The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has ordered the federal government to pay N10 million in damages to Bayelsa based journalist and publisher, Jones Abiri, who was detained unlawfully by the Department of State Services (DSS) for two years.
He was released last month after he was granted bail by an Abuja Magistrate Court.
Abiri is the publisher of Weekly Source, a newspaper based in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state. He was arrested in July 2016 for allegedly being the leader of the Joint Revolutionary Council of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, a separatist group.
He was also accused of threatening to bomb oil installations.
He denied the allegations. In a chat with reporters during his arraignment in court, he said he knew nothing about the crime he was accused of committing.
“The alleged offence was that I sent a threat message to Nigerian Agip Oil Company and Shell, demanding the sum of N250 million from them… I don’t know of this,” he said.
“As a journalist and publisher of Weekly Source Newspaper, a regional newspaper in Niger Delta, people come to my office to anchor press release for them… Since 21st July 2016 I have been in DSS detention for an alleged offence. It’s been a pathetic situation for me to have been facing this persecution.
On Thursday, the Abuja division of the Federal High Court described Abiri’s two-year detention as outright conviction.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba said the federal government had no right to detain Abiri after taking his statement in 2016.
“Having taken his statement, the applicant should have been arraigned,” Dimgba ruled.
The judge said the federal government’s submission that Abiri was detained in national security was baseless.
According to the judge, the federal government should have filled the suit against the defendant and asked the court to refuse him bail, so that the court will use its discretion in determining whether Abiri should be granted bail on not
The court therefore declared Abiri’s detention illegal and an abuse of his fundamental rights.
Last month following his release, Abiri, who was received at the Ernest Ikoli Press Centre of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Yenagoa, by friends and family members including his wife, children, community representatives, friends and media colleagues, said he was arrested on July 21, 2016 from my office, about 3.23p.m., by 12 armed men who stormed his office.
“They came with a charge warrant document that my office was under investigation,” he narrated. “Actually when I perused the charge warrant, I saw that one Magistrate Luckier was the one who appended his signature. I allowed them. I told them that I am a newspaper publisher that I didn’t know why they were in my office.
“They started searching my office, at the end of the day, they did not see anything and that was how they handcuffed me, took my phones and laptops and things that are not connected to my arrest, including my bank information and pay slips before they whisked me away to the state command. There, I wrote my statement and after spending seven days in Yenagoa, they took me to Abuja. My eyes were blind folded and that was the situation I was and thank God that I am alive today. “Since then, I have not been given the chance and opportunity to see my wife, my children and other family members and friends and even my lawyers were denied access to me.
“I was in the underground cell, these are public information and there is nothing new about it. When the light went off, you don’t see the next person, it was only when the light comes on that you know what is happening. I was also denied medicals. But I thank God that the CLO and other media organisations and civil rights groups took up the matter and today I am out of DSS captivity.”
“I was charged on a one count charge at the Magistrate Court Zone 2 Wuse, Abuja that I sent threat messages to Agip and Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, demanding for money, but I said I don’t know anything about the allegation and had no connection with oil companies. The matter is in court and by next week Monday at Federal High Court, Abuja I will be in court on September 5.
“They were thinking that I will jump bail immediately they released me but I am ready and so resilient to face my trial at any time even if they call me now that my matter had been rescheduled tomorrow, I will produce myself in court and I am emphatic and believing God that I am going to win the case. That is my position, I am not scared of them, all these two years, I know that I have garnered experienced. “From the court I was taken to Keffi prison where I was remanded for two weeks before Ambassador Boladei Igali and Frederick came to my rescue to sign my bail bond. I want to also thank Press Unlimited in Netherland for sending 2000 Euros to facilitate my release and I also thank everyone for the love shown me.
“If I am a militant, everyone would know and I would be in the creeks, I wouldn’t have owned an office to be doing my own thing. Thank God the matter is in court. I have filed in suit in the FHC Abuja to enforce my fundamental human rights, the matter is coming up on August 27. Mr Femi Falana, SAN, has assured me of wonderful legal representation. Thank for the reception. I thank NUJ, Bayelsa State chapter and I believe in the Nigerian judiciary that they are going to do justice to this issue.”
The court has now granted him N10 billion as damages to be paid by the federal government.