For 20 days now and still counting, the Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) of the Nigeria Police Force in Area 10, Abuja, has continued to detain Tom Uhia, the publisher of Power Steering Newspaper, a monthly magazine that covers the power sector.
He was arrested on October 13 following a petition dated July 1, 2020 by a lawyer, Obi Nwakor, on behalf of the Minister of State for Power, Goddy Jedy-Agba. The minister is accusing the 73-year-old publisher of defamating his character.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that Power Steering Magazine, in its June 2020 edition, alleged that Mr Jedy-Agba may have some knowledge about the Dana plane crash of 2012 while serving as a senior manager with the Nigeria Nigerian Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The magazine also accused the minister of wrongdoing during his days at the NNPC.
Mr Uhia’s magazine also alleged that Mr Agba paid to be appointed minister by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Following the publication, Mr Jedy-Agba briefed his lawyer, Mr Nwakor, who petitioned the police. The police arrested Mr Uhia on October 13 and he has since then remained in their custody.
The lawyer representing Mr Ohia, Alexander Okota, expressed displeasure over what he called illegal detention of his client.
He also told our correspondent that he has filed an application to enforce Mr Uhia’s fundamental rights against the police and the minister. The matter is to come up on November 5, at FCT High Court before Justice Peter Affen, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
“The police have refused to release the publisher claiming he has a case to answer. The police claimed that they got a court order from an unnamed magistrate in Nasarawa State to detain our client while a charge they filed at the FCT high Court is pending.
“All efforts to get the police to disclose the Court and the name of the Magistrate who purportedly issued the order proved abortive. We can categorically state that there was no any order relied upon by the police. Our client was not arraigned before any magistrate. They never got any detention warrant.
“The police must not be allowed to mess up our judicial system. We are exploring every legally conceivable means to free our client and get for him a redress.”
Minister, police react:
When contacted, the minister distanced himself from the publisher’s arrest and detention. Mr Jedy-Agba said he only petitioned the police to investigate all allegations leveled against him by Mr Ohia’s magazine.
“I am not in anyway related to his detention and I did not ask that he should be arrested. All I did was to petition the police to investigate the matter”, the minister told PREMIUM TIMES.
“If you want to know about why he was detained, go to the force headquarters on whether they have court order or not. I reported to police but did not ask that he should be detained. I don’t have the power to do so. The police are charging him for criminal defamation of character while I also have a civil suit against him.”
The Minister’s lawyer, Mrr. Nwakor did not deny detention of Mr Ohia. He also said the police are responsible for that.
“They (Mr Ohia’s team) have filed a case of fundamental human rights in court and I will not want to speak on the matter to the press.”
“I wrote the petition on behalf of the minister and police carried out the arrest. The police will explain to court why they have to detain him. I don’t want to talk about the case since they have already gone to file for fundamental human rights.”
Meanwhile, police spokesperson, Frank Mba asked this reporter to call him back when contacted on Saturday afternoon for proper briefing on the case.
He has since not responded to repeated calls and text messages sent to him by PREMIUM TIMES.
While Mr Ohia’s publication did not provide evidence for allegations made against Mr Jedy-Agba, activists and right groups are wondering why the police were brought into what should be a civil case.
Even if treated as a criminal case, Section 35 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution demands that the police should not detain any suspect for longer than 48 hours without a court order
Reacting to the continued detention of the newspaper publisher, the FCT Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists in a statement by its chairperson, Emmanuel Ogbeche, urged the Minister to seek judicial remedy through the courts rather than resort to abuse of power and privilege using the police if he felt defamed by Power Steering reports.
“It is obvious that recent events are not enough lessons to officials in power that there is always a day of reckoning. If the Minister of State, Power, Mr Goddy Jedy-Agba feels strongly that he has suffered libel or defamation, what he ought to do is to seek legal remedy through the courts rather than using the police to arrest and detain Mr. Tom Oga Uhia, publisher of Power Steering Magazine for over 72 hours now without being charged to court,” the NUJ said.
In the same vein, a rights group, House of Justice, in a statement by its Director, Gloria Ballason, said Mr Uhia’s detention “does not only go against the grain of the Nigerian Constitutional provision of presumption of innocence until guilt is proven as well as arraignment in court within 24 or 48 hours but is moreso a condemnable infringement on a free press which inexorably has a chilling effect on Nigeria’s democracy.
“The police cannot claim that Mr. Uhia is being detained by order of court when he has neither been arraigned before any court nor has any remand order or detention warrant been made available to his lawyers.”