A Federal High Court sitting in Calabar has ordered the Nigerian Police to vacate the secretariats of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria in Abuja and the Eastern zone.
The court also warned against arbitrary enforcement and described the occupation of the offices as illegal and an abuse of power.
In an originating summon filed by Daniel Mgbe, on behalf of the plaintiffs, including Sanusi Fari, Chidi Nnubia, Peter Okoye, and seven others, it was sought, among others, a declaration that the continued siege at IPMAN national secretariat by the police, and forceful removal of Sanusi Fari and his executives from legitimate offices as president and Executive members on July 5, 2021, as unlawful, unconstitutional and null and void.
The police had claimed to be acting on the instructions of the Attorney General of the Federation, Inspector General of Police, and Deputy Inspector General of Police.
It further sought an order of the court to compel the Nigerian Police to vacate the national secretariat of IPMAN in Abuja to allow the Sanusi Fari-led executive to re-enter and continue their legitimate functions and also an order to vacate the IPMAN offices at Port Harcourt and Enugu and continue their legal businesses.
Delivering judgment on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Suit No: FHC/CA/CS/69/2021 between Sanusi Abdul Fari and nine others against Nigerian Police and 20 others, the presiding Judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, said that the Nigerian Police lacked the powers to forcefully occupy IPMAN offices on the grounds that they were interpreting court judgment, neither did they have the powers to carry out execution without a valid court order.
Justice Ojukwu further stated that the Police occupation of IPMAN offices was not in tandem with the Supreme Court judgment which had already been interpreted in Suit No: FHC/CA/CS/3/2019, saying “their occupation of national headquarters or unit offices of IPMAN was not occasioned by the decision of the Supreme Court as that issue was not determined or pronounced upon by the apex court.”
The court held that “it does not lie with the police to arbitrarily enforce court order without an order of the court giving them such impetus, as section 15 of the Sheriffs and Civil Processes Act does not donate such powers,” but rather states “that it shall be the duty of the police to assist in the execution of processes of the court, usually in giving protective cover to the Bailiffs of the court.”
The court further held that “In construing Section four of the Police Act 2020 and Section 15 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act 2002, the Police have no powers to reverse the judgment of this court and the judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in Appeal No: SC/15/2018 or any judgment of a court.”
The Court also ruled that the Attorney General of Federation, AGF, was a necessary party and was rightly joined in the suit despite the protestation by the AGF who was the second defendant in the suit.
Counsel to IPMAN, Daniel E. Mgbe, Esq, in his reaction to the judgment, said “with this judgment, the legal tussle between factions of the IPMAN has been put to rest as the unlawful eviction of the IPMAN executives by the police in Enugu, Port Harcourt, Aba, Bayelsa, Makurdi and Calabar has been found to have no basis in law.”
The National President of IPMAN, Alhaji Debo Ahmed, who was inaugurated on January 18, 2022, commended the judiciary for its steadfastness and appealed to the police to obey and respect court orders and vacate their secretariats across the country.
The Cross River State chairman of IPMAN, Comrade Robert Obi, said that he was optimistic that the ruling would restore peace in the association and called on members to embrace peace.
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