Uchenna Nwafor, Yenagoa
The Department of State Security (DSS) has been called upon to charge the detained Bayelsa based Journalist/ Publisher to a competent court for trial, as only a competent court could convict a suspect and dispense judgment.
In a statement issued yesterday in Yenagoa and made available to news men by a Human and Environmental Rights Activist, Mr Alagoa Morris, said that the DSS cannot be the accuser and the judge at the same time.
Alagoa, a Project Officer and Head of Bayelsa Field Operations at Environmental Right Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) said he had known Abiri Jones for the past twenty years as a journalist in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa state capital until his recent arrest.
Abiri, Publisher of a Yenagoa based Weekly Source, a local tabloid was arrested on June 21 by DSS operatives in his office in Bayelsa and subsequently detained in Abuja.
The DSS had in a statement in June, alleged that he was a notorious militant leader who had made confessional statements.
Morris who is immediate past Secretary of Civil Liberties Organization in Bayelsa said that the allegations made against Abiri needed to be proven in court.
According to him, “Knowing him from the perspective of a fellow community folk, a brother-in-law and as a journalist never suggested anything associated with the kind of crimes the DSS is alleging he committed.
“I have known Abiri for over 20 years and he had never struck me; not even in my wildest imaginations, as a criminal or militant or belonging to any terrorist organization. This is more so by the claims that he has already confessed to some of the allegations. The concern here is, what the DSS fed the public via the purported press release might be true, but it might also be false.
“So in line with the rule of law, if the state has found Abiri culpable of any of the alleged crimes; what the human rights community expects from the authorities is to charge him to court. It is my belief that Nigeria has advanced to the extent that persons accused of such crimes as alleged, appear in court within 48 hours of arrest,’’Morris said.
Morris noted that while the DSS was expected to be professional in the discharge of its duties, the method of obtaining evidence from Abiri was a matter of concern, stressing that the state abhored obtaining evidence under duress or torture.
“We are aware that obtaining evidence via torture is not allowed by the 1999 constitution as amended, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right.
“This is the more reason such suspects should be presented in court as soon as possible; as all accused persons no matter the crime, are entitled to fair hearing by the law,’’ he said.
He, however, said that while the security agencies needed to be commended for their efforts in trying to contain the security challenges in the country, they should respect the rule of law.
Morris argued that prolonged detention of suspects without prosecution did not speak well of the country and urged that the suspect should be allowed legal representation and access to family and lawyers.
The activist maintained that he remained in full support of the ongoing fight against corruption, kidnappings, sea piracy and all forms of terrorism, maintaining that anyone found guilty of such crimes should be dealt with according to the dictates of the law of the land which was interpreted and administered by only the judiciary.