Court orders Immigration Service to release couple’s passports

A HIGH Court of the Federal Capital Territory sitting in Bwari, has ordered the Nigeria Immigration Service to release, within seven days, two Nigerian passports seized from Mr. and Mrs. Udoh Anietie Udoeyen since 2018, the Applicants before the Court.

Justice Othman Musa made the order in separate judgments delivered on December 3, 2020, in Suit No. FCT/HC/BW/CV/189/2020, Mr. Udoh Anietie Udoeyen V. Nigeria Immigration Service and Suit No. FCT/HC/BW/CV/190/2020, Mrs. Udoh Alice Udoeyen v Nigeria Immigration Service.

The court declared that the detention of the Applicants’ passports by the Respondent since 2018 constitutes a breach of their rights to fair hearing and freedom of movement, and therefore unconstitutional.

In the applications filed by their lawyers, Auxano Law, the Applicants sought to enforce their rights to fair hearing and freedom of movement guaranteed under sections 36 and 41 of the Constitution.

The Applicants who attended an interview at the US Embassy for non-immigrant visa on September 18, 2018 had their passports transferred to the Respondent “for further review”.

This was based on suspicion that the Ghana entry stamps on them were fake. Since then, the Respondent detained the passports without confronting the Applicants with the allegation despite several letters of demand for their release by their solicitors, Auxano Law.

The couple maintained in their affidavits that the Ghana entry stamps on their passports were genuine.

At the hearing of the two suits, Applicants’ counsel, Chijioke Emeka, argued that the Applicants have the right to be heard on the allegation before being subjected to the illegal punishment of seizure of their passports.

Emeka argued that the failure of the Respondent to confront them with the allegation or charge them for an offence known to law before detaining the passports is a breach of their constitutional right to fair hearing and freedom of movement as the right to a passport is ancillary to the constitutional right of ingress and egress from Nigeria.

Respondent’s counsel, N. B. Kannap, contended that a passport is a privilege that can be taken away by the Federal Government at any time, and that the Respondent is keeping the passports because it is investigating an allegation of fraud levelled by the US Embassy and intends to subsequently prosecute the Applicants.

He relied on sections 10(1)(b),15(4) and 59 of the Immigration Act on statutory powers of the Respondent.

Ruling, Justice Musa  agreed with the Applicants that possession of Nigerian passport is not a privilege but an ancillary right to the right to freedom of movement. Thus, withdrawal of a passport can only be done in line with the law.

He held: “The detention of the Applicants’ Nigerian passports in the circumstances was declared a violation of the Applicants’ right to fair hearing and right to freedom of movement in and out of Nigeria.”

The Court ordered that the passports be released to the Applicants within seven days and ordered the sum ofN1,000,000 to be paid by the Nigeria Immigration Service to each Applicant as general damages” the judge stated.

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