The State Security Service (SSS) on Thursday urged the Federal High Court in Asaba to validate the arrest and detention of Anthony Okolie who was accused of using a SIM card previously used by Hanan, President Muhammadu Buhari’s daughter.
Mr Okolie was in the custody of the secret police for 10 weeks last year on the directive of the presidency.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mr Okolie was arrested in July 2019 and eventually detained for 10 weeks without trial. Nigerian laws say that a suspect cannot be detained for more than 48 hours without bail or being taken to court.
After his release, Mr Okolie through his lawyer, Tope Akinyode, sued Hanan, the Director-General of the SSS and telecoms provider, MTN, over his ‘illegal detention’.
Mr Okolie is seeking an order to “compel the respondents to jointly or severally’ to pay him “N500 million as general and aggravated damages for the gross and unlawful violation of the applicant’s right to acquire moveable properties, freedom of movement and self dignity.”
Speaking at the hearing of the suit in Asaba on February 12, the president’s daughter, through her lawyer, M.E. Sheriff, told the court that Hanan would not be responding to the allegations “because there was no need.”
The judge, Nnamdi Dimgba, furiously responded saying: “What do you mean you haven’t seen a reason? Sheriff, how can you not see a reason? Somebody has accused you. Even if it is to say, ‘I didn’t do so’, can’t you respond? You’re saying you did not see a reason. Sheriff, what kind of thing is this?”
On his part, the SSS lawyer, E.E. Daobri, said “he did not receive the necessary documents from the SSS headquarters in Abuja on time, hence, could not file a counter-affidavit.
Following the comment by the judge, Hanan, through her lawyer, Mr Sheriff, in a counter-affidavit filed on February 21, agreed that the MTN SIM card which caused the dispute was once used by her.
She, however, claimed not to be aware that any arrest was made by the SSS in her 20-paragraph affidavit obtained by PREMIUM TIMES.
The SSS later deposed to an affidavit, explaining why it arrested and detained the suspect. The security outfit said it received an official letter of instruction from the presidency dated July 5, 2019, upon which it acted.
The SSS alleged that their investigation revealed that Mr Okolie attempted to defraud Ahmed Halidu, a member of the president’s family, before he was arrested.
The agency said Mr Okolie wrote a confessional statement admitting to the crime on July 24, 2019.
In his defence, Mr Akinyode, the lawyer to the accused, said the Nigerian constitution makes no provision of any kind for the “first family” and that the involvement of the presidency in this matter is a “disgraceful deployment of state apparatus for personal gains.”
He said: “The ‘confessional statement’ has no relevance to this suit whatsoever. There was no place he ever misrepresented to anybody that he is Buhari’s daughter. More so, he never received any money from anybody.”
Validate Illegal Detention
On Thursday, March 12, when the matter came up, the SSS asked the court to validate Mr Okolie’s detention because “the matter is not expected to be brought to court.”
The Principal Staff Officer, Legal Services, SSS, E. E Daubry, made this demand before the court. The security agency also argued that if it had applied for the detention of Mr Okolie in court, sensitive information could have leaked to third parties.
“The first family is being investigated and that is a national security issue and this representation and misrepresentation were made to people within and outside Nigeria. And that warranted a long investigation, his phone had to be analysed. And My Lord, the DSS in performing its responsibility can meet with other agencies because there are other strategic government agencies. My Lord, we have deposed to the fact that classified issues arose in the course of that investigation that made the DSS say ‘no, we cannot go to court with this.’”
After this argument, Justice Dimgba wondered why the agency could not go to court.
In his response, the SSS lawyer said going by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, the agency would have needed to tender sensitive information before the court which could jeopardise the investigation, hence its decision to detain Mr Okolie for 10 weeks.
“We can’t take the applicant to court, cannot file charges. The law requires that if they are staying beyond 48 hours, there must be reasonable circumstances that warrant that and in this case, we are saying the national security issues that underpin the investigations cannot be revealed to third parties. Now, my lord, if we file under the ACJA that we need an order to keep him in SSS custody, it will mean filing at the registry. Between the registry and when it will be convenient for my lord to hear the application, the information is divulged.”
Mr Dimgba said exploring the Terrorism Prevention Act would have made it easier for the agency to get a detention order. But the SSS said “it was not clear at the initial stage whether it was terrorism or not. If it was terrorism, he would have gone for 90 days. Processes would have been put in place.”
The judge responded, “If it wasn’t clear that it was terrorism or something else, does it not mean you ought to have done more investigation before the arrest was made?”
The matter was then adjourned to April 1 for ruling.
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