The Nigerian government has said it did nothing wrong by detaining a journalist, Jones Abiri, for two years without trial.
Mr Abiri was recently released on bail by the court after he was charged following outcry by Nigerians and the international community. Before he was charged to court, the Nigerian government had denied he was a journalist and claimed he was only a crime suspect.
The government gave its justification for the detention on Monday in a suit filed by Mr Abiri through his lawyer, Samuel Ogala. The journalist is demanding a compensation of N200 million from the Nigerian government for his prolonged detention without trial.
Mr Abiri, publisher of a Bayelsa State-based weekly paper, Weekly Source, was arrested by operatives of Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) in July 2016 and detained till July 2018.
In an application brought before the Federal High Court, Mr Abiri asked the court to compel the SSS to pay him for the “flagrant abuse of his rights and torture experienced during his detention by the operatives.”
Speaking during the opening of the session at the court on Monday, the SSS counsel, G. O. Agbadua, responded to the application by the journalist.
Mr Agbadua said: “Section 30(3) of ACJA; where a suspect is taken into custody and it appears to the police officer in charge of the station that the offence is of a capital nature, the arrested suspect shall be detained in custody, and the police officer may refer the matter to the Attorney-General of the Federation for legal advice and cause the suspect to be taken before a court having jurisdiction with respect to the offence within a reasonable time.”
According to Mr Agbadua, when it involves capital offence, the rules are different.
“It is of individual right to national security and rule of law, the state itself was a result of individuals submitting their powers, their rights to the state for protection.
“Reading those provisions, we are of the view that since it’s individual right, it cannot supersede that of the national security and that bail in capital offence is not as of right,” he explained.
Mr Agbadua said Mr Abiri was not entitled to bail as provided by section 35 (7) of 1999 constitution. He urged the court to dismiss the application.
Responding, Mr Abiri’s laywer, Mr Ogala, said it is not the responsibility of the state to determine “what is rule of law and national security.”
According to Mr Ogala, “it is the duty and responsibility of the court to say yes, this case is a capital offence or whether an applicant is entitled to bail or not. It is not the responsibility of the state security service to sit in their office, arrest, detain and punish a person.
“The issue of rule of law and national security is very clear, what I want the court to understand is that, the applicant’s detention is criminal intimidation and it is punishable.”
Similarly, Mr Ogala said there was no evidence of a court order for the applicant to be kept in detention for two years.
He said it was unfortunate that Mr Abiri was detained for two years without access to family or lawyers, “which the
respondents have not denied in their affidavit.”
After listening to both counsel, the judge, Nnamdi Dimgba, adjourned the matter till September 13.
President Muhamadu Buhari had stirred the hornets recently when he told a gathering of Nigerian lawyers that the rule of law can be shelved when national interest or security were threatened.
He, however, soft-pedalled after public outcry saying his administration would always ‘respects’ the rule of law; when visiting German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, paid him a visit as part of a state interaction.