The police in Borno State are holding the wife of an opposition politician after a political event at her residence turned deadly last month.
Saadatu Muhammad, wife of Grema Terab, a Peoples Democratic Party gubernatorial aspirant, was arrested on April 15 in Maiduguri, capital of the northeastern state, her husband told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Terab, a former head of Borno State Emergency Management Agency, blamed the killing of an unnamed citizen on “some miscreants” who stormed his premises to attack those who attended the political event at his residence.
The attackers, suspected to be political thugs, arrived one hour after Mr Terab finished the meeting with his political supporters, he said.
The police arrived at his residence after the violence and took away his wife and several other family members, Mr Terab said.
Ms Muhammad was two months pregnant when she was taken away by the police, but lost the pregnancy the second day after being locked in a cell with harsh conditions, he claimed, her husband said.
“I am at a loss as to why my wife was arrested by the police nearly two hours after a successful completion of a meeting with my political associates in which the police themselves were present to provide security,” Mr Terab told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone.
“It is even more surprising that the same police that provided security during the meeting later came back to arrest my wife after we had completed and dispersed from the venue of meeting. I was the one that alerted the police about the disturbance but yet they chose to arrest my wife who has now lost her pregnancy. They want to even make it seem as if they advised me against the meeting. This is false and very painful,” he added.
The matter was taken before a Chief Magistrate’s Court in Maiduguri on April 19 and Ms Muhammad was remanded in custody following preliminary arraignment.
The magistrate, Binta Othman, adjourned the matter to April 24 for further bail applications. Again, she denied the bail when the matter was heard on April 24 and adjourned till April 26.
Again on April 26, Ms Othman refused to grant bail to Ms Muhammad and remanded her in custody, despite her deteriorating health condition, her husband said.
The matter was heard on May 3 before Abdulahi Sanya of the Maiduguri Division of Borno State High Court and the judge further remanded Ms Muhammad in detention. Mr Sanya said he would hear bail application on May 9 and adjourned hearing on the substantive charges till May 16.
The controversy appears the latest in growing cases of politicians who are being accused by the police of criminal conspiracy or worse.
It followed the allegations of armed robbery and murder levelled against Dino Melaye, a serving senator and major opposition politician in Kogi State. Similarly, Shehu Sani, another serving senator, was invited last month by the police for questioning in a murder investigation.
Messrs Melaye and Sani said their cases are politically motivated. But Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and his Kaduna counterpart, Nasir el-Rufai, both denied being behind the travails of their political opponents.
Damian Chukwu, the state police commissioner, explained what transpired to PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday, saying Mr Terab had been warned not to hold the political gathering at his residence.
“We pleaded with him repeatedly not to hold the rally at his residence, we asked him to go to a public place like a hotel or a stadium, but he refused,” Mr Chukwu said by telephone.
“The crowd was so overwhelming. Because he was a PDP politician, he was speaking like an opposition during the event and a fracas broke out. In the process, someone was found in the pool of his blood,” he added. “When the police arrived and asked for Grema, he had absconded.”
Subsequently, the police decided to arrest Mr Terba’s wife and family members, but said she is being held for allegedly committing a criminal offence by failing to report the killing of a citizen outside her house.
“The wife was not picked up because the husband was being looked for. She’s here for criminal negligence. Quite a number of others were arrested with her,” Mr Chukwu said.
He also said he was aware that Ms Muhammad lost her pregnancy, but said she had since recovered and doctors certified her fit to be kept in custody.
“We understand she was taken to the hospital and was treated. The same hospital returned her. If she is so sick, the hospital will not have advised her to be returned. The hospital will have asked her to be given concession,” the commissioner said.
“The court granted us relief to treat her in our custody. They have been formally arraigned and kept in custody,” he added.
But Mr Terab refuted the police’s claim that they warned him not to hold the programme at his residence, saying they should bring forth an evidence to substantiate it.
“I challenge the police to provide evidence showing that they warned me not to hold the gathering at my house,” he said. “I wrote to them and they acknowledged it and even sent policemen to protect security.”
“If I wrote to them, why did they not write back that they have rejected my request and that I should not hold the event at home?” He said. “Why did they not seal the house and prevent people from coming in if truly they did not want me to hod the event?”
“The police should stop claiming that they issued verbal warnings to me when I have clear evidence in writing that they acknowledged my letter and sent officers as I requested,” he said.
The police commissioner denied that Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima or any other politician had any hands in the matter, saying the police are only doing their job.
The decision to arrest Ms Muhammad for negligence over a crisis that broke outside her house has no place in law, said Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer in Lagos.
“Criminal negligence can only arise from what someone has participated in,” Mr Effiong said. “If she didn’t participate in the murder, then they are wrong. They’re not accusing her of being an accessory to the murder. For them to say criminal negligence is wrong.”
“What role did she play? You don’t arrest someone because she was at the scene of a crime, she must have had an obligation to care for those people before you could accuse her of negligence in caring for them,” the lawyer added.
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