Five ‘Buhari-Must-Go’ campaigners picked up on Sunday at a popular Abuja church, Dunamis International Gospel Centre, have sued President Muhammadu Buhari, the church’s pastor-in-charge, and others, for alleged unlawful arrest and detention.
Ben Manasseh, Anne Udoka, Henry Nwodo, Samuel Larry and Samuel Gabriel, filed their separate suits at the Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday.
The plaintiffs, who urged the court to declare their arrest and detention unlawful, also prayed for N10 million, each, in damages, for the violation of their fundamental rights.
The suits are marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/631/2021, FHC/ABJ/CS/636/2021, FHC/ABJ/CS/637/2021, FHC/ABJ/CS/638/2021, and FHC/ABJ/CS/639/2021.
Those sued as defendants include President Buhari, State Security Service (SSS) whose operatives arrested the plaintiffs, and the director-general of the spy agency, Yusuf Bichi.
The other co-defendants are the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the pastor-in-charge of Dunamis church where the plaintiffs were arrested, Paul Eneche.
The plaintiffs were said to have been arrested at the church on Sunday for wearing shirts with the ‘Buhari-Must-Go’ inscription, a sign associated with activists calling for President Buhari’s removal on the account of his alleged incompetence in the handling of the worsening security and economic situations in the country.
Their lawyer, Tope Temokun, argued in the separate suits, filed on their behalf on Thursday, that his clients are entitled to “fundamental right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression and the press, right to freedom from discrimination and right to personal liberty.”
According to him, the rights “are guaranteed under sections 35, 38, 39 and 42 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended and under Articles 1, 2, 6, 8 and 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement} Act.”
They are “sacred rights which can only be curtailed in accordance with the law,” Mr Temokun wrote in the court documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES late Thursday.
Mr Temokun said the “arrest and continued detention” of his clients “for wearing a clothing apparel with an inscription of ‘BUHARI MUST GO!’ without a bail or arraignment, by men and officers under the command of the 1st, 2nd and 4th respondents (SSS, SSS boss, and Dunamis church’s pastor) “constitute a very oppressive violation of the applicant’s fundamental rights”.
‘How we were arrested’
The plaintiffs said they were arrested by the church’s security guards and handed over to the operatives, the affidavits filed in support of their separate suits, read in part.
Their case is that they were temporarily detained by the church’s security guards on the instruction of the pastor-in-charge, Mr Eneche, for SSS operatives to arrive and take them away.
According to them, they were rough-handled by the SSS operatives who arrived later and whisked them away.
A co-anti-Buhari campaigner, Adebayo Abdullah, who deposed to the affidavits on their behalf, said he was with the plaintiffs who wore the ‘Buhari Must Go’ T-shirt when they were arrested.
He said the applicants are his “fellow-compatriot and fellow believer and campaigner for a better Nigeria.”
Mr Abdullah said they attended the church on Sunday, because of the preaching of the pastor-in-charge, Mr Eneche, “in the recent time, which seemed to be in tandem with our philosophy of clamouring for a better country, a more passionately governed country, where killings of innocent citizens will become things of the past and a country that will be set on the path of reclaiming its lost glory.”
The deponent described how he discovered, while leaving the church, that some security guards of the church, allegedly under the instruction of Mr Eneche, “challenged the only few attendee worshippers who wore T-shirts with the inscription ‘Buhar2 Must Go’ to the church and were singly rounded up and arrested by the security men.”
He said the five applicants “were arrested for wearing similar T-shirts with such inscription and were temporarily detained in the church for the (SSS) officers and operatives of the 1st and 2nd respondents to come and take them away.”
“That shortly after the church’s security men arrested them by preventing them from leaving the church, the officers and operatives of the 1st and 2nd respondents arrived with one the Hilux pick-up van and two motorbikes; and the applicant, with others, were handed over to them.
“The applicant was rough-handled and manhandled by the operatives and officers of the 1st and the 2nd respondents on the church premises, who also seized the applicant’s phone and bundled him into the Hilux van like a common criminal and whisked the applicant away to an unknown detention facility, that is yet to be located till the time of filing this application.”
The deponent sought an “urgent intervention” to the applicants’ lives “from the imminent danger” as their “whereabouts is unknown at the moment of presenting this application.”
He stated that the applicants were “being kept away by the officers and operatives of the 1st and the 2nd respondents, and denied access to their families, their lawyer, justice and fair treatment.”
The plaintiffs, sought, among other prayers, a declaration that their arrest on Sunday, July 4, 2021 on the premises of the Dunamis International Gospel Centre, Abuja, for wearing a choice clothing apparel with the inscription “BUHARI MUST GO!” by the SSS, the church’s guards, constituted a breach of their rights.
They similarly urged the court to declare that their detention since their arrest, “constitutes a violation of the applicant’s fundamental right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression and the press, right to freedom from discrimination and right to personal liberty” as guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
They also prayed for an order directing the defendants to either immediately release them unconditionally, grant bail to them pending the conclusion of the investigation into the allegation, if any, or arraign them within 24 hours of the making of the order.
They also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents and their agents from violating their rights or further detaining them in connection with the subject-matter.
They each sought N10million making a total of N50million in damages, against the respondents.
Application to produce detainees in court
In addition to the main suit, the plaintiffs’ legal team also filed another for each of the detainees.
One of the applications, which stated that the whereabouts of the applicants remained unknown since their arrest, sought an order compelling the SSS, which arrested them, produce them in court.
Meanwhile, the church denied knowing anything about the arrest of the plaintiffs, in a statement on Thursday.
It said the plaintiffs, who turned the church to a protest ground, were arrested outside the church by operatives without the knowledge of the church leadership.
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