

In the locus classicus and much cited case of Aliu Bello Versus Attorney General of Oyo State (1986) 5 NWLR (pt. 45) 828 , the sacred principle of Ubi Jus Ibi Remedium (Where there is a right? there must be a remedy) was emphatically established by the apex court per Karibi-Whyte, JSC.
Accordingly, the reasoning and decision of the court are logically tenable and legally defensible.

As Nigerians, we need to appreciate the fact that injury to one is injury to all and that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Today it is Sanusi, tomorrow it might be any of us. As a nation, we must imbibe the culture of playing by the rules. Our law enforcement agencies should exude civility in the exercise of their constitutional responsibilities. Arrogant show of dictatorship and unrestrained lust for despotism, oppression, and impunity will only lead us to the precipice.
This government has committed countless human right abuses. The message in today’s epochal judgment is that the dark days of executive rascality without redress are over. President Jonathan should be mindful of the verdict of history and the ghost of stewardship.
Enough is Enough.

Inibehe Effiong is a Human Rights Activist, Public Affairs Analyst and a Law Graduate of the University of Uyo.
He is on Facebook and can be reached via inibehe.effiong@yahoo.com

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