The continued detention of Tony Ezimakor, Abuja Bureau Chief of INDEPENDENT Newspapers, has drawn reactions from constitutional lawyer and rights advocate, Prof. Itse Sagay; Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), and Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) on Sunday.
Some lawyers on Thursday condemned the arrest and detention of Ezimakor.
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) had on Saturday called for his unconditional release.
Prof. Sagay on Sunday advised Ezimakor’s lawyers to approach the court and file an application for the enforcement of his fundamental human rights.
Sagay is the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).
The senior advocate said it had become necessary for the court to step in since the Department of State Services (DSS) – which detained the journalist since Wednesday – has refused to heed calls by well-meaning Nigerians asking for his release.
Ezimakor has spent six days in detention, and on Friday operatives of the agency stormed his residence and took away his laptop, personal and official documents, among other things, after turning his flat at Tundun Wada Extension of the Federal Housing, Lugbe, Abuja, inside out.
His travails began last week when he honoured the invitation of the DSS which immediately kept him incommunicado. The Abuja-based journalist is being held purportedly over exclusive stories on Boko Haram campaign and the negotiations with Boko Haram insurgents.
INDEPENDENT’s management has made spirited efforts, through its lawyer, Douglas Ekhator, to secure the release of detained Ezimakor.
Sagay condemned the development and advised an urgent recourse to the court.
“His lawyer should file an application for the enforcement of his human rights.
“That will include releasing him immediately. That is the best option now.
“So that if they don’t release him, it will be a breach of the court judgment, and that will amount to contempt.
“So, if they want that kind of unpopularity, that’s their headache,” he said.
Similarly, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) and Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) added their voices to the nationwide clamour for the release of Ezimakor.
Prof. Ishaq Akintola, Director of MURIC, said detaining Ezimakor without arraigning him in a competent court of law was draconian, tyrannical, illegal, unlawful, and unconstitutional.
Prof Akintola, who spoke on behalf of MURIC, insisted that the DSS was acting against relevant constitutional provisions, and called for the immediate release of the detained journalist.
He said Section 23 of the Police Act stipulated that suspects could not be detained beyond 24 hours after which they must be charged to court in conformity with the basic constitutional rights of citizens.
The don advised the DSS not to consider itself excluded from the constitutional and international provisions.
He said to do that would amount to impunity and an encroachment on individuals’ fundamental rights.
He noted that Section 36 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guaranteed the right to fair hearing and that only a court of competent jurisdiction could establish what he called the “judicial principle of audi alterem partem”.
He reminded the DSS of the stipulations of Article 4, Clause 1 & 2, of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which guaranteed the integrity of every citizen.
He said Article 7(b) of the same African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights stipulated the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court or tribunal.
Prof Akintola said: “We, therefore, put it to the DSS that Tony Ezimakor remains innocent and the DSS cannot unilaterally pronounce him guilty.
“We, therefore, demand that Ezimakor is brought to court if the DSS has anything against him.
“We warn that Tony Ezimakor has a health condition as a hypertensive individual and further detention is most likely to worsen his condition.
“Furthermore, the DSS should not do anything likely to damage the good name of the Buhari administration, particularly in international circles.
“As the DSS is very much aware, the maltreatment of journalists amounts to the stifling of sources of information, undue censor, repression of activists, and suppression of freedom of speech.
“All these are likely to create minuses in the human rights record of the present regime.
“Tony Ezimakor must, therefore, be set free with immediate effect, otherwise he must be arraigned before a competent court of law.”
Also, Frank Tietie, Esq., Executive Director, Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER), called for the immediate release of the detained journalist.
Tietie said it was shameful for state authorities to use punitive detention as a means of stifling the truth against the provision of Section 39 of the constitution of Nigeria which guaranteed the right to freedom of expression.
He said in a statement that it was a despicable posture by the DSS to deprive the Nigerian citizen of his “right to know” and the journalist’s right to freely express or publish facts.
He added that the DSS must quickly realise that it would be constituting itself into an enemy of democracy in a modern Nigeria if it began to hound journalists, either for their opinions or for publishing well-researched facts that had the potential of exposing corruption and grand scale deceit in official circles.
“Since it has become the warped duty of government officials to operate the business of government in such sinister secrecy and thereafter making painstaking efforts to hide truth in order to continue to ensconce the culture of mediocrity and unaccountability to the Nigeria people, it behoves the Nigerian journalist to courageously discharge his responsibility according to the provisions of Section 22 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as altered), by publishing facts that would expose corruption, ineptitude, and official irresponsibility.
“Governance is serious business and operates with very high standards under the constant scrutiny of journalists.
“It is only a government that is operated by intellectually lazy persons that resorts to tyranny to ward off scrutiny and accountability.
“It is also a lazy and cheap approach for state security agents to arrest journalists in clear attempt to intimidate them and thereafter proceed to fish for non-extent evidence with which to prosecute them.
“Whereas, an arrested person in Nigeria can only be detained for a maximum period of 24 hours or otherwise 48 hours, before being charged to court, security agents, particularly the DSS and the Nigerian police, have so abused Section 100 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) to unjustly incarcerate persons against their fundament human rights, thereby giving the impression that the government is against the people in matters of freedom and justice”, he said.
“Therefore, the members of the National Assembly must immediately amend the ACJA by jettisoning the obnoxious provisions of Section 100, or else they would henceforth be the next set of major victims of government’s tyranny after the journalists.
“If Ezimakor is not charged to court after four days of detention and a needless raid on his house by armed state security men, it would then be clear that he has become a victim of government tyranny and official intimidation.
“It is in the interest of all Nigerian citizens, including the officials of State Security Service and a progressive future, to adhere to the clear principles of law and justice as contained in the Nigerian constitution, in order to guarantee freedom, liberty and a sustained practice of democracy in Nigeria.”
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