By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
A Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State, on Thursday, awarded N10million to a businessman, Anthony Okolie, who was arrested in 2019 and detained for 10 weeks by the Department of State Service, DSS, for purchasing a SIM card that was previously used by President Muhammadu Buhari’s daughter, Hanan.
The court, in a judgment that was delivered by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, held that the security agency violated the fundamental rights of the Applicant by holding him beyond the constitutionally approved period.
It held that refusal of the DSS to notify the Applicant in writing about the grounds and facts of his arrest, within 24 hours of the arrest, amounted to gross violation of his fundamental human rights under Section 35(3) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The court further held that the arrest and detention of the Applicant for 10 weeks between 21st July, 2019 and 22nd September, 2019, without any detention order, was illegal as it violated his right to personal liberty guaranteed by Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Okolie, whose arrest and detention sparked outrage on social media, sued the DSS, President Buhari’s daughter, Hanan, and MTN Nigeria to court over the violation of his fundamental human rights.
In the suit marked FHC/ASB/CS/3/2020, the plaintiff, among other reliefs, sought an order of the court to compel the Respondents to pay the sum of N500m damages for his unlawful detention.
He equally requested for a public apology from the Respondents for violating his fundamental human rights.
However, though the court declined to accede to his request for an apology, it issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the 1st Respondent (DSS) from further harassing him with respect to the matter.
Justice Dimgba held that the Applicant failed to establish that either Buhari’s daughter or MTN Nigeria Communications Limited, who were cited as the 2nd and 3rd Respondents in the matter, were in any way involved in circumstances that led to the violation of his fundamental rights.
The Applicant had in his suit, claimed that he purchased the controversial SIM Card with phone Number 09035666662, at Ogbeogonogo Market, Nnebisi Road, Asaba, Delta State, and got same registered as required by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
He was traced and arrested by the DSS on the allegation that the phone number was used to make communications considered suspicious and nefarious, and aimed to impersonate Buhari’s daughter.
In his judgement, Justice Dimgba held that the security agency resorted to self-help by not charging the Applicant to court within 48 hours after he was arrested.
According to the Judge: “I hold that the explanations offered by the 1st Respondent for not complying with the constitutional requirement of either releasing the Applicant from custody or charging him to court promptly, are not acceptable.
“Firstly, that nobody showed up to take the Applicant on bail does not mean that he could not have been charged to court or released administratively upon the fulfillment of other conditions that did not require the presence of a surety.
“Secondly, I note that the 1st Respondent placed reliance on Exhibit SS1, the supposed confessional statement of the Applicant to the alleged crime they were investigating. This statement was allegedly made on 24th July, 2019 on the face of it, which is a period of 3 days from the 21st of July, 2019 when the Applicant was apprehended from Asaba.
“This exhibit shows that as far back as the 24th of July, 2019, the 1st Respondent had enough material in their possession on the basis of which they could have promptly arraigned the Applicant before a competent court, but they chose not to do so.
“It is even clear from the defence of the 1st Respondent that the arrest and detention of the Applicant preceded their proper investigation of the crime the Applicant was alleged to have committed.
“This is not acceptable. In a plethora of authorities, the courts have held that an arrest should only be made when investigations have been conducted, and that citizens are not to be arrested for the purposes of conducting an investigation.
“In summary, I hold that the fundamental right of the Applicant to his personal liberty was violated by his detention for a period of 10 weeks, and that the defence of the 1st Respondent in this respect fails in totality”.
On inclusion of President Buhari’s daughter in the matter, Justice Dimgba held: “I will imagine that the idea that the 2nd Respondent, in abuse of her privileged position, ordered the arrest and the brutalization of a helpless and hapless citizen, might excite as an elixir, social media crusaders, or act as an aromatic tonic for the gossip-mill, on account of the 2nd Respondent’s connections to the ultimate executive authority of this country as a daughter of the President.
“But liability in law is only the product of direct and concrete accusation supported by credible evidence. Liability in law is not a product of speculation or the derivative of popular referendum. It is not one which the courts have to grope in the dark to find.
“That said, I cannot find my way clear in holding her liable in any shape or form for the ordeal suffered by the Applicant.
“In the first instance, even if admittedly the “Presidency” directed the 1st Respondent to investigate the so-called suspicious use of a SIM card previously linked to the 2nd Respondent, the President’s daughter, I do not believe that the Presidency directed the 1st Respondent not to carry out their investigation in a manner that was consistent with the Constitution and other relevant law.
“Reliefs 5, 7, and 12 are hereby granted against the 1st Respondent. Relief 10 is granted but limited to the sum of N10,000,000.00 (Ten Million Naira) against the 1st Respondent as general damages for the unlawful detention of the Applicant for a period of 10 weeks”.