Despite various accusation of Human Rights violation by President Muhammadu Buhari-led Government, with the latest coming from Human Rights Activist and lawyer, Femi Falana, the Federal Government continuously denies any wrongdoing. Yet, the timing and length of arrest and indictment, as well as few cases of the style of handling uprising may have represented a reason for concern.
Following the arrest of Senator representing Abia State, Eyinnaya Abaribe, by the Department of State Services (DSS) operatives, Falana claimed that the Federal Government is committing the same “incessant infringements” President Buhari accused the previous Government of while he was in opposition.
According to Abaribe’s lawyer, Chukwuma-Machukwu Ume (SAN), while quoting from the arrest warrant, the operatives who came to arrest Abaribe were directed to “focus and search for arms and ammunition and any other incriminating document, while the alleged crime was aiding and supporting a proscribed body i.e. IPOB.”
Reacting to the incident, Falana said the DSS should rather charge the Senator to Court if there is evidence of his committing any other criminal offence, or grant him administrative bail pending his possible arraignment in Court.
Falana recalls how his firm challenged the “Constitutional validity of Police permit” when the Force teargassed Buhari and his supporters in Kano for holding a rally to protest the alleged rigging of the 2003 general election.
“General Muhammadu Buhari and other ANPP chieftains were teargased and dispersed on the grounds that they had assembled without obtaining a Police permit.
“The Human Rights community did not hesitate to take up the complaints of the victims of such abuse of human rights.
“In upholding the fundamental rights of Nigerians to freedom of expression and assembly, the Court declared that Police permits for rallies and meetings were illegal and unconstitutional.”
He urged the President to direct all security agencies in the Country to respect the fundamental rights of every citizen.
In detention for fake News?
Falana’s statement is following the alarm raised by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) over the arrest and continued detention of a Journalist, Jones Abiri, by the DSS since 2016.
Abiri was reportedly arrested over a story which he published on the July edition of Weekly Source. The story is on how top army officers, plotting to unseat President Buhari, approached Niger Delta militants – Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), to intensify bombings of oil pipelines which would be used as an excuse for a coup.
In the DSS Statement of arrest, he was accused of leading a separatist group ‘Joint Revolutionary Council’ of the NDLF.
The DSS also stated that the Journalist confessed to bombing oil pipelines, planning attacks in Abuja, sending threatening messages to international oil companies, and being the mastermind of a hoax military coup against President Buhari.
“On 21st July, 2016, one Jones ABIRI aka General Akotebe DARIKORO was arrested by this Service in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.”
In defence of the Journalist’s arrest, Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, claimed that Abiri was not a registered Journalist with any of the Media professional bodies in the Country.
“Admittedly, the issue of Abiri had been brought to the attention of the Presidency by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
“As a true believer in the rule of law and the integral role of the Media in a Democracy, the Presidency did interface with the Security Agency involved in the matter and our findings confirmed that the suspect is in custody because of alleged involvement in pipeline vandalism and theft.
“Abiri’s stock-in-trade and notoriety in the liberalised Nigeria Media industry include fronting as a spokesman for militants engaged in economic sabotage in the Niger Delta region.”
However, the name of the detained Journalist in Shehu’s Statement – Jones Abiri, differed from the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed’s – Clement Abiri.
While responding to the plea by the Executive Director, International Press Institute (IPI), Barbara Traori, to release Abiri and other illegally detained Journalists, Mohammed claimed “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.”
The claim by the Presidency that Abiri is not a Journalist is debatable as the National Secretary of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Shu’aibu Usman Leman, had written a co-signed letter demanding his release.
In the letter, CJP stated that the Organization is calling “for the release of Journalist Jones Abiri who has been held by Nigeria’s Department of State Security (DSS) for nearly two years, and to call for DSS to be held accountable for its attacks against Journalists in Nigeria.”
There is also a hashtag FreeThePress, initiated by the CJP, demanding Abiri’s release as he been in detention for “too long for his Journalism.”
In January, men of the Special Anti-Robbery (SARS) whisked away Daniel Elombah, a UK based lawyer and publisher, as well as his brother, Timothy and 6 others. Tim Elombah, was accused of publishing an article on an online media, Elombah.com which was allegedly aimed at blackmailing the IGP. The brothers were detained unlawfully for 23 days. A violation the House of Representative promised to investigate.
The IGP’s response to this was
“Anyway I don’t need to send anybody but whenever you commit an offence it is our duty to ensure that we respond.”
Amnesty International, persistent indictment
In May, AI released reports accusing the Nigerian Security Forces of human rights violations against the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The violations include rapes and molestation of women and girls.
