A Federal High Court has declared unlawful the act by some policemen who prevented the immediate past Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Ajayi Agboola from exiting the Government House between 7pm on June 20 and 9am on June 21, 2020 upon suspicion that he planned to defect from the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Justice F. A. Olubanjo of the Akure division of the Federal High Court, held in a judgment that the action of the security officials amounted to a disregard of rule of law and a violation of the constitutional provisions that guarantee citizens’ rights to movement, dignity, among others.
Justice Olubanjo, who awarded N100million damages against the police, noted that should such arbitrary conduct on a serving Deputy Governor, clothed with immunity, be allowed to stand, the police could one day abduct a serving President on the excuse of conducting an investigation.
The judgment was on a fundamental rights enforcement suit, marked: FHC/AK/CS/46/2020 filed and prosecuted for Agboola by his lawyer, Babs Akinwunmi. The suit was initially filed in Abuja, but was transferred to Akure by Justice Okon Abang on grounds of jurisdiction.
Respondents in the case are the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Commissioner of Police (Ondo State), the Director General, Department of State Services (DSS), the DSS, Speaker of Ondo State House of Assembly. and Ondo State House of Assembly.
Justice Olubanjo, in the judgement delivered on March 16, 2021, a copy of which was seen in Abuja on Friday, said: “There is a need to uphold the rule of law for the benefit of all citizens of this county. If the police can successfully restrain an incumbent Deputy Governor in utter disregard for his position as Deputy Govemor and in disregard of the immunity granted to him by the supreme law of the land (ie the Constitution) without any sanctions for doing so, then we are at the risk of encouraging anarchy.
“The Rule of Law is for the protection of the powerful and the powerless; for the. mighty and the lowly. If the situation is allowed to degenerate, then, one day, an incumbent Governor may be arrested by the police or other law enforcement agency or an incumbent Vice President, or incumbent President.
“While the police is not prevented from conducting investigations regarding the holder of any of the offices stated in Section 308 (3) of the Constitution while he is in office, they cannot exercise their powers under Section 4 of the Police Act to deprive the holders of those offices of their liberty, or freedom of movement as second respondent did to applicant while he was Deputy Governor of Ondo State.
“Even if there is reasonable suspicion that the applicant committed an offence, as Deputy Governor, he cannot be deprived of his liberty or freedom of movement despite Section 35 (1) (c) of the 1999 Constitution.
“Evidence of reasonable suspicion does not exist in this instance. The actions of the police were in utter disregard of the provisions of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution.
“Definitely, the act of preventing a Deputy Governor from leaving the premises of the Government House would be embarrassing and adversely affect his estimation in the eyes of the public.
“Thus, applicant’s right to dignity of his person as a Deputy Governor was also violated.
“I am of the firm view that, in the circumstances of this suit, the first and second respondents have misused their powers in breach of the applicant’s fundamental rights,” the judge said.
He proceeded to declare that “the restraint of the applicant from 7pm on 20/06/2020 till 9am on 21/06/2020 by officers and agents of the first and second respondents, while the applicant was the Deputy Governor of Ondo State was a breach of applicant’s fundamental rights to dignity of human person, liberty, and freedom of movement as guaranteed by Sections 34, 35, and 41 of the 1999 Constitution as amended,”
Justice Olubanjo however said he could not grant the award of N1b damages sought by the applicant.
“As outrageous as the act of preventing a Deputy Governor from leaving Government House premises is, fundamental rights proceedings are not an avenue to (further) enrich applicants.
“The court must consider the status of the applicant and the first and second respondents, and the state of the economy of this country.
“An award of N1b damages would put a large hole in the allocation of the Nigeria Police Force, but the police must be deterred from engaging in such arbitrary and outrageous conduct. The sum of N100m would, in my view, suffice to assuage the inconvenience and embarrassment caused to the applicant by the actions of the first and second respondents,” Justice Olubanjo said.
The first and second defendants are the IGP and the Ondo State Commissioner of Police.