A mild drama unfolded at the Federal High Court in Asaba, Delta State, on Thursday when the Department of State Services told Justice Nnamdi Dimgba not to allow the public see a letter in which the President ordered them to take action against a trader, Anthony Okolie.
Okolie was arrested in July 2019 and detained by the DSS for 10 weeks for using a SIM card previously owned by the President’s daughter, Hanan Buhari.
The trader subsequently sued the DSS, Hanan and telecoms firm, MTN, for N500m over his ordeal.
In a counter-affidavit filed by the DSS, the agency claimed that the Presidency ordered the investigation of Okolie, adding that the sensitivity of the case was what led to Okolie’s prolonged detention.
At the resumed hearing on Thursday, lawyer for the DSS, E.E. Daubry, said every document that had been presented by the body had found its way into the internet since the case began.
Daubry, who is the organisation’s Principal Staff Officer, Legal Services, said the letter from the Presidency was a sensitive one which ought not to be seen by the public.
He, therefore, begged Justice Dimgba to be allowed to present the letter to the court only.
Daubry said, “My lord before I go to the written address, may I draw your attention to paragraph 28. We did depose to the fact that the Presidency ordered the investigation but due to the classification of that letter, we did not attach it. And my lord will take notice that every process or processes filed in this case has found their way into the internet including Facebook.
“So, to protect the classification, we didn’t attach it otherwise it would have gone public but we brought it to court and we deposed to the fact that we can show my lord, we can show it to the court but we have it here. I am saying with the discretion of the court, I apply to show it to the court.”
Lawyer for Okolie, Tope Akinyode, however, objected to the application, describing it as an ambush.
Akinyode further argued that the court was a public place and any document entered as evidence could be accessed through a request for a certified true copy.
He said, “We are objecting to that application. The argument of the first respondent (DSS) that the document is classified and cannot be attached is very watery because the court is a public place that can be accessed by the public.
“The documents filed in court are public documents and anyone can apply for CTC. My lord, the first respondent cannot lay an ambush on us. The practice, the essence of frontloading of documents is that you don’t bring a document in court that can jeopardise us without us having knowledge of it then what is the essence of justice? My lord, our humble application will be that the court should order them to serve that document on us.”
Justice Dimgba agreed with the applicant, adding that it was wrong for the DSS lawyer to introduce a new document without first showing it to the other party.
He said the DSS could have at least shown the letter to Akinyode.
The judge said the DSS’ claim in an affidavit that the Presidency ordered Okolie’s arrest was sufficient and the letter was not needed.
“To be honest with you, it is neither here nor there. If the court is worthy of seeing it, then so is the applicant,” Dimgba said.
The DSS agreed with the court and subsequently withdrew its application to show the court the letter.
“My lord, the challenge we have is that virtually everything is on the internet. Even if we didn’t attach it, it doesn’t matter. We withdraw the application my lord,” Daubry said.
The judge admitted that the case was a sensitive one and the parties needed to be careful.
He said, “It is just because of the nature of this suit. The point you made about everything going to the internet. Even I have to be on my guard as well. It is also a learning process. You could have allowed the applicant to see the letter even if it was in camera. If the court looks at it, he should also have a chance to see it.”
The court adjourned the case till April 1 for judgement.