Political activists with ties to Deji Adeyanju have accused the Buhari administration of keeping him in prison as part of a plot to inflict physical and mental pains on him and diminish his impact during the upcoming presidential elections.
Mr Adeyanju has been kept perpetually in custody since the Nigerian police lured him to their office in Abuja on December 13.
Fifty days later, the activist has not been granted bail despite a slew of fundamental rights lawsuits filed by his associates.
The activist has spent so long in prison even though the police do not seem to have a justifiable case against him.
The police said Mr Adeyanju was a suspect in a homicide that occurred in Kano in January 2005.
But Mr Adeyanju’s associates have dismissed the charges as a ruse, and accuse the police of embarking on a witch-hunt against a popular activist despised by the government and its supporters.
“While it is true that Deji Adeyanju was charged for murder in Kano over 14 years ago, it has been about 10 years now since he was discharged and acquitted in the same matter,” Ariyo-Dare Atoye, a long-time associate of Mr Adeyanju’s, told PREMIUM TIMES Friday afternoon. “The police have no reason to arrest Deji Adeyanju and that is one of the reasons why we are suspecting an ethno-religious persecution of our friend.”
PREMIUM TIMES first reported in December that Mr Adeyanju was identified as a prime suspect in a murder investigation in 2005, but our findings showed he was discharged and acquitted in the matter.
Statements issued to PREMIUM TIMES by Festus Keyamo, who represented Mr Adeyanju in the case, complemented court documents that were later seen by this newspaper.
Both sources established that Mr Adeyanju’s matter was dispensed in 2009 following a lengthy trial that saw him spend four years awaiting trial in a Kano jail.
Mr Keyamo’s initial reaction to Mr Adeyanju’s arrest, especially the confirmation that he was his attorney and disclosure of court documents, gave early hopes to his associates that the prominent rights lawyer would help in securing his release.
However, their position flipped following long silence from Mr Keyamo as the case dragged on, leaving Mr Adeyanju in prison.
Already, Mr Atoye has led others in accusing Mr Keyamo of compromising his professionalism by allowing Mr Adeyanju to suffer in jail to please his political interest. They have petitioned to have his status as a senior lawyer withdrawn.
Mr Keyamo, 49, took part in pro-democracy campaigns at the height of Nigeria’s military dictatorship in the 1990s. He has gained prominence as one of Nigeria’s foremost rights activist since the country returned to civil rule in 1999.
But Mr Keyamo has unsuccessfully run for political offices in the past, with the most recent being in 2015 when he ran for Senate under the now-ruling All Progressives Congress.
In April 2018, Mr Keyamo emerged spokesperson for President Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign. He, however, told PREMIUM TIMES in December that his association with politics would not erode his long-standing interest in rights issues. Mr Keyamo denied allegations of bias.
Mr Atoye and other political activists said the outcome of various lawsuits seeking to free Mr Adeyanju “has now validated our suspicion that” Mr Buhari “is on a personal mission to victimise, persecute and silence” the activist.
Mr Adeyanju was first arrested on November 28 while leading a protest against police bias in Abuja.
He was released on November 6 after spending a week on prison over two separate but similar charges filed against him by the police, who accused him of defaming both the police and the Nigerian Army on social media.
He received a call from the police barely a week later on December 13. He was asked to come for the last of his three mobile telephones which the police seized when they arrested him. Two of the devices had been previously returned to him.
But on arrival, Mr Adeyanju was held in custody.
He spent five days in police custody in Abuja without charges, before being transferred to Kano where the police said the matter started the last decade.
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court reportedly ruled on the same day Mr Adeyanju was moved to Kano that the activist should be released on bail. The order was rendered unenforceable after it was discovered that Mr Adeyanju had been taken to Kano and the jurisdiction had changed.
After three days in Kano without being arraigned, Mr Adeyanju was taken before a magistrate there on December 21, during which he was controversially remanded in prison until this month.
The pronouncement sparked a nationwide uproar, especially because the magistrate said he lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter but still kept him in custody nonetheless. It fuelled speculation that the government was behind the activist’s ordeal to keep him out of circulation ahead of the elections.
The ruling did not deter Mr Adeyanju’s associates, who immediately approached the Kano State High Court that acquitted Mr Adeyanju 10 years ago to free the activist.
Following repeated adjournments, the matter ultimately came up on January 30, but the outcome was assailed as a judicial ambush by Mr Atoye.
As presiding judge, Aisha Mahmoud, was hearing bail application for Mr Adeyanju on January 30, the police “secretly filed charges in another high court”.
Musa Muhammed, a police prosecutor who entered the courtroom with the fresh charges, said they had been filed before another judge in Courtroom 11 of the same court. Mr Musa had been served papers for Mr Adeyanju’s bail since December 27, but declined to respond until January 30 when he stormed the courtroom.
At this point, Ms Mahmoud became handicapped, and consequently ruled that it would amount to “judicial recklessness” to grant the bail application when the matter has been assigned, sources present at the hearing told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Muhammed brought charges against Mr Adeyanju alone, even though there were three others who were tried and released in the matter.
“Since we all know the record of President Buhari as a divisive leader, we have to ask questions when only Deji Adeyanju, a Yoruba and Christian, has been the only one they are charging 10 years after the matter had been concluded,” Mr Atoye said on Friday.
Abuse Of Power?
While the lower court subsequently declined jurisdiction on December 21, 18, it, however, went ahead to remand the accused in prison custody till February 6, 2019 or when a court that has jurisdiction will take over the matter.
“While the Buhari government and the police have in flagrant violation of our laws chosen to embark on this fruitless voyage of illegal discovery, we are shocked by their recoil into ethno-religious biases and vendetta, persecuting only Deji Adeyanju – the only Yoruba-Christian in a group of four persons which includes three Hausa-Fulanis, who were discharged and acquitted.
“It is, therefore, unfortunate that while the present regime of General Buhari continues to give a false impression – to Nigerians and especially the international community – that it is committed to a united Nigeria that is free of ethnic bigotry and intolerance, its actions and pronouncements, however, especially as it relates to respect for human rights and dissenting voices, have proved otherwise.
“Again, we wish to forewarn all well-meaning Nigerians, within and without the country, that as gathered through veritable sources within the incumbent government of General Buhari, there is an active plot to foist a strange agenda on the nation and silence dissenting voices; and the ultimate goal of this plot is to plunge Nigeria into a full-fledged dictatorship and ethno-religious fascism,” the group said.
Presidential spokespersons Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu did not return requests for comments Friday evening.
But Mr Keyamo, who has been on the campaign trail with the president, denied allegations Mr Adeyanju was being victimised for his political views.
“I have done what I am supposed to do as a lawyer,” Mr Keyamo said after confirming to PREMIUM TIMES that he defended Mr Adeyanju and made available the court documents that established his acquittal.
The lawyer said he would not comment on allegations that he instigated the police to ‘exhume’ Mr Adeyanju’s case as part of the government’s strategy for reelection.