The police are still holding an activist, Deji Adeyanju, three days after he was arrested on allegations he has an unresolved homicide case and despite evidence that the matter was actually resolved nearly 10 years ago.
PREMIUM TIMES reported on Thursday night that Mr Adeyanju was held at the Abuja police command headquarters, barely a week after he was released on bail over duplicated charges of defamation initiated by the police and the Nigerian Army.
Mr Adeyanju had on Thursday gone to collect a telephone which the police seized from him when he was first arrested for leading a protest against alleged police bias on November 28 and subsequently charged for defamation same day. But officers refused to release the device and instead arrested him shortly after 3:00 p.m., PREMIUM TIMES reported, citing Ariyo-Dare Atoye, a pro-democracy campaigner and long-time associate of Mr Adeyanju.
Mr Atoye, as well as relatives and lawyers of Mr Adeyanju, told PREMIUM TIMES the police have disclosed that the political activist was being sought this time over a murder case from his university days.
They admitted Mr Adeyanju, alongside three others, was arrested and charged with murder, but expressed strong misgivings about the real intention behind the latest arrest because the case was resolved nearly a decade ago, with Mr Adeyanju being found not guilty and consequently acquitted.
Although the police have refused to publicly speak on the arrest despite repeated requests for comments, a senior officer told PREMIUM TIMES under strict anonymity this weekend that homicide detectives are holding the activist because of some “unclear areas” in the murder trial which they wanted him to “cooperate fully” with them to resolve.
The officer, however, declined to specify the parts of the 2009 trial that the police suddenly deemed ambiguous enough to re-arrest Mr Adeyanju nearly 10 years later.
Discharged and Acquitted
Mr Adeyanju, born in 1979, grew up in the northern part of the country for decades, where he attended his early and secondary education. While studying at Bayero University, Kano, in the 2000s, Mr Adeyanju was arrested and charged with murder alongside three others.
Although the case was dispensed several years before he became politically-active and a big voice in the Peoples Democratic Party’s youth wing, Mr Adeyanju’s murder case remained a potent political weapon amongst his detractors online.
At the heat of the political season between 2014 and 2015, Mr Adeyanju’s case was rehashed by Japheth Omojuwa on his blog, saying the political activist was “eased out of jail” by godfathers rather than that he was discharged and acquitted following a lengthy trial.
Mr Adeyanju admitted he was charged with murder and spent time in prison while awaiting conclusion of trial, but he was discharged and acquitted. He, however, pressed defamation charges to the tune of N50 million against Mr Omojuwa, saying the blogger intentionally defaced his personality even though he knew the matter was resolved in his favour.
Mr Adeyanju did not see through the defamation suit, amidst claims that he later resolved the matter with Mr Omojuwa out of court.
Mr Omojuwa did not immediately return PREMIUM TIMES’ calls and messages seeking comments about how the matter was resolved on Sunday afternoon.
Following his arrest on Thursday, Mr Adeyanju again protested his innocence, and named rights lawyer Festus Keyamo as his defence attorney in the case.
Mr Keyamo told PREMIUM TIMES he represented Mr Adeyanju in the matter when it started in 2005 until a verdict was reached in 2009. He also said the political activist was discharged and acquitted, with the prosecution failing to file any appeal because it was satisfied with the ruling.
Despite Mr Keyamo’s disclosure, the police declined to release Mr Adeyanju, even while failing to publicly explain the matter to Nigerians.
Mr Keyamo released copies of the judgement from his chamber this weekend, and a review by PREMIUM TIMES showed Mr Adeyanju was discharged and acquitted.
Mr Adeyanju was accused by the prosecution of killing a Kano businessman, Alhassan Ali, after stalking him from a hotel to a house on January 6, 2005 in Kano.
The prosecution said Mr Adeyanju was the one who opened fire at Mr Ali, killing him on the spot before fleeing in a waiting vehicle that night. He was charged with culpable homicide, alongside three other persons said to be his accomplice.
