Press Release – The continued unlawful detention

The continued unlawful detention, incommunicado, of Abia State lawyer  Empero Gabriel Ogbonna by the state security service (SSS) in flagrant disobedience to court orders, is despicable.

Rule of law and accountability advocacy centre (RULAAC) calls on president Buhari to direct the SSS to respect court orders and operate within the rule of law.

The continued unlawful detention, incommunicado, of Abia State-based lawyer, Empero Gabriel Ogbonna, by the SSS in fragrant disobedience to a High Court order granting him bail is a despicable act of lawlessness and reckless abuse of power.

The SSS has now established itself as a lawless organisation with an ignoble pattern of engaging in politically- motivated arrest and indefinite detention incommunicado, of government critics,
and disobedience to court orders.

It is not only in Abia State. In Akwa Ibom State, the family of Kufre Carter, a sports reporter detained in the facility of the SSS, Akwa Ibom state, has been prevented from seeing him, according to his lawyer who is also not allowed to see his client. The SSS has refused to release the reporter, despite being granted bail by the court.

Mr Carter, a sports reporter with a local radio station, XL 106.9 FM, Uyo, was arrested by the SSS on April 27 and charged with defamation for “castigating” the Commissioner for Health in Akwa Ibom state, Dominic Ukpong, over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the state.

The President must, at this time, intervene and save our democracy from being derailed by the SSS. It’s time for the President to curtail the excesses of the SSS and call its leaders to order.

RULAAC is informed that Emperor Ogbonna was initially arrested in his office by operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) and armed policemen and had been in detention since March 24, 2020. He was first taken to the Abia State Police Command where he was confronted with a petition written against him alleging that he published falsehood against the Governor of Abia State, and that the Governor swore to an oath at the Ancient Harashima.

He was eventually arraigned before the Magistrate’s Court which remanded him in custody. He was later charged before the Federal High Court, Umuahia and was admitted to bail by the said court.

Ogbonna perfected the conditions of his bail and was released from the Correctional Centre on April 28, 2020, but he was again arrested immediately by the Abia State Director of SSS who later transferred him to SSS headquarters in Abuja.

The SSS is reported to have claimed that Ogbonna was re-arrested for another complaint against him, different from his alleged false claims against the Abia State Governor. But even if this were to be true, his continued detention beyond the constitutionally permissible duration still makes his detention unlawful and a flagrant violation of his constitutional rights to liberty, presumption of innocence, human dignity and due process.

If the SSS believe they have any reasonable grounds to re-arrest him, or credible charges against him, they ought to have promptly handed him over to the Police for Prosecution, in accordance with due process.

The submission by Femi Falana, in his Memorandum to the Senate during its probe of the Invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja and Disruption of Judicial Proceedings by the Operatives of the State Security Service bears repeating here:

Referring to the National Security Agencies Act, which established the SSS, Falana stated:

“It is also to be noted that the SSS lacks the power to arrest and detain any person. The functions of the SSS are clearly spelt out in Section 2(3)(a), (b), and (c) and (4) of the Act”.

The Act states that: “The State Security Service shall be charged with responsibility for: (a) the prevention and detection within Nigeria of any crime against the internal security of Nigeria; (b) the protection and preservation of all non-military classified matters concerning the internal security of Nigeria; and (c) such other responsibilities affecting internal security within Nigeria as the National Assembly or the President, as the case may be, may deem necessary.”

What the security agency is supposed to do is to pass information detected to relevant agencies, which have the legal mandate to arrest, detain, and prosecute.

“It is not within its powers to assume such responsibility by arresting and detaining such suspect. This barbaric recourse to lawlessness, brute force, disregard for the rule of law and separation of powers by the SSS reminiscent of the authoritarian and oppressive jackboot era must be thoroughly investigated and the culprits made to face the full weight of the law.

The lawless activities of the SSS further diminish Nigeria’s stature across the globe

The use of the SSS by the Abia State Governor, Mr. Okezie Ikpeazu, to arrest and indefinitely detain one of his fellow Abia citizens, and denying his family and lawyers the right to visit him for nearly a month is condemnable and unacceptable in a civilised and democratic society.

It is not only illegal, but also malicious and highhanded for the SSS to refuse to release Empero Ogbonna or charge him to court and to also refuse his lawyers and family access to visit him despite his precarious health condition.

Empero Ogbonna’s lawyer has disclosed that he is sick. Yet, the SSS will not allow his family, lawyer and doctor to visit him. His family is seriously worried about the condition of his health and safety.

His wife who is in her 8th month of pregnancy says her husband’s continued detention, her not being allowed access to him and her anxiety about his condition are impacting seriously on her condition. His lawyer only sees him when the SSS decides. His wife said the SSS told her not to bother coming to see her husband unless they invite her.

The Governor’s spokespersons claim that Emperor is no longer being held by the state government but by the SSS. But Emperor’s lawyer has disclosed that it was the Chief of Staff to Governor Ikpeazu, Dr A.C.B Agbazuere who led the team of SSS operatives which re-arrested his client after the Aba branch of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) secured his release on the 28th of April.

The state government, through the Chief of Staff, is using the SSS to continuously keep Emperor behind bars even after a court of competent jurisdiction has granted him bail. This is the rawest form of abuse of power.

It is disturbing how the SSS has abandoned its responsibility of surveillance and intelligence gathering and turned itself into a willing tool in the hands of politician for oppression, injustice and persecution of political opponents and critics and for settling scores.

The SSS has unabashedly made itself available to many state governors and other public office holders who have turned themselves into emperors and elevated themselves above the law.

The last time, the SSS exposed Nigeria to international opprobrium when it detained Sahara Reporters Publisher Omoyele Sowore for nearly 20 weeks, despite multiple court orders granting him bail. It went further to invade the Federal High Court, Abuja and disrupted judicial proceedings in an embarrassing bid to re-arrest Sowore who was already on bail.

Clearly, Nigeria’s political environment has relapsed into the era of political intolerance and authoritarian repression. In Kwara State, Dorcas Jolayemi, wife of a broadcaster was arrested and kept in police custody for eight days in lieu of her husband who was wanted by the police for criticising Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture. Rotimi Jolayemi, her husband, had recorded an eight-minute audio critical of the minister and released it via WhatsApp. After spending weeks in detention, the police charged him with “causing annoyance” and “insult” to the minister.

CALLS

RULAAC calls on President Buhari to urgently instruct the State Security Service to immediately and unconditionally release Empero Ogbonna and sports journalist Kufre Carter detained in the facility of SSS and direct the Director of SSS to stick to the organization’s statutory responsibilities, respect human rights and act in accordance with the due process of the rule of law.

The SSS must imbibe democratic culture and abide by the rule of law.

Okechukwu Nwanguma

Executive Director

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