AFTER twenty-five years, the Supreme Court has affirmed N25m damages against the Department of State Services (DSS) for the unlawful invasion and sealing off of Punch Nigeria Limited’s office in Lagos in 1994.
In a report published by The PUNCH, the judgment was a sequel to a fundamental rights enforcement suit; the newspaper had filed against the DSS and four others.
The other four included the attorney general of the federation, the inspector-general of police, the commissioner of police, Lagos and the Chief of Army Staff.
The suit was filed by the late Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) at the federal high court, Lagos on July 29, 1994, in favour of the newspaper company.
The court also awarded a separate N100,000 to the then Editor of The PUNCH, Bola Bolawale for his unlawful detention by the security agents.
The court upheld the newspaper’s plea, that the “invasion, search without warrant, sealing off, seizure and/or occupation of its business premises at No.1 Kudeti Street, Onipetesi, Ikeja, Lagos State and the consequent stoppage of the newspaper’s lawful business by the respondents, were a gross violation of the newspaper’s fundamental rights”.
The Supreme Court’s history of the case noted that Punch had obtained an order of the federal high court, Lagos, directing the security agents to produce, Bolawale, the then editor in court on June 20, 1994.
This, however, was after the invasion of the newspaper, but the security agencies ignored the order.
Consequently, the counsel from the Attorney General of the Federation’s (AGF) office wrote to the court praying the case, be adjourned.
The application for adjournment was opposed by Fawahinmi but was overruled, as the court eventually adjourned the hearing till June 28, 1994.
At the resumption of the proceedings, both the AGF and security agencies were absent with no representative at the court.
At their absence, Fawehinmi went on to argue the suit, which resulted in the court granting its judgment in favour of the newspaper company on July 29, 1994, against the defendants.
The defendants at the court’s verdict on August 10, 1994, appealed to the court, that the judgment should be reversed.
The appeal, however, remained in the court for five years without the appellants filing their brief of argument.
Therefore, the newspaper on June 4, 1999, filed an application to the court, asking that the court dismissed the appeal, “for want of diligent prosecution”.
On March 8, 2004, exactly 10 years after the appeal was filed, the court of appeal dismissed it “for want of diligent prosecution.”
The appellants filed another application, urging the court to reverse its judgment.
The appeal court rejected the application, leading to another appeal at the supreme court by the AGF and the security agencies.
The apex court also dismissed the appeal by a judgment led by a five-man Supreme Court panel delivered by Olu Ariwoola on June 14, 2019.
The other panelists were Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, Chima Nweze, Paul Galume and Sidi Bage.
Ariwoola held, “It is clear that the appeal of the appellants was dismissed pursuant to Order 6 Rule 10 of the Court of Appeal Rules for failure to file the brief of argument within the prescribed time and there was no application for extension of time to file the said brief out of time. The appeal was, therefore, properly dismissed and the dismissal order is final and irreversible.”