After 86 days in detention, court frees Bayelsa man accused of defaming Governor Dickson on facebook

Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa

Mr. Okio was imprisoned for criticizing the Bayelsa State governor on facebook

A business man, Tonye Okio, who was imprisoned for allegedly criticizing the Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson, on his
Facebook account, has finally been released.

Mr. Okio, a former Abuja liason officer for Bayelsa State, was arrested on October 26 for what the police described as an “offence of seditious publications”.

His lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, numerous Nigerians, and civil rights activists described the charge as spurious and a show of the
high-handedness of the governor of Bayelsa State.

Mr. Okio was detained without trial for 10 days and after a human rights abuse suit instituted by his lawyer, he was hastily charged to a Magistrate Court for defamatory publication against the Bayelsa governor.

The magistrate granted him bail on conditions described by a civil society activist as ‘ridiculous.’ Mr. Okio’s bail conditions included N5 million with one surety in like sum. The surety, the judge said, must be a permanent secretary in the state and resident within the court’s jurisdiction.  Human rights lawyer and the defendant’s counsel, Mr. Aturu, said the condition was “like granting bail with one hand and taking it away with another.
“Given the subservience of our public officers today, unless a member of his family or acquaintance was a permanent secretary, it was clear that the conditions could not be met. And precisely that was what happened”.

Mr. Aturu said the defendant’s family searched in vain for a permanent secretary that would risk his position by offending Governor Dickson and standing as Mr. Okio’s surety.

Sources close to the Bayelsa State government had also told PREMIUM TIMES that no permanent secretary under the state’s employ dares stand as surety for Mr. Okio out of fear of the governor.

Mr. Okio’s legal team filed an application at the Nembe Division of the Bayelsa High Court 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 in what was seen as a deliberate attempt to delay justice for Mr. Okio.

But on January 21, after 86 days, numerous adjournments and several interventions by the civil society, Justice Buofini of the Bayelsa High Court quashed the bail conditions, rendering Mr. Okio a free man.

Mr. Aturu praised the Mr. Buofini’s decision, even as he expressed his initial disappointment with delay of the court’s decision.

“I commend the High Court judge for privileging citizens right over petty schemings of politicians, although we were initially
disappointed that the case was not expeditiously treated, given that the liberty of a citizen was involved,” Mr. Aturu said.

He said he hopes the case would show public officers that they can no longer use their positions to intimidate Nigerians.

Mr. Aturu spoke about the importance of social media and online journalism in a democratic society.

“…the social media and Internet journalism has come to stay. It is technology’s contribution to democracy, openness and justice in our epoch. There is nothing anyone can do about that,” he said.

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