By Kennedy Eberechi.
The prominent Civil Rights Advocacy Group; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has expressed worries over the continued detention of Emperor Gabriel Ogbonna; a lawyer arrested by the Department of State Service (DSS) on the orders of Okezie Ikpeazu; Governor of Abia State over a Facebook post.
In a statement sighted by The World Satellite Magazine, jointly signed by the National Coordinator; Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and National Director of Media Affairs; Miss Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA expressed shock that 74 days after Emperor Gabriel Ogbonna was rearrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) he is yet to be charged to court and also still being held in detention.
Describing it as a scandalous disobedience of a court order calling for his release on bail, HURIWA recalled how Emperor Ogbonna who denied being the originator of the post but that he only reshared it, was granted bail by a Federal High Court sitting at Umuahia, the state capital, on April 29 but rearrested hours later by the DSS.
“Emperor Gabriel Ogbonna was initially arrested in his office by operatives of the State Security Service and armed policemen and had been in detention since March 24, 2020. He was first taken to the Abia State Police Command where he was confronted with a petition written against him alleging that he published falsehood against the governor of Abia State, and that the governor swore to an oath at the Ancient Harashima.
“He was eventually arraigned before the Magistrate’s Court which remanded him in custody. He was later charged before the Federal High Court, Umuahia, and was admitted to bail by the said court.
“Ogbonna perfected the conditions of his bail and was released from the Correctional Centre on April 28, 2020, but he was again arrested immediately by the Abia State Director of DSS who later transferred him to the headquarters in Abuja”, HURIWA recounted.
While reacting to the fact that the DSS was reported to have claimed that Ogbonna was re-arrested for another complaint other than the alleged false claims against the Abia State governor, HURIWA restated that even if it where to be true, his continued detention beyond the constitutionally permissible duration still makes it unlawful and a flagrant violation of his constitutional rights to liberty, presumption of innocence, human dignity and due process
“If the DSS believes they have any reasonable grounds to re-arrest him (assuming without conceding that they do have) or credible charges against him, they ought to have promptly handed him over to the police for prosecution, in accordance with due process.
“It is not only illegal, but also malicious and high-handed for the DSS to refuse to release Emperor Ogbonna or charge him to court and to also refuse his lawyers and family access to visit him despite his precarious health condition”, HURIWA explained.
Citing Imo, Abia, Kebbi, Kano, Kaduna and Cross River states as examples of where breaches of human rights of activists and journalists have happened, the Group expressed concern over the recent incessant use of the security agencies by the Governors to clamp down on opponents.
“We, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria are concerned that state Governors are now in the race to becoming the most dangerous violators of human rights and disobedience to the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms enshrined in the chapter four of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria of 1999 as amended and a plethora of other global human rights conventions and treaties which Nigeria is a signatory to including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); International Covenant on civil and political rights; African Charter on people’s and Human Rights and the international instruments prohibiting arbitrary arrests and detention and the use of torture which in this instance have been unleashed on this Nigerian citizen”.
HURIWA therefore called on President Muhammadu Buhari to at this time and save our democracy from being derailed by DSS as according to them, the DSS has now established itself as a lawless organisation with an ignoble pattern of engaging in politically-motivated arrests and indefinite detentions incommunicado of government critics and disobedience to court orders just as the Rights Group called for an end to what it described as a show of brute force by the Governor of Abia State.
“Emperor Gabriel Ogbonna is innocent in the eyes of the law until proven guilty by the competent Court of law in accordance with section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is entitled to enjoy the bail granted him by the Court since section 36(5) grants him right to fair hearing in any matter instituted by the government’, HURIWA concluded.