Intelligence agency heads to Appeal Court, says ‘we’re only performing our statutory functions’

 

By Abubakar Yakubu

The Department of State Service (DSS) is unhappy with the ruling of a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court ordering it to pay the sum of N100 million to three persons arrested by the agency, and who have been in detention since June 2023.

 

The agency had therefore headed to the Appeal Court, seeking to quash the ruling.   

An FCT High Court Judge, Justice J. Enobie Obanor, had, in January this year, ordered the Department of State Services (DSS) to pay N100 million as general damages to three individuals – Emmason Roland, Edet E. Edet and Chukwuemeka Adiele for the brazen breach of their fundamental human rights.

The judge, who made the order on January 25, 2024, declared the arrest and continued detention of the three from June 2023 till date as illegal as well as unconstitutional. He then directed the DSS to unconditionally release them forthwith or charge them to court.

The litigation officer in the law chambers of Nnaemeka Ejiofor and Associates, Ijeoma Nlewedim, had, in an affidavit verifying the fact relied on, informed the court that she was informed by the wives of the applicants that their husbands were arrested by officials of the DSS in Port Harcourt on the 21st, 18th and 20th June, 2023 respectively and taken to the DSS State Command office in Port Harcourt.

She said that she was further informed that the DSS officials held the men incommunicado, denying them access to their families and their lawyers.

The court was told that Roland was arrested on June 21, 2023, at a food vendor’s shop, in the presence of his colleagues, and that Edet was arrested on June 18, 2023 on his way from work, and also in the presence of his colleagues. In his own case, Adiele was arrested on June 20, 2023 at his house, in the presence of his wife.

The wives of the detainees, in their statement, said on their next visit to the DSS Port Harcourt office, they were told that the detainees had been moved to Abuja.

Lawyer to the detainees, Mr Nnaemeka Ejofor, in a motion of notice asked the court for an order directing the DSS to produce the applicants in court for the purpose of their release from detention.

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He also requested an order declaring their arrest and continued detention between June 2023 and now by the DSS, without reasonable suspicion of having committed a crime and without the order of court, as illegal, unconstitutional as well as a violation of their right to personal liberty, fair hearing, and freedom of movement as guaranteed under Sections 35, 36, and 41 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, and article 5,6,and 7 of the African Chapter on Human and People’s Right as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights respectively.

The lawyer also asked for an order of court awarding the applicants N100 million as damages for the brazen breach of their fundamental human rights.

In their counter-affidavit to the court, the DSS through Mamman Aja, an officer, said the applicants were arrested by operatives of the service in Mboedu Alvu Village, Ikwerre Local Government Area, and Rumukurushi Village at Obio/Akpor Local Government of Rivers State respectively over alleged membership of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)/ Eastern Security Network (ESN).

He said a lawful detention order was sought by the DSS and same was granted on September 11, 2023 to detain the applicants for 60 days, adding that on conclusion of investigations, the applicants were transferred to the Joint Military Detention Facility at Wawa in Kanji, Niger State, on November 8, 2023, for onward prosecution by the Attorney-General of the Federation’s office.

Aja further told the court that the applicants were not entitled to any of the reliefs sought.

A litigation officer from the Attorney-General’s office, Thomas Etah, in a counter affidavit, stated among others that the attorney-general of the federation is not aware of any purported arrest or detention of the applicants by the DSS and that the incident only came to their notice when the court processes filed by the applicants was received..

In his ruling, Justice Obanor declared that the arrest and continued detention of the applicants by the DSS from June 2023 to September 11, 2023 and subsequently from November 11, 2023 till date as illegal, unconstitutional and a violation of the rights of the applicants to personal liberty and freedom of movement in contravention of Sections 35, 36 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, as well as Article 5, 6, 7 of the African Charter.

The judge also directed the DSS to unconditionally release the applicants forthwith or charge them to court. And in addition, he ordered the DSS to pay the applicants N100 million as general damages for the brazen breach of their fundamental human rights.

Dissatisfied with the ruling, the DSS has appealed to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the learned trial judge erred in law and thereby occasioned a miscarriage of justice when the court found that the detainees had proved the infringement of their fundamental rights guaranteed and protected under Section 35,36 of the Constitution of Nigeria.

The DSS said upon the completion of investigation, the detainees were found to have a prima facie case to answer for being involved in terrorism and were transferred to the Joint Military Holding Facility in Niger State, while their case file was forwarded to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation for prosecution.

The appeal also stated that the judge erred in law when he awarded N100 million against the DSS to the detainees for the performance of their statutory functions.

“The amount of money awarded by the court as damages is excessive and oppressive. The discretion of the learned trial judge in awarding damages in matters of this nature ought to be exercised judicially and judiciously and not capriciously/arbitrarily,” the appeal stated.

The DSS also prayed that the Appeal Court will give an order setting aside the judgment of the lower court and should also set aside the award of N100 million to the detainees.


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