Justice has perceivedly been served as a Federal high court sitting in Abuja has declared unlawful the detention of a journalist Jones Abiri. Jones Abiri was detained for two years by the Department of State Security (DSS).
The judgement, delivered on Thursday, awarded N10 million (damages) and N500,000 (legal costs) against the DSS.
Jones Abiri, through the law firm of Femi Falana (SAN) had instituted a fundamental rights enforcement suit against the DSS.
Justice Dimgba, delivering the ruling, established that the DSS has the powers, under the law, to arrest anyone, upon reasonable suspicion, but added that the agency lacked the powers to detain an individual beyond the time provided by the constitution.
The Judge held that the decision by the DSS to detain Abiri for two years from July 21, 2016 until he was subsequently taken to a Magistrate’s Court in Abuja in July 2018, and his eventual release in August, amounted to a violation of his right to liberty, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Justice Dimgba noted that event with the DSS’ claim that the applicant was arrested upon suspicion of destruction of oil pipelines as well as on charges bordering on treasonable offences, was not enough ground for the DSS to detain him beyond the time stipulated in the Constitution.
The Judge expressed reservations with the DSS’ submission claiming to have obtained a voluntary confessional statement from the applicant since August 16, 2016. He wondered why Abiri was not charged with offences of oil pipeline destruction before the Magistrate’s Court, but was rather charged with a different offence.
Justice Dimgba took the time to distinguish the case of Abiri from that of Asari Dokubo where the Supreme Court held that national security precedes individual’s rights. He noted that in Asari Dokubo’s case, Dokubo was charged to court and the State objected to his bail on national security ground. Abiri was however not charged, but kept in solitary confinement.
He opined that the DSS could have conveniently charged Abiri to court within the approved timeline provided for by the constitution.
The Judge therefore concluded that consequent on the evidence before the court, the DSS violated the applicant’s right to liberty by detaining him for two years without charging him to court within the timeline allowed by law.
Hence, he declared Jones Abiri’s two-year detention by the agency, unlawful.
The applicant, publisher of Weekly source, a Bayelsa state-wide newspaper, had filed for punitive damages of N200 million but was awarded N10 million aas damages for unlawful detention by the DSS.