But Mr Adeyanju, who enrolled to study English at Bayero University, Kano, in 2000, strongly denied the allegations, saying he was not even in Kano on the night of the killing.
His defence team was able to prove that Mr Adeyanju was indeed not in Kano, and the judge said he was convinced by the alibi submitted. It was on this basis, as well as the failure of the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt as required in such criminal proceeding, that Mr Adeyanju was found not guilty, discharged and acquitted on June 11, 2009, court filings showed.
Mr Adeyanju’s inexplicable detention has elicited grievous concerns amongst rights activist who feared the Nigerian police as an institution may be going rogue in a society that is governed by constitutional principles.
“We should be very afraid that our police officers have gone rogue in this country,” Liborous Oshoma, a legal practitioner, told PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday. “There is no other way to explain the police asking a citizen to go and find evidence that he did not jump bail.”
Mr Oshoma said the police are only after Mr Adeyanju for his vigorous activism, which had seen him organise protest for causes ranging from Nigeria’s clampdown on Shiites to the #EndSARS campaign.
“The truth is that nobody is holding Deji Adeyanju because of any murder case. He has been a major voice for the Shiites and #EndSARS protest,” Mr Oshoma said. “The government is very afraid of Deji Adeyanju’s activism and they want to break him before the election by all means.”
Mr Oshoma said the police and Kano State prosecution team had between 45 and 60 days to file appeal when Mr Adeyanju and others were discharged and acquitted.
“You can not just wake up nearly 10 years after a matter has been decided by a high court and say you want to appeal it in the middle of an election against a famous government critic,” Mr Oshoma said. “The window has lapsed and the police should release Deji Adeyanju and go and find something else to jump on.”
Mr Oshoma commended Mr Keyamo for confirming Mr Adeyanju as his client and making the court documents available to Nigerians.
“We thank Festus Keyamo for releasing those documents despite being the campaign spokesperson for the same government that is persecuting Mr Adeyanju, it shows that he would not compromise his pedigree,” Mr Oshoma said. “As we approach 2019 elections, the police have to show that they are not after activists like Deji Adeyanju and journalists like Samuel Ogundipe by allowing them to exercise their roles as clearly covered by the Constitution.”
The Amnesty International was amongst the first rights bodies to speak up for Mr Adeyanju when he was arrested last month for leading a protest against partisan conducts of security chiefs ahead of 2019 elections, demanding his release and warning against suppression of critical voices.
Mr Adeyanju, a former political operative of the opposition PDP, was accused by the police of posting materials that were not only deemed defamatory but also capable of aiding Boko Haram elements in Nigeria’s volatile North-east.
Before he was arrested on November 28 and ultimately spent eight nights in custody until he was freed on bail on December 6, anti-riot police officers took Mr Adeyanju into custody at least three times since January, all while leading demonstrations. Although he has received commendation for his civic duties, his social media posts have also drawn attention of many who raised concerns that they were too reckless and often defamatory.
In a string of tweets last month, he slammed Yemi Osinbajo as a thief, after the National Assembly found the vice-president culpable in gross misappropriation of emergency resources.
Between 2015 and 2016, Mr Adeyanju was caught on Twitter repeatedly calling President Muhammadu Buhari as “brain dead”, drawing vicious attacks from ruling party supporters.
Nonetheless, Isa Sanusi, Amnesty International’s lead spokesperson in Nigeria, told PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday the group has been paying close attention to the latest detention of Mr Adeyanju.
“We believe that every Nigerian has a right to associate and express opinion without fear,” Mr Sanusi said while acknowledging the power of the police to investigate probable cases. “But this picking up and locking up of people who are critics of government is not good.”
“Nigerian government has responsibility to ensure his rights are protected and convince Nigerians that this is not a witch hunt,” the rights expert added. “Due process must be followed in order to stamp out impunity.”