An Abuja division of the federal high court has ordered the Department of State Services (DSS) to pay the sum of N2 million as general damages to Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, over the unlawful seizure of his phones in 2019 at the point of his arrest.
Justice I.A. Chiekere held that the suit by Mr Sowore does not constitute an abuse of court processes as claimed by the respondent’s counsel.
She, therefore, ordered that the phones and money seized from Sowore in August 2019 should be returned to him and N2 million paid to him as damages.
She also ordered the DSS to apologize to Mr Sowore publicly in two national dailies.
Mr Sowore was arrested on August 3, 2019, by officers of the DSS. He was later released on December 5, 2019 without returning his phones to him.
According to Mr Sowore, all attempts to recover the phones from the custody of DSS was not successful.
On June 7, 2020, Mr Sowore commenced a fundamental rights enforcement suit against the DSS, seeking the enforcement of his fundamental human right as enshrined in sections 36, 37 and 44 of the 1999 constitution.
What the judge ruled
The DSS counsel, A.A Magaji had earlier told the court that the items were recovered from Sowore at the point of his arrest and not forcefully taken from him. He claimed the items are subject to ongoing investigation linking to Sowore to terrorism.
In her ruling, Justice Chiekere said if the phones were seized for the purpose of investigation, the constitution states that the seizure should be “temporary” and that the two years of which the phones were seized does not amount to temporary.
“Investigation cannot be a ploy by law agencies to permanently hold properties of Nigerian citizens. Keeping his phone for over two years is a gross violation of the applicants right,” Justice Chiekere ruled.
She said it was illegal and unconstitutional to seize his phones for two years without a court order to that effect thereby violating his right to own properties and right to fair hearing as guaranteed by section 44 of the constitution.
She therefore, made an order mandating DSS to release the phones to Mr. Sowore. She also made an order compelling the DSS to pay the sum of N2 million as general damages for the violation of Sowore’s fundamental rights.
The items seized from Sowore include an iPhone X Max, a Samsung Galaxy phone, a Tecno phone and the sum of N10,000.