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Promoting Good Governance.

Like Jones Abiri, hundreds still being held illegally by DSS

HUNDREDS of people are still being held illegally by Nigeria’s State Security Services (SSS) also known as the Department of State Security (DSS). Many of these detainees have spent over two years in detention – undergoing severe torture – without being charged to court, and their families not knowing their whereabouts.

This startling revelation was made by Chidi Odinkalu, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in a series of tweets on Monday, showing pictures of some of the detainees whom he said his organisation, in partnership with several other individuals and groups, have helped to secure their release.

Speaking with the ICIR on Thursday, Odinkalu, who is currently working with the Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA) as a Senior Legal Officer,  said 24 of the released detainees were from Niger Delta alone.

“The people we got out (who are) from the Niger Delta alone, we’ve documented 24, and every one of these people was arrested between December 2015 and the end of 2016. The least they have been held for is between 16 months or thereabouts,” Odinkalu said.

Like Jones Abiri, the Bayelsa State-based journalist who was arrested on trumped-up charges of terrorism, but was later charged with criminal intimidation, Odinkalu said all the persons that have been freed so far, were arrested under similar circumstances.

Several of the released detainees alleged that they were tortured severally. One of them, Bernard Ogbu, was hit on his back with a piece of wood, which broke and tore so deep into his skin that his shoulder bone was visible.

Bernard Ogbu shows the scar on his back, as a result of the torture he suffered while in DSS custody.

“He was detained in that state, with that deep gash revealing bones here (points to his shoulder), for four more days before eventually, they brought in a nurse. That stitching was done, not by a medical doctor, but by a nurse. And that happened while he was chained,” Odinkalu said.

“Several of them (the detainees)  are reporting terrible torture, including being beaten while they were chained… and that the beating took place in the operations room in the SSS headquarters, to the knowledge of the former Director General (Lawal Daura).”

Former DSS DG, Lawal Daura

Another allegation being made by the detainees, according to Odinkalu, is that there was some sort of inter-agency collaboration in their arrest as some of them were picked up by the Navy, then handed over to the DIA (Defence Intelligence Agency) and then to the SSS.

Also, a number of the released persons said their families have had to pay huge sums of money to DSS operatives, or people claiming to be DSS agents, in order to secure their release or even get access to them, all to no effect.

“So, you’re having allegations of torture, allegations of high-level complicity in the torture, and allegations of corruption,” Odinkalu said.

“There are also allegations by several of the detainees suggesting vendetta. That, basically you and I have problems, we’re fighting over land or we’re fighting over a woman, and these are two live cases, and somebody who knows an SSS operative now uses that operative to get you taken in.”

Daniel Ezekiel (left) and Michael Abe, have been in DSS detention since 2016. They were never charged.

Odinkalu said the progress made so far in securing the release of the detainees who do not have any serious case against them, have been made possible by the new leadership of the DSS headed by Mathew Seiyefa.

Acting DG of DSS, Mathew Seiyefa

So far, “over one hundred (detainees) have come out and there are still over 350 still there” from different parts of the country, though a “huge contingent” of the detainees were arrested from the Niger Delta during the time when it appeared like there was a resurgence in militancy in the region.

“But the thing is that quite a few of them, somebody like Jones Abiri or Daniel Ezekiel, for instance, were not militants. These are not people who know how to get a gun or how to use it or how to clean it. Many of them were activists, and there were a few of them who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Odinkalu said.

Before and after pictures of Jones Abiri, the Bayelsa State-based journalist who was arrested in July 2016 by the DSS, and was detained for more than two years before being charged to court in late July 2018. He was eventually released on August 15.

“We are not saying security agencies should not do their work, we are saying security agencies should do their work in accordance with the law. And there’s no law in Nigeria that authorises any security agency to [make citizens] disappear, and to [make them] disappear them on end.

“I mean, you’ve got all manner of cells inside the headquarters there, and you have citizens being disappeared inside these cells for nothing. That’s just not right.

“If you arrest somebody, let the person know what you are arresting them for, get the evidence, prosecute them, and let the law take its course. But we surely can’t be in a situation where citizens are being picked off the streets, or the creeks as the case may be, and disappeared indefinitely.”

Odinkalu said the losses some of the detainees had suffered while in detention are incalculable. For instance, Jones Abiri’s younger brother, Ebikeseye, died while running around looking for money to get him out of detention, as demanded by a DSS officer. He was 35. Abiri himself has been on medical treatment since he was released. Ezekiel Daniel’s wife left him after staying for several months without news of his whereabouts.

Efforts to contact the DSS spokesperson, Nnochirionye Afunanya, was not successful.

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