Charge Amigo Supermarket owner, two other Lebanese to court or release them, lawyer tells SSS

Bamidele Aturu

The firm wants Service to release suspected gunrunners or risk legal action.

The Lagos-based law firm of Bamidele Aturu & Co has written the State Security Service, SSS, requesting access to Mustapha Fawaz, a proprietor of Amigo Supermarket and Wonderland Amusement Park, Abuja and two other Lebanese currently being detained in connection with alleged gun running and terrorist activities.

In the letter dated June 3, and addressed to the Director General of SSS, Ekpeyong Ita, the firm also demanded that they should be charged to court if they have committed any offence since the Nigerian constitution forbids preventive detention without trial beyond 24 hours.

It warned that if its demands are not granted on or before Wednesday it would be forced to take legal action against the Service.

The letter signed by Bamidele Aturu, the senior partner of the law firm was also sent to the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC.

Messrs Fawaz, Abdalah Tahimi and Talal Rouda were arrested on different days in Kano over allegation of gunrunning, the law firm said.

“We are solicitors to Messrs. Mustapha Fawaz, Abdalah Tahini and Talal Rouda (hereinafter referred to as ‘our clients’) on whose behalf and instructions we write this letter,” the firm said.

“We have been duly informed that on or about the 16th day of May 2013 in Abuja at about 4am Mr. Mustapha Fawaz, a Nigerian of Lebanese descent, a businessman and the proprietor of Amigo Supermarket and the Wonderland Amusement Park both in Abuja, was arrested by operatives of the State Security Service (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Service’).

The lawyers claim is a bit different from that of the JTF which said Fauzi Fawaz, a co-owner of Amigo and Wonderland is on the run. It is not clear if Fauzi Fawaz, mentioned by the JTF, and Mustapha Fawaz, mentioned by the counsel are same or related.

“Further information at our disposal indicate that Abdalah Tahini and Talal Rouda both also Lebanese citizens were arrested by the agents of the Service in Kano respectively on the 17th of May 2013 and on or about the 28th day of May 2013. These persons have since the various dates of arrest been in detention at the facilities of the Service,” the lawyers said.

“It has also been brought to our notice that our clients were on the 29th of May, 2013 paraded before the press at which occasion they were alleged to have been involved in dealing in arms in violation of the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Since then and given the fragile security situation in the country the press have naturally feasted on this allegation and published various leads, reports, conjectures and theories linking these persons generally with terrorism.”

“Indeed and apparently as a follow-up action, we have been reliably informed that security operatives shut down Amigo Supermarket on the 31st of May, 2013 and arrested scores of persons who were either staff or customers of the Supermarket.

“Since their arrest we have also been told they have been held incommunicado and been denied access to members of their families, lawyers and doctors. Perhaps, more worrisomely, no charge has been preferred against any of our clients in any court of law for any known offence.”

The firm asked the SSS to respect the fundamental rights of its clients which it said had been abridge by the actions of the Service in the first instance, stressing that under Nigerian law, suspects are presumed innocent until proven otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction.

“Consequently, it is clear to us that our clients are entitled to be treated with all the dignities guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria including but not limited to reasonable access to their lawyers, family members and their doctors,” it said.

“Second, the law is inflexibly clear that a person arrested in an area having a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of forty kilometres such as Kano and Abuja cannot be detained beyond 24 hours without being charged with an offence.

“A cursory reading of section 35 of the Constitution and a plethora of judicial authorities, particularly those of the Supreme Court, puts this beyond any peradventure.

“In the circumstances, it is our instruction to demand, and we hereby so do, that you cause our clients to be released forthwith or that you prefer charges against them before a court of competent jurisdiction.

“Furthermore, we also demand that you grant us (and other lawyers that they may choose), members of their families and other relevant professionals such as medical practitioners access to them as soon as possible, howbeit not later than forty-eight hours after receiving this correspondence in accordance with their undoubted rights under both Nigerian and international law.”

The law firm stressed that the power or duty of the SSS and other security agencies to combat terrorism and allied crimes is not under challenge or in question, adding it has no doubt that all person of good conscience ought to do everything lawfully justifiable and necessary to assist the law enforcement and security agencies to ensure that the country is not safe haven for terrorism.

While pledging its unalloyed cooperation to the relevant institutions of the State in the anti-terrorism campaign, it said, “Nevertheless, we cannot but emphasize that the war has to be prosecuted in accordance with the dictates of the rule of law and all known and time-honoured principles of legality.

“There can be no room for xenophobic zealotry or guilt by association if the war is not to flounder and be unnecessarily compromised.

“The motive for the campaign must be clear, unambiguous and unmistakable, namely, to make our country and indeed the world safe for all who operate within the bounds of the law,” it said.

The firm threatened to sue the SSS if its demand is not granted on or before Wednesday.

It said, “Take notice that if our demands are not acceded to on or before Wednesday, the 5th of June, 2013 we shall be compelled to take all lawful and necessary steps to ensure that the rights of our clients are protected.

“Specifically, we shall be compelled to approach a court of competent jurisdiction to seek redress. It is our avowed conviction that every agency of the State must act within and under the law at all times, regardless of the temptations, nay, provocation. Our firm is committed to seeing to that with unflinching commitment and vehemence.”

“We have no doubt that you will accede to this very friendly request urgently.”

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