For the third time, a Federal High Court in Abuja has granted the bail application of Gabriel Ogbonna, the human rights lawyer held by the State Security Service.
This newspaper reported how Mr Ogbonna has been held in the custody of the secret police for over four months despite court judgements ordering his release.
In March, the lawyer was arrested for posting articles criticising the Okezie Ikpeazu-led government in Abia State, via his social media page.
Shortly after the arrest, he was arraigned alongside another person at a magistrate court in Umuahia for alleged cybercrimes and for allegedly publishing false and threatening messages through the internet against Mr Ikpeazu.
However, because the magistrate court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, he was then remanded at a correctional facility in the state capital until April 28, when he was arraigned before the Federal High Court in Umuahia and granted bail.
Mr Ogbonna was re-arrested by SSS operatives on his way out of the correctional facility in Umuahia on the same day. This was after he had perfected the bail conditions.
The SSS moved Mr Ogbonna to its office in the state and in April, to its headquarters in Abuja, where he was in custody without any charges against him until August, four months after arrest.
On August 10, the agency arraigned Mr Ogbonna on a two counts bordering on cybercrime offences.
On June 29, the Federal High Court in Umuahia ordered that the SSS release him unconditionally, and also awarded him N1.5 million as damages in his favour.
Also, on July 6, in the suit challenging the infringement of Mr Ogbonna’s fundamental rights filed in Abuja, the SSS refused to present him in court and the case was adjourned to July 17.
In reaction to SSS’s plea to further adjourn the case, Justice Aninih of the FCT High Court granted bail to Mr Ogbonna on the conditions that he produce two sureties who have N20 million.
Despite perfecting the bail conditions, the security agency failed to release Mr Ogbonna. This led to a contempt charge filed against the director-general of SSS, Yusuf Bichi, earlier in August.
On Tuesday, Mr Ogbonna’s lawyer, Nkem Okoro, informed PREMIUM TIMES of the latest court ruling granting his client bail.
This newspaper learned that lawyers, Mike Ozekhome and A. A. Malik, appeared in court, praying the judge for a more lenient bail condition.
Based on Justice Taiwo’s judgement of Tuesday, the bail conditions include providing two sureties who are taxpayers with evidence of payments and the affidavit of names.
“Each surety must be bonded by two million naira and one must have a landed property in Abuja with documents of ownership,” Mr Okoro added.
The SSS spokesperson, Peter Afunnaya, on Tuesday, as in previous attempts, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ inquiries questioning the basis of Mr Ogbonna’s prolonged incarceration.
The agency is notorious for disobeying court rulings. The publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, Shiite leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, were held by the agency despite being granted bail by the courts in separate cases.
Although Messrs Sowore and Dasuki were eventually freed in December 2019, Mr El-Zakzaky is still in detention.