Rules Detention on Grounds of National Security Baleseless The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has described the two years detention of Bayelsa Journalist, Mr Jones Abiri as outright conviction and ordered the Federal Government to pay him N10 million in damages. The court also declared Mr Abiri’s detention illegal and an abuse of
Rules Detention on Grounds of National Security Baleseless
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has described the two years detention of Bayelsa Journalist, Mr Jones Abiri as outright conviction and ordered the Federal Government to pay him N10 million in damages. The court also declared Mr Abiri’s detention illegal and an abuse of his fundamental rights.
Mr Abiri was arrested by operatives of the Department of State Security Service (DSS) in July 2016 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state and detained for two years until heightening local and international campaign for his freedom compelled the government to take him to court in Abuja after his lawyers, led by human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) filed a suit against the Federal government.
Following outcry by various human rights agencies and the media, Mr Abiri was arraigned on militancy at a magistrate court in Abuja.
Speaking at a judgement on Mr Abiri’s fundamental rights suit at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Thursday، the judge, Nnamdi Dimgba, said the federal government had no right to detain Mr Abiri after taking his statement in 2016.
“Having taken his statement, the applicant should have been arraigned,” Mr Dimgba ruled.
The judge said the federal government’s submission that Mr Abiri was detained in national security was baseless.
According to the judge, the federal government should have filled the suit against the defendant and asked the court to refuse him bail, so that the court will use its discretion in determining whether Mr Abiri should be granted bail on not
The court therefore declared Mr Abiri’s detention illegal and an abuse of his fundamental rights.
Mr Abiri had filed a suit N200 million compensation, from the Federal Government, for wrongful detention. In an application brought before the Federal High Court, Mr Abiri asked the court to compel the DSS to pay him for the “flagrant abuse of his rights and torture experienced during his detention by the operatives.”
Abiri, publisher of a Bayelsa state based weekly paper, Weekly Source, was arrested in July 2016 by officials of the Department of State Security Services (DSS). He was detained for over two years without trial until mounting campaign for his release by international and local groups compelled his arraignment recently at an Abuja court where he was subsequently granted bail. Before he was charged to court, the Nigerian government had denied he was not a journalist and claimed he was only a terror suspect.
Information Minister, Mr Lai Mohammed had said in response to a letter by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that no Nigerian journalist was being detained. “Let me state here, without equivocating, that contrary to the report by the Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ), no journalist is in detention in Nigeria. Clement Abiri, who is being referred to as a journalist, is not one. He does not belong to any chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists. He was arrested for pipeline vandalism and crude theft, including militant activities in the Niger Delta,” he said.
The government however gave its justification for the detention in a N200 million suit filed by Mr Abiri through his lawyer, Mr Samuel Ogala. Speaking during the opening of the session at the court, the DSS counsel, Mr G. O. Agbadua, responded to the application by the journalist by arguing that,
“Section 30(3) of ACJA; where a suspect is taken into custody and it appears to the police officer in charge of the station that the offence is of a capital nature, the arrested suspect shall be detained in custody, and the police officer may refer the matter to the Attorney-General of the Federation for legal advice and cause the suspect to be taken before a court having jurisdiction with respect to the offence within a reasonable time”.
According to Mr Agbadua, when it involves capital offence, the rules are different.
“It is of individual right to national security and rule of law, the state itself was a result of individuals submitting their powers, their rights to the state for protection.” “Reading those provisions, we are of the view that since it’s individual right, it cannot supersede that of the national security and that bail in capital offence is not as of right,” he explained.
Agbadua said Abiri was not entitled to bail as provided by section 35 (7) of 1999 constitution and urged the court to dismiss the application.
Responding, Abiri’s laywer, Ogala, said it is not the responsibility of the state to determine “what is rule of law and national security.”
According to Ogala, “it is the duty and responsibility of the court to say yes, this case is a capital offence or whether an applicant is entitled to bail or not. It is not the responsibility of the state security service to sit in their office, arrest, detain and punish a person.”
“The issue of rule of law and national security is very clear, what I want the court to understand is that, the applicant’s detention is criminal intimidation and it is punishable.”
Ogala also said there was no evidence of a court order for the applicant to be kept in detention for two years.
He said it was unfortunate that Abiri was detained for two years without access to family or lawyers, “which the respondents have not denied in their affidavit.”
After listening to both counsels, the judge, Nnamdi Dimgba, adjourned the matter till September 13.
Meanwhile, smarting from the successful global campaign to free Mr Abiri, Amnesty International (AI) is spearheading another social media campaign to ensure that the charge which it perceives as “baseless” against him is dropped.
“Because of your incredible support, Abiri Jones has been released on bail! After being thrown in prison for 2 years with no trial, Abiri can finally see his family. But the authorities are trying to send him back – just for doing his job as a journalist. We can’t stop now. Demand that Nigeria drops its baseless charges against Abiri and help protect free speech for everyone.”
AI said “Journalists, bloggers and the people that stand up for human rights in Nigeria are constantly being arrested, harassed and intimidated by the authorities. Trumped up charges is one tactic the government uses to jail people who are speaking out against the government.”
“After pressure from thousands of people, Abiri has been released on bail, but he could be sent back to jail if we don’t keep the pressure up.”
“We need to act now and put pressure on the people in power who can help stop Abiri from being locked up any longer. Staff from Amnesty will collect your signatures and send them to the authorities before the trial in order to show our support for Abiri,” AI said asking people to endorse the campaign on facebook and other social media outlets.