Rights group berates SSS for detaining journalist, lawyer against court orders, demands immediate release
THE Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), a human rights group based in Lagos has condemned the unlawful detention of Kufre Carter, a journalist and Emperor Ogbonna, a lawyer by the State Security Service (SSS) in Akwa Ibom and Abia states respectively.
Osagie Obayuwana, National President of CDHR in a press statement made available to The ICIR condemned the continued ‘unlawful detention of Kufre Carter by the SSS’ at Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State Command, despite being granted bail by the court and having perfected the bail conditions.
Carter was arrested on April 27 by operatives of SSS in Uyo. He was charged with criminal defamation for allegedly “castigating” Dominic Ukpong, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Health, for his alleged poor handling of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
Obayuwana noted that Kufre was arraigned before a Magistrate Court, but granted bail on rather harsh conditions.
According to him, his lawyers appealed against the conditions and secured a variation of the conditions at the High Court, lamenting that after perfecting the bail conditions, Kufre was still ‘being held unlawfully in the custody of the SSS on the ground of a directive from the State Government House.
“We of the CDHR berates the DSS as a leopard that cannot change its spots, for its persistent failure to uphold the principles of the rule of law, considering its penchant for holding of detainees, despite subsisting court orders granting the release of such detainees from custody. We call to mind the national shame the same DSS subjected Nigeria to in the Omoyele Sowore case of recent memory,” the human rights activist said.
The journalist was however released on May 27, after spending a month in SSS detention.
But Obayuwana reiterated that the Kufre Carter case has proved conclusively that SSS is an agency which has no respect for the Judiciary as an independent arm of government and has no qualms or remorse in disobeying court orders.
“We will not accept a situation where the DSS refuses to accept that the liberty of all citizens, freedom of movement and freedom from unlawful detention are fundamental human rights that are constitutionally guaranteed as inalienable,” he said.
He expressed concerns about the manner in which the DSS panders to the whims and caprice of members of the Executive arm in matters already before Court, involving the constitutional rights of a citizen.
In the case of Emperor Ogbonna, Obayuwana recalled that the lawyer and human rights activist was abducted in a commando style by the DSS operatives and whisked away on March 24, 2020 from his office.
He was accused of publishing what is termed “falsehood” against Okezie Ikpeazu, the Governor of Abia State.
While he was charged to Court and released after meeting his bail conditions, Obayuwana said Ogbonna was immediately rearrested by officials of DSS on the same day of his release, April 28.
“He is reported to have been transferred to Abuja, whilst his case is still pending before the Court in Abia,” Obayuwana said.
According to him, the lawyer has been held incommunicado in Abuja,without having contacts with his family, doctors and lawyers for weeks now.
“He has not been charged to Court or granted administrative bail for any other offence he may be suspected to have committed.”
While noting that the common thread between the case of Carter Kufre and that of Emperor Ogbonna is the expression of an opinion about public office holders, the National President of CDHR berated the SSS that it lacks the power to elevate public office holders in the Executive Arm of Government to “tin gods” beyond criticism.
He maintained that decisions and orders of court must be respected and observed in a constitutional democracy and demanded immediate and unconditional release of the lawyer.
“Thus, CDHR vehemently berates the DSS for electing to act arbitrarily, in defiance to the rule of law, in refusing to respect valid orders of competent courts restoring liberty to otherwise detained persons.”
He warned that such arbitrariness could only provoke and invite anarchy, mass resistance, insurrection, protests and outright revolution by the people who are being instigated to lose faith in the rule of law.
“The continuous detention of Kufre Carter and Emperor Ogbonna despite a valid Court Order for their release is clearly illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional. CDHR therefore further vehemently decries the level to which the DSS has degenerated, to that of being persistent violators of the rights of citizens and violators of constitutional and statutory provisions.”
“The DSS has shown itself to be tainted with unprofessionalism and eye service, failing in its responsibility as an Agency of State, to observe the fundamental human rights of citizens. We have in the past called for its disbandment; we do so again now.”
Meanwhile, in similar vein, Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), an advocacy organisation, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the SSS to obey court orders and operate within the rule of law.