A Nigerian blogger who was arrested last week for writing a controversial blog post is still in detention without bail.
Jamil Mabai was in police custody for four days before being remanded in prison by Magistrate Court in Katsina, which declined to try him.
The court adjourned the case to September 29 because defence lawyers raised the issue of jurisdiction of the court.
Mr. Mabai’s lawyer, Job Israel, had filed two applications, one for his fundamental human right and another for bail.
The court is expected to rule on the applications at its sitting on Thursday.
“The ruling tomorrow will determine whether the law (under which Mr. Mabai is being charged) is a dead law or an existing law,” said Mr. Israel. “If the case is in our favour tomorrow, that means Mr. Mabai case is terminated forever. But if not, we will have to appeal based on our submissions.”
Mr. Israel says a magistrate court lacks the authority to remand or try Mr. Mabai. He said the offence his client was accused of was unknown to law.
“Section 36 subsections 4 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended prohibit a court to try an offence that is unknown to law,” he averred.
Mr. Mabai is currently being held at the Central Prison in Katsina.
Mr. Mabai, who publishes Cliqq magazine, was arrested by officers of the Nigerian Police Force on Monday in Kaduna.
He is a known critic of the Katsina administration led by Governor Aminu Masari.
Mr. Mabai’s arrest is believed to have been ordered by the governor, a claim the latter’s spokesperson denied.
A family friend of Mr. Mabai told PREMIUM TIMES that the governor was not happy with his recent post condemning a recent purchase of 3,000 metal coffins for distribution to mosques in the state.
Mr. Mabai said by purchasing the coffins, Mr. Masari was simply saying “Katsina people deserve to die”.
He also questioned the rationale behind buying the coffins at N40,000 each at a time the government was unable to pay civil servants’ outstanding arrears of salaries.
Mr. Mabai was arrested last Monday in Kaduna where he had gone for the Eid el kabir Sallah celebration.
“The police followed him from Katsina to Kaduna and arrested him there,” a family source said.
“When they picked him up, they first took him to Unguwan Sanusi police station before they proceeded to Kankara local government area and finally Katsina town.”
Friends and relatives of the blogger were apprehensive of his whereabouts, until the police finally charged him to court.
Mr. Mabai himself posted a tweet saying, “Finally they have taken us to court at GRA, including one other Social Media activist, Bishir Dauda”.
He said “as soon as the matter was announced, the judge said he cannot entertain the matter for lack of jurisdiction”.
He said the judge ordered that the accused be taken to prison pending when he would be arraigned at a separate court.
Efforts to speak with the spokesperson of the Police in Katsina, Salisu Agaida, were unsuccessful as his phone line could not be reached.
However, media reports had quoted the state Commissioner of Police, Usman Abdullahi, explaining why the blogger was arrested.
Mr. Abdullahi said Mr. Mabai was detained for posting tweets to say the government bought the coffins because it wanted people to die.
“The state government complained that Jamil wrote that it had bought 3,000 coffins and distributed to mosques and may be it wanted Katsina people to die.
“Any reasonable person will ask one or two questions. This is why we had to invite him to assist the police,” he said.
When contacted, the spokesperson to Mr. Masari, Abdu Labaran, denied that the state reported the blogger to the police.
“To the best of my knowledge, the state government did not complain about any blogger to anybody. Unless it is done without my knowledge,” he said.
Mr. Labaran also said he spent the whole day with the governor on Thursday and “no mention was made of the arrest or arraignment of anyone on the orders of the governor.”
Going after bloggers
Also arraigned alongside Mr. Mabai are Bashir Dauda and Umar Faruq. They were all accused of writing about the story with the intent to cause civil disturbance and expose Mr. Masari to public ridicule.
Their arrest and arraignment is coming on the heels of the arrest and detention two weeks ago of another blogger, Emenike Iroegbu, on the orders of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State.
Mr. Iroegbu who publishes Abia Facts Newspaper was accused of defaming Mr. Ikpeazu.
He allegedly published a story accusing the governor of burying a nine-year-old boy in the government House, Umuahia.
Another blogger, Abubakar Usman, was recently arrested and detained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Comkission, EFCC, accused him of “cyber stalking”.
Mr. Usman was released after much public condemnation.