In the report titled; “They betrayed us”, AI revealed, “how the Nigerian military and Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF) have separated women from their husbands and confined them in remote ‘satellite camps’ where they have been raped, sometimes in exchange for food.”
The Presidency discredited the reports by AI as being short of factual evidence and lacking credibility.
“Engagement was claimed to have been made with Nigerian authorities but which authority is it, is not provided with clarity.
“Findings are attributed to people but proper description of such people constituting the source of information was not provided.
“It ignores the fact of the existing mechanisms put in place by the Military, as a self-correcting step and the high-level Committee constituted by the Presidency to examine any such claims.”
The Nigerian Army also refuted the report urging AI to partner with security operatives, rather than conjuring lies and malicious reports to smear its image
“The Nigerian Military wishes to use this medium to reiterate her commitment to the citizens of our dear Nation, that it will abide by all Human Rights Regulations as entered into by Nigeria and also go the extra mile in ensuring that the territorial integrity of our Nation is well protected.
“However, the Nigerian Military admonishes AI to desist from cooking reports from time to time to demoralize the entire Military system and the Nation as a whole, whose troops are sacrificing their lives in the fight against Boko Haram and other enemies of the Country. These false reports which are capable of derailing the good work being done by our patriotic and selfless soldiers must stop.”
In 2016, AI also released reports of Human Rights violation by the Nigerian Army against the Islamic Movement of Nigerian (IMN), revealing the mass murder of men, women, and children of the Group with an attempted cover-up by dumping them into shallow graves.
US corroborates AI reports
In April 2018, the United States of America also released an accusatory report of the Government’s failure to adequately investigate widespread human rights abuses and impunity in the Country.
The US Department of State in its “Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017” stated that “impunity remained widespread at all levels of Government.”
“The Government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of Police or military extortion or other abuse of power.
“State and Federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths generally did not make their findings public.”
In May, another report (The International Religious Freedom report) was released by the US Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, for 2017, accusing the Federal Government of complacency in dealing with Soldiers that were implicated in the killing of over 300 Shi’ites members.
The report said the Court order, which awarded El-Zakzaky N25 million as restitution, is yet to be complied with.
“There were no reports of accountability for Soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the Army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State Government report and reports from non-government observers, left at least 348 IMN members and one Soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass grave.
“The Government stated publicly that Sheikh El-Zakzaky, leader of the IMN and a prominent Shia cleric, would remain in what it said was ‘protective custody’ pending the appeal of the December 2016 decision of the Federal High Court in Abuja that the Government must release him.
Both reports by the US were neither denied nor denounced as the Federal Government and the Army are yet to respond to the claims.
Dasuki et al
In April 2018, former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd), filed a fresh fundamental human rights enforcement suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja demanding his unconditional release from the custody of the DSS.
Dasuki, who has been detained by the DSS since December 29, 2015, also demanded N5bn as “general damages and compensation” for the alleged violation of his rights.
In 2016, he had also dragged Federal Government before the ECOWAS Court in Abuja, demanding for his release and N500 million damages for alleged infringement on his human rights.
ECOWAS had then ruled that Dasuki should be released but Federal Government said it needs to study the content of the ruling before acting on it.
Salihu Isah, Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, (SAN), said “We will first of all study the judgment to understand its content before taking a stand.”
In June 2017, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed said Dasuki is yet be released because he failed to disclose the whereabouts of $1.2 billion traceable to him.
According to him, unless Dasuki does that, he will not be released by the Federal Government, adding that the Government has information at its disposal which could not be divulged because of National Security.
“If he’s granted bail, whether he stays in Nigeria or elsewhere, $1.2 billion can destabilize any country. We take responsibility for what we are doing because we believe that at the end of the day, we either err on the side of National Security or personal safety.”
After Senator Isah Hamma Misau criticized the Police IG and accused him of corruption, the Attorney General of Federation took the Senator to Court and asked the Court to order his arrest even before serving him a notice. Curiously, the charge included a claim that the Senator falsified a document containing his age and submitted to INEC some years back.
Soon after this, the Police declared the Senator wanted for deserting the Police in 2010. The Police statement referred to the Senator as “…unsound mind, unrepentant and habitual liar who patronises Indian hemp joints.”
Senator Dino criticized the AGF’s decision to use his office, which should prosecute cases of public interest, in the prosecution of a civil case on behalf of the IGP. Months after this, 2 armed robbers confessed that Senator Dino Malaye gave them guns with which they are supposed to use to work for him as his “political thug”. The same phrase that will later reoccur in the accusation against Senate President Bukola Saraki whose “political thugs” were said to be behind the monstrous Offa robbery incident, a few weeks after he declared the IGP an enemy of democracy for not appearing before the Senate in person, few days after he claimed the IGP is trying to frame him.