A High Court sitting in Ikot-Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State, has ordered the reopening of the Merchant Seaman Academy in Ikot Ataudo, Uwa West in the Essien Udim Local Government Area of the state.
The academy was closed down last year by officers of the Nigerian Navy, NNS Jubilee, on allegations that it was a mushroom institution purportedly training manpower for the maritime sector.
Delivering judgment on Thursday in suit No HT/FHR/51/2018, Justice Ntong Ntong, granted two reliefs in favour of the plaintiffs, the Merchant Seaman Academy and its proprietor, Mr Adams Pius.
Joined in the suit were the Nigerian Navy; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibokete Ibas; Navy Captain S. D. Ibrahim; and Lt. Commander C. E. Ututu, as the 1st to 4th respondents.
Other respondents are the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner of Police and DSP Aja Francis.
Justice Ntong ruled, “Accordingly, reliefs two and three are herby ordered as prayed; that leave be and is hereby granted to the applicants to issue and serve the originating summons and all other processes in this suit on the 1st to 4th respondents at Plot 1092 Muhammadu Buhari Way, Area 7 Garki, Abuja, outside the jurisdiction of this honourable court.
“That leave is hereby granted to serve the respondents by substituted service by serving it through DHL or UPS courier services and to deem same as paper service.”
In the originating summons, the plaintiffs, pursuant to Order 2, Rule 3 of the Fundamental Right (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009, sought a declaration that the closing down of the institution without any legal and lawful authority was an affront and a violation of their fundamental rights as enshrined in sections 35, 36 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.
They had also prayed the court to declare that the applicants were entitled to rights to liberty, fair hearing, ownership of property, freedom of association and freedom of movement in accordance with sections 35, 36 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, (as altered), and Articles 6, 7 and 12 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap 10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The applicants sought a declaration that several attempts and threats to arrest and detain them were not in accordance with the procedure permitted by law and constituted a violation of their rights to personal liberty, fair hearing and movement as guaranteed by sections 35, 36 and 41 of the constitution.
They also prayed the court to grant an order of injunction restraining the respondents from closing down the academy or intervening in any manner whatsoever in the day-to-day running of the institution
The applicants urged the court to award N100m against the respondents for the breach of their fundamental rights.
Reacting to the order of court for the reopening of the institution, the lead counsel, Utibe Nwoko, represented by Ubokutom Umana , said the court was the last hope of the common man.
Nwoko thanked the court for granting the order to reopen the school for normal activities in the interest of the students and their future.
The clan head of Uwa West, Okuku Ekanem, who witnessed the court process, explained that his people were excited when the institution was located in their community three years ago, but wondered its frequent invasion and closure by the navy.
Ekanem appealed to the management of the academy to liaise with the government and its agents to ensure a smooth running of the programmes.
The clan head stated that from his relationship with the institution over the past three years, he had discovered that it was not a militant school as being speculated in some quarters.
In his remarks, the proprietor of the school, Pius, said, “The academy was established in 2016 after due registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission and subsequent accreditation, approval and licensing by the different approving authorities, including the National Board for Technical Education, Federal Ministry of Education and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board.”