Tonye Okio was arrested October 26.
A businessman, Tonye Okio, spent his Christmas and will start the New Year at a Bayelsa prison for allegedly criticizing the Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson, on his Facebook account.
Mr. Okio, who was also a former Abuja Liaison officer for Bayelsa State, was arrested on October 26 at his Abuja residence.
He was subsequently blindfolded and driven to Bayelsa by the Special Investigation Bureau, SIB. The police also stripped Mr. Okio of his mobile gadgets and all postings on his Facebook account, ‘Tonye Okio’, about Mr. Dickson were deleted.
Two days after his arrest, the Bayelsa police released a statement that Mr. Okio was arrested for seditious publications against the Bayelsa governor.
“This is to inform the general public and the good people of Bayelsa State in particular that the Bayelsa police command has succeeded in apprehending one Tonye Okio ‘M’ of Otiokpoti, Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State for the offence of seditious publications.
“The suspects whose syndicate members are now at large will be appropriately arraigned in court when investigation is complete,” the police said.
The police then detained Mr. Okio for 10 days without trial. Mr. Okio’s lawyer subsequently filed a case at a Bayelsa High Court demanding his fundamental rights be obeyed and that he be charged to court if he has indeed done anything wrong.
A day before his fundamental rights case was to be heard, the police on November 5, charged the victim before a Magistrate Court for defamatory publication against the Bayelsa governor.
After taking his plea, the Magistrate Court adjourned the case to November 21 for trial.
When the case came up on November 21, the magistrate court granted Mr. Okio, an aide to ex-Bayelsa governor, Timipriye Sylva, bail in what a civil society activist described as ‘ridiculous conditions.’
The bail conditions included N5 million with one surety in like sum who must be a permanent secretary in the state and resident within the court’s jurisdiction.
Following the ruling, the victim’s lawyer, Doueyi Fiderikumo, prayed the court that it would be impossible to satisfy the condition because the complainant was the state governor who he suspected must have threatened most permanent secretaries in the state.
Sources close to the Bayelsa State government also told PREMIUM TIMES that no permanent secretary under the state’s employ dare stand surety for Mr. Okio out of fear of the governor.
Although an application was filed at the Nembe Division of the Bayelsa High Court in the state to demand a variation in the bail conditions, the court reportedly fixed three consecutive days for hearing and was unable sit on any of those days.
A ruling on the review of bail application was slated for December but was again adjourned by the judge, J. Buofini.
On the said date, the judge, through the court’s registrar, notified counsel that the ruling on the bail review application was not ready; and therefore the case was adjourned till January 20.
Civil society groups react
Two civic groups, the Movement for Accountability and Good Governance, MAGG, and Civil Society Network Against Corruption, CISNAC, have reacted to the continued detention of Mr. Okio and demanded his immediate release.
The program officer of CISNAC, Toyin Koleade, in a statement said the organisation was deeply concerned about the conspiracy between the Bayelsa governor and the state’s judiciary over the illegal imprisonment of Mr. Okio.
“The Civil Society Network Against Corruption is deeply concerned with the tyrannical conspiracy of the Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State and the State Judiciary, over the illegal imprisonment of Mr. Tonye Okio, a social media activist who was arrested from his Abuja home on the 26th of October 2013, based on the orders of Mr. Dickson,” Mr. Koleade said
He said it was unfortunate that public office holders, voted into power by the people, turn around to witch hunt people who they ought to be accountable to.
Also, the National President of MAGG, Jasper Azuatalam, said the police alleged that they saw on Mr. Okio’s Facebook page a posting indicating that a particular South-South governor was apprehended in the United States for laundering about $5 million and that another governor from the same region had had the same kind of case in the past.
He said the police also claimed that Mr. Okio denied the said Facebook account belong to him.
Mr. Azuatalam condemned the treatment of Mr. Okio and demanded his immediate release.
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