A senior lawyer, Femi Falana, has written a letter to Matthew Seiyefa, reminding the new acting-director-general of the State Security Service that many Nigerians are still in custody of the secret police without trial and despite court orders for their unconditional release.
Acting-President Yemi Osinbajo asked Mr Seiyefa to lead the SSS in acting capacity after firing Lawal Daura.
Mr Osinbajo has been hailed for choosing Mr Seiyefa, an intelligence chief seen as a near-opposite of his predecessor in terms of how each understands the role of law enforcement under a democratic dispensation.
He gave strong indications that he would not toe the inglorious path of his predecessor at a maiden press briefing on Thursday. Amongst the promises he made was an immediate review of all pending cases of illegal detention of persons, as well as the need to appoint a spokesperson for the department after several years of blackout imposed by Mr Daura.
He also vowed to significantly improve the agency’s image from its current infamy to an institution packed with professionals in law enforcement and protection of citizens against internal aggression.
Mr Falana, in an August 10 letter, reminded Mr Seiyefa of his promises and urged him to start living up to them by ordering immediate release of some detained persons, some of whom are his clients.
The senior lawyer’s letter is reproduced in full as follows:
August 10, 2018
Mathew Seiyefa Esq.,
State Security Service,
Request for the urgent release of hundreds of persons detained illegally by the State Security Service
We congratulate you on your appointment as the Acting Director-General of the State Security Service (SSS). While wishing you a successful tenure we urge you to restore the lost glory of the SSS by restricting the management and staff of the organisation to the prevention and detection of any crime against the internal security of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in accordance with the National Security Agencies Act.
We are however compelled to draw your attention to the fact that our law firm has had a running battle for the last three years with Mr. Musa Daura, the immediate past Director-General of the SSS as a result of the incessant arrest and detention of Nigerian citizens and foreigners without trial. Some of the infringements of the human rights of criminal suspects and other persons perpetrated by Mr. Daura include the following:
1. Apart from not obtaining orders from Magistrate Courts for the remand of suspects in line with section 293 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Mr. Musa Daura treated the orders of several courts for the release of detainees with contempt. He became so power drunk that he harrassed judges and lawyers who challenged his penchant for subverting the rule of law. At a stage we had to remind him that the brutal military dictators who trained minions like him did not succeed in cowing us into submission when we were fighting for the restoration of democratic rule in the country.
2. Unfortunately, the public officers who have a bounden duty under the Mohammadu Buhari administration to call Mr. Daura to order have turned themselves into the defenders of his pompous impunity by making nebulous references to “national security” or “public interest”. Hence, Mr. Daura has wilfully ignored the order of the federal high court made on December 2016 for their release of Sheik Ibraheem and Hajia Zeinab Elzakzaky from the illegal custody of the SSS.
3. Even though Sheik Elzakzaky lost his right eye as a result of the injury sustained when he was shot by soldiers in Zaria on December 15, 2015, Mr. Daura rejected the recommendation of eye specialists that the detainee be flown abroad for medical treatment to prevent the loss of his left eye in the custody of the SSS. Mrs Elzakzaky who was also shot during the violent military attack has been denied access to medical experts who have offered to extract some bullets from her body. Thus, the SSS has subjected the couple to excruciating physical pain and mental agony in violation of their fundamental right to freedom from degrading treatment guaranteed by section 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic, 1999 as amended.
4. As you are no doubt aware, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), a former National Security Adviser is standing trial for treasonable felony and corruption before the Federal High Court and the Federal Capital Territory High Court respectively. Although the defendant has been admitted to bail by both trial courts the SSS has continued to detain him without any legal justification. As if that is not enough the order of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States directing the Federal Government to release Col. Dasuki on bail pending trial has also been treated with disdain by the SSS. Even though the defendant has not been charged with culpable homicide the defenders of Mr. Daura’s disobedience of court orders have belatedy turned round to accuse the defendant of being responsible for the death of over 100,000 people!
