The suspects are also seeking monetary damages.
It was in the early hours of September 25, when stern-faced operatives of the State Security Service, SSS, closed in on two alleged notorious kidnappers in the Niger Delta.
Kelvin Ibruvwe and Frank Azuekhor had arrived Port Harcourt for a meeting scheduled by the Delta State government, purportedly, to resolve threats of violence against the federal government by their youth group.
However, they walked into an ambush by the SSS officials who promptly whisked them away to Abuja.
The arrest brought to an end months of manhunt for Mr. Ibruvwe, the elusive Delta State’s Kokori native, whose group, Liberation Movement of the Urhobo People, LIMUP, allegedly unleash terror in the Niger Delta.
Wanted for crime
For months, Mr. Ibruvwe and his cohorts had eluded security operatives after being fingered as the mastermind of some of the dastardly acts in the Niger Delta.
The alleged kingpin was also linked with the string of kidnaps in the oil rich communities, including that of Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in which four police officers were killed.
In addition to being accused of running a training camp for criminals, Mr. Ibruvwe was fingered in the kidnap and murder of Chudi Nwike, ex-Deputy Governor of Anambra State; kidnap of the wife of Patrick Muoboghare, the Delta State Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education; kidnap of Hope Eghagha, Commissioner for Higher Education; as well as abduction of several members of the National Youth Service Corps, among others.
Authorities say the height of his notoriety was his attack on Warri Federal Prisons, a bloody operation carried out in broad daylight, which led to the freedom of some members of his gang and the death of three wardens.
The Delta State Commissioner of Police, Ikechukwu Adaba, described the arrest by the SSS as a “great achievement.”
“He is a notorious terrorist, kidnap kingpin and armed robber, who has been on the wanted list of security agencies. He has been taken into custody and investigations of his notorious activities has commenced,” the Deputy Director of Press and Public Relations, SSS, Marilyn Ogar, said in a statement.
But Messrs. Ibruvwe and Azuekor have headed to an Abuja High Court seeking, among other things, the enforcement of their fundamental rights.
The duo want the court to declare their arrest as illegal, unlawful, null and void.
They also want the court to declare their continued detention, since September 25, as a gross violation of their rights and demanding payment from the respondents for “aggravated damages.”.
Joined in the suit are the SSS, its Director General, and the Attorney General of the Federation.
In the court papers seen by PREMIUM TIMES, Messrs Ibruvwe and Azuekor insisted they were innocent of charges of armed banditry and kidnapping, which have claimed over 100 lives in the Niger Delta.
The affidavit sworn to by Duke Ibruvwe, father of Mr. Ibruvwe, described the applicants as “law abiding and responsible citizens” of Kokori Community in Ethiope East local government of Delta State.
Kokori plays host to several flow stations and oil wells belonging to the Shell Petroleum Development Company and other multinational oil companies.
A freedom fighter
Mr. Ibruvwe Snr., in his affidavit, stated that the only land owned by his father, the grandfather of the first Applicant (Mr. Ibruvwe), was taken over by Shell Petroleum Development Company for the purpose of oil exploration.
“While acquiring the land from my father, representatives from Shell as well as from Delta State government made promises to my father as well as to the entire members of Kokori Community, to wit: rapid infrastructural development, health care services, scholarships/training, as well as job opportunities,” Mr. Ibruvwe’s father said.
According to the older Mr. Ibruvwe, while oil exploration activities devastated their communities and farmlands, the promised economic emancipation from both the government and oil companies never materialised.
He said that several protests led by his accused son to council elders, prominent political office holders, and Shell Petroleum Development Company for the development of their community as promised by Shell and the state government, yielded no result.
“Due to the failure of the aforesaid steps, and in further quest for the emancipation of our people, the first and second applicants (Messrs Kelvin and Azuekor), alongside other youths from other oil producing communities in Urhobo land, came together under one umbrella to form a body known as the Liberation Movement of the Urhobo People, LIMUP, the purpose of which is to agitate for the total emancipation of the entire Urhobo land from marginalisation and poverty,” Mr. Ibruvwe’s father said.
“Upon realizing the seriousness and sincerity behind the agitations of the group, the Delta State government appealed to members of the group to remain calm, with a promise to commence immediate and rapid development of the communities that have long been neglected.”
However, according to the police, Mr. Ibruvwe’s gang did everything but remain calm,
They were fingered as masterminds of several high profile kidnaps in the Niger Delta – the kidnap of judges in Delta and Edo States forced members of the Bench to plan a strike in protest.
“He has so many gangs in the state working for him. There is a network, this is what I have discovered, and we have been finding it difficult to get at him because, in that axis, the moment they see any stranger, they will blow the whistle,” Mr. Adaba said, in the wake of police’s fruitless effort to apprehend Mr. Ibruvwe.
About a week before his arrest, Mr. Ibruvwe, declaring himself the leader of LIMUP, issued a 60-day ultimatum to both the Delta and federal governments to develop Urhobo lands – Kokori in particular – or contend with his gang blowing up oil installations in the area, police said.
But in his court affidavit, Mr. Ibruvwe’s father stated that it was a different LIMUP that issued the ultimatum, noting that his son was taken aback when they saw the publication in newspapers.
“While trying to make a rejoinder to refute the aforesaid ultimatum, the 1st and 2nd Applicant were contacted on phone by a representative from the Delta State government seeking to know whether they were behind the said publication and same was duly refuted by the 1st and 2nd Applicants,” Mr. Ibruvwe Snr. said.
“The 1st and 2nd Applicants were subsequently invited by the representative from the Delta State government for a meeting in Port Harcourt in order for them to explain their purported involvement in the publication of the ultimatum.”
The two men arrived at the Port Harcourt venue of the meeting but, to their “utmost surprise,” were arrested by SSS officials.
Mr. Ibruvwe Snr. said that 24 hours after the arrest of the two men, media reports were awash with arrests of “robbers and kidnappers.”
“The applicants are neither robbers nor kidnappers but are sincere liberators and freedom fighters who are struggling to improve the lives of the impoverished people of Urhobo land and for the future of the unborn generations of the Urhobo people,” he said
Mr. Ibruvwe’s father further stated that since their arrest, the suspects have been in detention and have been denied access to their lawyers.
“The respondents have 24 hours and a maximum of 48 hours within which to charge the applicants to court for any offence they are alleged to have committed,” he added.
Festus Keyamo, the applicants’ lawyer, urged the judge to allow it serve court processes to the SSS by substituted means – serving the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, who would, in turn, serve the intelligence agency.
“The service of court processes on the (SSS) will be practically difficult due to restrictions at the entry gate,” Seyi Bakare, Litigation Secretary in Mr. Keyamo’s Chambers, said.
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