A coalition of non-governmental organisations has called on the Department of State Services (DSS) to release Emperor Ogbonna, an Abia-based lawyer who was arrested in March and has been in the agency’s custody for several months.
In a statement released on Tuesday and shared with HumAngle, Citizens’ Gavel, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Paradigm Initiatives, Civic Media Lab, Connected Development (CODE), and Civic Hive urged stakeholders in the justice sector “to rise against the sheer disregard for the rule of law by the DSS”.
Ogbonna was first arrested at his workplace on March 24 by a group of law enforcement agents and was charged under the Cyber Crime Act in connection to a Facebook post “critical of the Abia state government”.
According to the statement, four days later, Ogbonna’s lawyer, Martin Ladu, was waylaid as he was leaving the court by three state-owned SUVs.
“The occupants of the vehicles came out and interrogated him as to the whereabouts of the Defendant. He informed them that the defendant was and still in prison because the bail conditions had not been met. His car was thoroughly ransacked by the security detail despite his protests,” said the statement signed by Gavel’s communications associate, Taiwo Makanjuola.
“Upon the perfection of Ogbonna’s bail process, a discreet message was sent to the prison for his release but alas the officials of the Department of State Security got wind of it and came to re-arrest Ogbonna.”
He was arrested again on April 28 as soon as he was released on bail and taken to the offices of the DSS.
The coalition noted that Ogbonna has not been charged to court since his second arrest, which violates his bail, and that he was secretly moved to Abuja after some time.
The Federal High Courtin Umuahia, in June, ordered the immediate release or arraignment of Ogbonna and instructed the DSS to pay damages of N1.5 million, but the agency has failed to comply.
Gavel stated that it learnt the DSS “has declared that they do not recognise the judgment of a Federal High Court and thus they will continue to hold him in detention”.
“We wish to state at this point that the actions and inactions of the DSS is a major slap on the face of the rule of law and the powers of the court,” the coalition said.
“It also amounts to a continuous and gross breach of Ogbonna’s right to liberty which is protected and guaranteed under Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
They called on civil society groups, international organisations, and well-meaning Nigerians to protest “this tide of illegality and utter disrespect for the rule of law by the DSS”.
“We cannot fold our arms and continue to condone this show of shame where the orders of the court are practically worthless and ineffective,” the organisations added.
“It is a steaming volcano waiting to explode and plunge us all into anarchy. We have to resist this. We have to collectively uphold the dignity and sanctity of our courts of law and its orders. Together let’s stand against impunity.”
In April, the Nigerian Bar Association described the arrest and re-arrest of Ogbonna as “very disturbing” and stressed that there was no basis for the involvement of the DSS.
“The forceful arrest and continued detention of Emperor Ogbonna have made it impossible for him to perfect his bail term, and therefore, the actions of the Abia State government and the DSS amount to flagrant disobedience to a valid order of a Federal High Court and violation of the constitutional rights of Emperor Ogbonna Esq,” the NBA said.
Amnesty International has also called on the DSS to comply with the pending court order and immediately release Ogbonna.
“It is unacceptable that the DSS is still unlawfully detaining Emperor Ogbonna despite concerns about his health. Ignoring court order by the DSS is a stain on Nigeria’s image,” the international NGO said in its statement on Tuesday, July 7.
Do not miss any update from the HumAngle team. Click on our WhatsApp button below to subscribe to our up to date breaking news and in-depth journalism.