5. However, we have just confirmed that hundreds of other criminal suspects are being detained in dehumaniding conditions in the several detention facilities of the SSS in Abuja and in all the states of the federation. From the information at our disposal the detention of majority of the suspects is not connected to national security in any material particular. For instance, our law firm has recently secured the release of two Indian nationals (Messrs Nittin Verma and Umesh Asudani) who were held in the detention centre of the SSS in Abuja for over 7 months on grounds that they had allegedly defrauded a Kano-based businessman. Before the suspects were illegally arrested by the SSS the same complaint was being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission which had admitted the suspects to administrative bail. As Mr. Daura could not defend the detention of the suspects he caused an official of the SSS to swear to a false affidavit in the Federal High Court to the effect that they were involved in terrorism!
6. On account of corruption and abuse of office which characterised the tenure of Mr. Daura the SSS took over many criminal cases that were being investigated by other security and anti graft agencies. Thus, by compromising such criminal cases he exposed the anti corruption policy of the Buhari administration to ridicule. Indeed, a number of the suspects in the custody of the SSS have been held incommunicado for about 3 years in contravention of section 6 (2) (c) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act which has imposed a duty on all detaining authorities in Nigeria to notify the next of kin or relative of every suspect of the arrest at no cost to the suspect. Two of the victims of such prolonged incarceration are Mr. Jones Abiri, a journalist and Mr. Peter Collins Opume, an undergraduate of the Niger Delta Delta University, Yenogoa, Bayelsa State. Both citizens have been detained in the SSS dungeon at Abuja for over two years without trial.
7. Based on the instruction of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a Non-Governmental Organisation based in New York, United States, our law firm filed an application at the Federal High Court last month to secure the enforcement of Mr. Abiri’s fundamental right to personal liberty. As the SSS could not justify the prolonged detention of the journalist, Mr. Daura decided to rush him to a Magistrate Court in Wuse, Abuja where he and Mr. Opume were arraigned on a trump up charge of sending a text message to an official of an oil company on or about June 26, 2016. Although the trial Magistrate admitted both defendants to bail they have not been able to meet the conditions attached to the bail. Hence, they have been remanded in Keffi Prison pending trial. However, Mr. Abiri’s wife and children were opportuned to set their eyes on him in the prison custody today after two years of illegal separation caused by the SSS.
In the light of the foregoing and in view of your commitment to review the cases of all detainees in the custody of the SSS we are compelled to request you to use your good offices to implement the following recommendations:
i. Discontinue the frivolous charge pending against Messrs Jones Abiri and Peter Collins Opume at the Wuse Magistrate Court;
ii. Release the hundreds of detainees that are languishing without trial in the various detention centres of the SSS;
iii. Release Col. Dasuki and other criminal suspects who have been admitted to bail by municipal and regional courts;
iv. Release Sheik Ibraheem Elzakzaky and Hajia Zeinab Elzakzaky from illegal custody in line with the orders of the Federal High Court.
v. Respect the rights of suspects to consult legal practitioners of their choice before making, endorsing or writing any statement or answering any question put to them after arrest;
vi. Draw the attention of all SSS investigators to the Anti-Torture Act of 2017 which has criminalized the use of torture in all security agencies;
vii. Ensure that all detention facilities of the SSS are inspected monthly by the Visiting Judge of the Federal High Court in accordance with the provision of section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act;
viii. Stop the SSS from further usurping the powers of the Nigeria Police Force, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission with respect to the investigation of allegations of murder, stealing, fraud, money laundering, corruption and other economic and financial crimes which are not connected to national security;
ix. Ban the operatives of the SSS from wearing masks as no military or paramilitary official is authorised by law to hide his/her identity in the course of performing official duties;
x. Ensure that the SSS operates within the ambit of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended and the National Security Agencies Act.
Finally, having assured the Nigerian people of your commitment to ensure that the SSS respects the rights of all persons and operates under the rule of law we hope that you will take urgent steps to improve the image of the security outfit from its current infamy and lawlessness to an institution that is completely dedicated to the enforcement of security laws and the protection of citizens against all acts of internal aggression. However, we assure you of our unalloyed support if you are prepared to defend the security of the nation and protect the fundamental rights of the people of Nigeria in strict compliance with the provisions of chapter four of the Constitution.
Femi Falana (SAN)