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Appeal Court says no to N25m compensation for Baba Suwe

By The Citizen
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The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal Friday upturned the judgment of the lower court, which ordered the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to pay N25 million to a Yoruba comedian, Babatunde Obadina, popularly known as 'Baba Suwe' as compensation for detaining him for several days over allegation of drug trafficking.

Justice Yetunde Idowu of a Lagos High Court, Ikeja had awarded that amount to the comedian. The appellate court in its judgment delivered by Justice Rita Pemu considered all the three vital grounds of appeal in favour of the appellant (NDLEA).

The NDLEA had in its appeal asked the court to allow the appeal and set aside the judgment of the lower court.

Justice Pemu in her lead Judgment unanimously adopted by two other Justices, namely Justice Chima Nwanze and Justice F. O Akinbami described the N25 million damages awarded to Baba Suwe as erroneous, oppressive and superfluous.

Justice Pemu held that even though the trial judge had discretion to award costs in a fundamental human right suit, such award of damages must be based on law and not arbitrary.

In addition, the appellate court held that the lower court judge erred in law when it ordered NDLEA to pay Baba Suwe N25 million as compensation and that the appellant should publish a public apology in two widely read national newspapers.

Justice Pemu said: 'Damages must be based on law, even though it is at the discretion of the trial judge. The award of N25 million to the respondent was based on wrong premises and it is uncalled for.'

She further held that no evidence was placed before the court to warrant such outrageous award adding that the court ought not to have overburden NDLEA with such award of damages. On whether the NDLEA had reasonable reasons to detain Baba Suwe from the day of his arrest (October 12, 2011) till October 21, 2011 when the Federal High Court order to detain him was obtained, justice Pemu held that the Agency was justified to do so.

She added that the appellant placed before the lower court documentary evidence and exhibits being results of various scan conducted on Baba Suwe which justified his detention for several days over allegation of drug trafficking.

On whether the Lagos State high court has jurisdiction to entertain the suit filed by the respondent (Baba Suwe), Justice Pemu held that based on the pleadings before the trial judge, it is the Federal High Court that has constitutional jurisdiction to entertain the suit and not the State high Court.

However, counsel to Baba Suwe,  Bamidele Aturu vowed to challenge the decision of the court at the Supreme Court. He told the court that while he appreciated the industry and time spent by the court to deliver the judgment, he would appeal against the verdict because the rights of Nigerians were involved. NDLEA had in its 8-page Notice of Appeal, signed by Femi Oloruntoba stated that the trial judge erred in law when she held that NDLEA was not justified in detain Baba Suwe from the day of his arrest (October 12, 2011) till October 21, 2011 when the Federal High Court order to detain him was obtained. The appellant further stated that the trial judge erred in law and misdirected herself on facts when she held that the act of the NDLEA in detaining Baba Suwe for 9 days are a flagrant abuse and infringement of his fundamental human rights.

Besides, the appellant argued that the lower court erred in law when it ordered it (NDLEA) to pay the applicant (Baba Suwe) N25 million as compensation and that the appellant should publish a public apology in two widely read national newspapers. Dissatisfied with the court judgment, the Agency in December last year filed a motion for stay of execution of the entire verdict and appealed against it.