20th January, 2022
By Taiye Agbaje
A Federal High Court, Abuja has adjourned two separate suits filed by Leader of the proscribed Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenah, until March 9 for hearing.
Justice Inyang Ekwo fixed the date after counsel to the defence appeared in court with an application for extension of time to regularise their processes.
Justice Ekwo granted their prayers and adjourned the matter until March 9 for definite hearing.
The judge ordered all the parties to file all the processes necessary for the hearing, saying that “on the date of hearing, the processes of any parry that is absent from court shall be deemed as adopted.”
The New Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that El-Zakzaky and his wife, in the suits filed on October 14, 2021, had sued the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) for N2 billion each over the seizure of their passports.
The plaintiffs said their passports were seized from them after they returned from a government-supervised medical trip to India in 2019.
El-Zakzaky and his wife were then standing trial at the Kaduna State High Court on charges of culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, among charges filed against them in connection to the bloody clash between IMN members and soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna State, in December 2015.
The couple, who were freed of the charges with the Kaduna court declaring them not to have any case to answer in a July 28, 2021 ruling, said, in their rights enforcement suits, that the Indian trip “was supervised and controlled” by the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the DSS.
The trip “was aborted for reasons best known to the Federal Government,” the couple said, adding that their passports and other travelling documents were then taken from them “and kept in the custody of the respondents.”
Following the Kaduna court’s ruling, the couple’s lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, wrote separate letters to the NIA, the DSS, and the AGF, demanding the release of their passports allegedly seized after the Indian trip.
The couple said in their suits that while NIA replied to their letter, both the DSS and the AGF ignored them.
‘Barred from travelling abroad’
According to them, they subsequently approached the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) to verify the status of their passports “to enable them to travel for urgent medical attention” only to be told that “there is a restriction” placed by the DSS stopping them from travelling outside Nigeria.
NIS officials informed them that their passports and other travel documents seized from them cannot be replaced unless the restrictions are lifted and the passports released to them, the couple said.
Their lawyer argued that the seizure of their passports and travel restrictions placed on them, actions which they attributed to DSS and the AGF, violated their rights to “freedom of movement guaranteed by Section 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended).
The lawyer also argued that the seizure violates Article 12 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Act (CAP A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The couple, in their suits, urged the court to declare that the seizure of their passports was “illegal and unconstitutional.”
The plaintiffs also argued that the action of the DSS and the AGF violated their fundamental right to “freedom of movement guaranteed by Section 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended).
The plaintiffs also urged the court to declare that the “Red Flag Travelling Restrictions” placed on their passports and land borders by the respondents without a court order is illegal and unconstitutional.
They, therefore, asked the court to declare that the refusal of the DSS and the AGF to allow them to travel abroad for medical treatment “constitutes a threat to their lives guaranteed by Section 33 of the Nigerian constitution”.
The “Red Flag Travel Restrictions” placed on El-Zakzaky’s passport with number A50578740 and that of Zeenah numbered A50578739 violates their rights, their lawyer argued.
Each of them asked the court to order the respondents to pay them N2 billion, totalling N4 billion, “as general and exemplary damages” for the violation of their “rights to freedom of movement, fair hearing and property”.
They also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents from further violating their “fundamental rights in any manner whatsoever and howsoever without lawful justification.”
The couple, who were released from custody after the court ruling freeing them of charges, said, they were “currently” facing deteriorating health conditions.