Human rights crusader and popular Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana(SAN), has warned against the continued detention of an Aba-based legal practitioner, Mr. Emperor Gabriel Ogbonna, who was arrested sometime in March for criticising Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State in a Facebook post.
In a statement, Falana said that instead of advising the governor to sue the lawyer for libel in the State High Court, the Police engaged in gross abuse of power by charging Ogbonna with the offence of terrorism under the Terrorism Prevention Act, as amended, before the Federal High Court sitting at Umuahia, Abia State.
Falana said: “Mr. Ogbonna pleaded not guilty to the charge and was admitted to bail. He met the bail conditions and was released by the trial court.
“But angered by the order of the court that had admitted Mr. Ogbonna to bail, some officials of the state government invaded the court premises, seized the defendant and took him away to an undisclosed place.
“It was discovered days later that he had been dumped in the detention facility of the Department of State Services, DSS, in Umuahia.
“In order to secure the release of Mr. Ogbonna from illegal custody, his lawyers approached the Federal High Court to secure the enforcement of his fundamental right to personal liberty guaranteed by Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
“Upon hearing the Counsel to the Applicant and the Respondents, the Presiding Judge, the Honourable Justice D. E. Osiagor, delivered his judgement on June 29.
“His lordship declared the arrest and detention of Mr. Ogbonna illegal and unconstitutional and ordered the Department of State Services, DSS, to release him from custody unconditionally or charge him before a court of competent jurisdiction.
“Furthermore, the trial judge granted an order restraining the respondents from further harassing, re-arresting and detaining the applicant over the facts of the case and awarded N1.5 million damages for his two-month detention without trial.
“Since then, all efforts made by the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and Mr. Ogbonna’s lawyers to enforce the two orders granted by the Federal High Court for his release from illegal custody have proved abortive.
“Hence, a public interest case has been filed at the Federal High Court holden at Abuja by Mr. Monday Ubani to challenge the continued detention of Mr. Ogbonna since June 29.
“Last Friday, the Federal High Court granted the application for the bail of Mr. Ogbonna, pending the determination of the substantive application.
”Since neither the Federal High Court nor the Court of Appeal has granted a stay of execution on any of the three court orders authorising the release of Mr. Ogbonna from illegal custody, the Department of State Services, DSS, should, as a matter of urgency, ensure his immediate release and payment of the reparation N1.5 million awarded in his favour by the Court.
“However, if Mr. Emperor Ogbonna is not released forthwith, his lawyers should commence contempt proceedings against the authorities holding him in illegal custody, as nobody or institution is above the law of the land.”