Nigeria’s secret police, the SSS, in Akwa Ibom State, South-South Nigeria, on Friday, refused to obey an order of a magistrate court granting bail to a sports reporter, Kufre Carter, who is charged with defamation.
Mr Carter works with a local radio station, XL 106.9 FM, Uyo. He was arrested on April 27 when he went to the SSS office on the invitation of the security agency.
Mr Carter was granted N3 million bail by the magistrate, but he was unable to meet the bail conditions described by his lawyer as “unrealistic”.
Apart from the N3 million, the journalist was required to provide a surety who must be either a permanent secretary with the Akwa Ibom government or a civil servant of grade level 17, plus a letter from his village head attesting to his identity.
His lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, went to the High Court in Uyo and got the bail conditions reduced, despite opposition by the Akwa Ibom government which was represented by the Attorney-General of the state, Uwemedimo Nwoko.
The court presided by Justice Archibong Archibong agreed with Mr Effiong that the bail conditions set by the magistrate court were “stringent, excessive and unaffordable” and, therefore, ruled that Mr Carter should be admitted to N200,000 bail. The court also said he should provide a prominent indigene or a businessman within the jurisdiction of the court as a surety.
Mr Effiong, strengthened by his victory at the High Court, returned to the magistrate court, fulfilled the new bail conditions for the journalist, and got an order for his release on Friday.
But his victory turned out to be short-lived; the SSS officials refused to honour the court order which was delivered to them by a police sergeant attached to the court and delegated for that purpose by the magistrate.
Mr Effiong said the SSS refused to release the journalist because the Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Nwoko, wrote a letter to them, instructing the agency not to honour the court order.
Why SSS is keeping the journalist – Attorney-General
Mr Nwoko denied writing any letter to the SSS nor influencing its decision. He said the SSS acted on the notice of appeal and a motion for stay of execution which he filed at the High Court against the variation of the bail conditions for the journalist.
“Even a law student knows that when there is a motion for stay of execution, all the parties stay action until that motion is heard and determined,” Mr Nwoko said of Mr Effiong’s allegation against him.
“If he had met his bail conditions before we filed our appeal it would have been a different story, but we had filed our appeal, we filed the motion for stay of execution, and served it on all parties including his (Effiong’s) office as far back as Monday, the same day that the order (for variation of the bail conditions) was made.
“He had filed a counter-affidavit to that motion. So, he cannot pretend as if he is not aware.”
The attorney-general told PREMIUM TIMES the journalist may jump bail if certain conditions are not fulfilled before his release.
“Kufre Carter stated in his affidavit that he is from Mkpat Enin Local Government Area, he has not stated the name of his village up till today.
“He claims to work with XL FM, he has not exhibited his letter of appointment to show that he works there. If you release him and he disappears, how do we get him back?”
No permanent secretary or senior civil servant in the Akwa Ibom government may be willing to stand as surety for the journalist as required by the initial bail conditions since doing so could be interpreted as opposing the interest of the same government they are serving, PREMIUM TIMES said to the attorney-general.
“That is just microscopic aspect of the matter,” he responded. “I am not contesting those aspects, the court can vary it.”
The attorney-general said the journalist should be able to produce a letter of attestation from his village head. “How do we even know that he is from Akwa Ibom State?”
He said Mr Effiong was not interested in the journalist’s freedom, but wanted to use the case to attract attention to himself on social media.
He said, “The NUJ chairman went with seven elders of the profession, even though Kufre is not even a member of the NUJ, they went to discus with the DSS director. In their presence, he (Carter) wrote a letter of apology addressed to the governor and gave it to the chairman of the NUJ who brought it to my house the next day, I was not there.
“When I met with Inibehe in court on Monday, I asked Inibehe we can discuss this matter, you know your client has apologised to the state. Inibehe said to me that the apology was obtained under duress, and that his client has no reason to apologise to the state but rather the state should apologise to his client.”
Mr Nwoko said Mr Effiong subsequently stood with Mr Carters’ family to publicly jettison the apology letter.
Inibehe Effiong’s response
Mr Carter’s lawyer said the attorney-general’s remark on why the SSS refused to free the journalist was “disappointing” as well as “revealing”.
“As a lawyer, the AG is supposed to know that a court process can only be served on parties to proceedings in a case,” Mr Effiong said.
“The SSS is not a party in this case, on what basis was a court process served on the SSS? That clearly shows that the SSS is acting in collusion, and that they have been compromised.”
Mr Effiong said, “The SSS are keeping our client based on the order of a court. The implication is that the decision as to when to release our client can only be taken by the SSS based on the order of the court, not any document that any party, whether the prosecution or the defence, claimed to have filed.
“The question is, how come the motion for stay of execution did not stop us from perfecting the bail? The same magistrate who remanded our client in the SSS custody has now appended her signature after the so-called motion was filed.
“So, if the magistrate has obeyed the High Court and even delegated a police officer from her court and ordered the release of our client, who is Nwoko to be talking about a motion?”
On the attorney-general’s claim that Mr Carter has not provided the name of his village in Akwa Ibom State and that the state government was not certain the journalist would be willing to stand trial if release on bail, Mr Effiong said that was the same argument the attorney-general presented in the court and the court disagreed with him based on the submission of the defence.
Mr Effiong said the affidavit he filed in the court disclosed both Mr Carter’s residential and business address, including the name of his village.
He said SSS officials know the resident of Mr Carter which he said they went to search.
“Why is the AG lying to the public? He said our client can jumped bail, but he is not going to be released unconditionally! If a person jumps bail, the court has several options. The court can issue a warrant for his arrest, the court can order the surety to show cause.”
Mr Effiong also said it was Mr Carter that went to the SSS office on his own to honour the security agency’s invitation. “Why would he want to run away now when he didn’t run away in the first instance?”
“He (the attorney-general) claimed my client had apologised, he should also be able to explain why we could not have access to our client and why our client was denied access to his family.
“Our client we have not met, we were now being told by his prosecutor that he has apologised and that he has confirmed – he said they went on their own, NUJ and SWAN, they never consulted us, they never sought our opinion. I cannot take instruction from NUJ, the same NUJ that had issued a public statement, saying that none of their members is in custody, the same client that they distanced themselves from.
“The attorney general should be interested in proving his case in court and not an apology.
“This argument of our client apologising to the Akwa Ibom state government is the highest ridicule of the office of the attorney-general. You only apologise when you have done something wrong, our client hasn’t done anything wrong.
“Okay, if I understand him, he is saying that our client is being detained because we did not accept the apology. You claimed that our client has apologised, am I the one standing trial? If you said he has apologised, why are you still prosecuting him? How come you have not entered a nolle prosequi to discontinue the matter?”
Mr Effiong said he felt insulted for Mr Nwoko to say he wants to use the case to attract publicity to himself. “As far as I am concerned, I have already made a name for myself.”
He said, “It is not me that used the SSS to arrest my client. The SSS, by Section 2 of the National Security Agency Acts, is established with the mandate to protect the internal security of the country, what does defamation has to do with that?
“The AG has shown complete ignorance of the law by not knowing that the SSS has no business arresting my client over a purported case of defamation.”
Mr Nwoko’s motion for stay of execution may not likely be heard in court this week because of the public holidays.
Mr Carter is accused of “castigating” the Commissioner for Health in Akwa Ibom state, Dominic Ukpong, over his handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the state.
The journalist was disowned by the XL FM before his arrest.