By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abuja
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, ordered the Department of State Service, DSS, to pay N5 million to one of the lawyers defending the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, Mr Maxwell Opara.
The court, in a judgement that was delivered by Justice Zainab Abubakar, equally directed the security agency to tender a written apology to Opara and also publish the same in a national daily.
The judgement followed a fundamental right enforcement suit the lawyer filed to protest the alleged degrading treatment he was subjected to, when he paid a visit to the IPOB leader, Kanu, at the DSS detention facility in Abuja.
Opara, told the court that the DSS had on August 30, 2021, when he paid a routine visit to Nnamdi Kanu, commandeered him to a particular room within its facility for purposes of alleged bodily search, “wherein they forced him to remove his medicated eye-glasses, wedding ring, belt, jacket and shoes and accordingly left him shabbily dressed”.
He told the court that he was subjected to the humiliation of holding his trousers with his hands, wearing bathroom slippers meant for awaiting trial inmates and exposed to Air Conditioner inflicted cold for 3 hours.
Opara maintained that the action the DSS took against him, amounted to a gross violation of his right to dignity of the human person as guaranteed under Sections 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), as well as Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and People Rights (Ratification and enforcement) Act Cap A9 Vol. 1 LFN.
He specifically prayed the court for; “A declaration that the Respondents, whilst in the execution of their duties must respect the fundamental rights of citizens and accordingly abide by the provisions of Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and the provisions of the Africa Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
As well as, “A declaration that the actions of the men, operatives and officers under the command/commission of the Respondents on the 30th of August, 2021 during the Applicant’s visit to see his client in their detention facility, wherefore they commandeered the Applicant to a particular room within their facility; for purposes of alleged bodily search, wherein they forcibly removed his belt, medicated eye-glasses, wedding ring, jacket and shoes, and subjected him to the humiliation of holding his trousers with his hands, wearing a bathroom slippers meant for awaiting trial inmates and exposed to Air Conditioner inflicted cold for 3 hours, are not permitted by law; even during bodily search”.
Opara, prayed the court to award him N50m as compensation for the infringement of his fundamental rights to dignity and a human person.
Cited as Respondents in the marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1018/2021, were the DSS and its Director-General.
Meanwhile, the DSS, in a counter-affidavit that was deposed by one of its personnel, Ahmed Magaji, told the court that depositions in Opara’s affidavit were untrue.
It told the court that it simply conducted routine security checks on the day Opara visited Kanu.
“That in carrying out these onerous duties, the Respondents emplaced various measures aimed at screening all visitors before gaining access into the facility of the Respondents on invitation or for official purposes.
“That it is the practice by the Respondents that all visitors entering the office submit their phones and all other electronic digital devices for security purposes
“That the Respondents carry out security screening of all visitors through a scanning machine to avoid breach of security and to detect harmful or dangerous objects gaining entry into the Respondents’ facility.
“That contrary to paragraph 19 of the Applicant’s deposition, the Applicant only underwent the usual security search as applicable to visitors from taking harmful or dangerous items into the Respondent facility.
“That contrary to the Applicant’s deposition that he moved around barefooted, the Respondent only carry out security search and Covid-19 safety measures on all visitors and the Applicant inclusive which does not in any way include walking on barefoot, removal of belt, etc, as claimed by the Applicant”.
Denying allegation that it harassed the Applicant, DSS, told the court that it carried out its “normal security search”, saying it was done, “in line with professional standard to avoid harmful or dangerous objects finding its way into the Respondents’ office”.
In her judgement on Monday, Justice Abubakar granted all the reliefs the Applicant sought in the suit, though she reduced the damages from N50m to N5m.