By default, the DSS had made Jones Abiri a National hero. The grand reception given him at the NUJ State Secretariat Yenagoa was a hero’s welcome, and an induction into the Niger Delta Hall of fame. The prize thereof, is for his wrongful incarceration for two years without trial for the Niger Delta struggle. The Ijaw Nation is grateful and appreciative of the role played by the National Human Right Commission (NHRC), the NUJ, CLO, and other international and National Civil Society groups that fought for the release of Chief Jones Abiri. The undignified silence of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) and Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), in this matter, is unfortunate, to say the least.
National security had become a euphemism for wrongful arrest and detention of citizens in Nigeria. In some cases, this is done through the holding charge syndrome. Nobody becomes a militant by words of mouth, or through GSM phone calls and text messages. Intellectual militants are activists with ideological mindsets. A phone call can only constitute an inchoate crime. The caller can be placed under surveillance or be invited for questioning, to prevent the committing of the crime. A crime constitute the guilty mind (mens rea), and the actual committing of the crime (actus reus) or the guilty act. A phone call would not constitute a crime at law.
Evidently, Jones Abiri had become a metaphor for victims of punitive pre-trial detention in Nigeria. He had become the nemesis for national security as an excuse for unlawful detention. President Mohammed Buhari opined at the opening of the 2018 Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) annual general conference in Abuja that: “the rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest”. The president may be speaking with reference to the Supreme Court judgment, in the case of Dokubo Asari versus Federal Republic of Nigeria (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1048) 331. This case was decided based on specific facts. This Judgment is not a blanket statement that authorizes unlawful detention without trial.
Ideally, National Security and rule of law are not expected to contradict one another. National Security and National Defence are synonymous. They are generic concepts relating to activities of National preparedness against enemies. National Security is about securing the values and ideals which set a Nation apart. The DSS cannot hide under the cover of National Security; if it lacks evidence to proving its case against a citizen.
Proof is the establishment of a fact by evidence. There would be no proof without evidence. There is difference between law and justice. There is difference between fact and fiction. Detention without trial for two years is great psychological torture. The Department of State Service (DSS) is a creation of the National Security Agencies Decree No. 19 of 1986. The DSS is a strategic intelligence agency that is obligated to act lawfully. Law enforcement becomes a game, if it lacks coherent strategy. It is wrong to arrest a suspect, and start fishing for evidence. This would amount to acting without rhyme and reason.
The American Law Institute define an arrest: “as the taking of another into the custody of the actor for the actual or purported purpose of bringing the other before a court or of otherwise securing the administration of the law”. Chief Jones Abiri, like every other Nigerian, is eminently entitled to his personal liberty as enshrined in section 35 (c) (4) (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Arrest and detention of a citizen, should not be done frivolously, but to bring an offender to justice. National Security is a social construct for National Defence and Safety. It should not be an excuse for institutional lawlessness.
Furthermore, National Security uses National Power to stabilize and strengthen the vital interest of a nation. Amaral Gurgel (1976) defined National Security, “as the guarantee given by the state to achieve or defend National Goals against hostilities and pressure”. Jones Abiri’s arrest and detention was either a byplot or a byplay. The characters in the whole episode appear to be wooden, and lacking the capacity for self correction. Chief Jones Abiri is 10.5 Million Naira richer for it. Punitive pre-trial detention is unacceptable and unlawful.
In a criminal investigation, the state pursuit is justice, not a victim. Two years of pre-trial imprisonment cannot be easily explained away by the DSS. The DSS was only clever by half, pleading National Security as a fact for the detention of Jones Abiri for two years without trial. The truth was that the DSS suffered fact-inference confusion, in the Jones Abiri’s case. Professional discretion cannot be equated with National Security. There is reasonable suspicion of power play in the Jones Abiri’s case. Once self interest is involved, opinions are not easily changed.
Thankfully, Chief Jones Abiri survived the lion’s den and can tell his story. He should take solace in the words of vermon law who said “experience is the worst teacher. It gives the test before presenting the lesson.” Also William Shakespeare said “the law had not been dead, though it had slept”. The law and justice were in favour of Jones Abiri.
William Pitt pointed out that “when laws end, tyranny begins”. Law Enforcement Agencies must act in good faith and responsibly too.
Authur J. Goldberg, United States supreme court justice said, “power not ruled by law, is a menace”. The DSS holds a public trust and is expected to act responsibly towards citizens. August Vollmer, a veteran law enforcement strategist advised that; lawenforcement officers; must have the Wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, the patience of Job, and the kindness of the Good Samaritan. Professionals are respected for their competence and honesty. Public security has constitutive dimension. Citizens, reasonably expect a degree of protection as they go about their everyday lives. Yes! Crime and criminality have social costs. Cesare Lambroso, Italian criminologist said, “There is no solution to crime except punishment, incarceration, and deterrence”. But offenders must be punished with a sense of constitutional jurisprudence. Thomas Shaffer said, “Justice is the gift we give to one another, as we go about living under the law”. Criminal investigators need a lot of deductive skill of reasoning. Investigators start out with few facts and begin to build a theory of what occurred. As the theory develops, the investigators get a clearer picture of what evidence is needed and where it is likely to be found. This process cannot take long to accomplish. The DSS slept through the investigation of Jones Abiri’s case.
In conclusion, the cases of other Ijaw Sons who are detained endlessly without trial should be revisited by the National Human Right Commission. They should be charged to court or be released unconditionally. The leadership of the Ijaw Nation, the INC and IYC respectively, cannot continue to play the ostrich. The Ijaw National Congress and the Ijaw Youth Council, should compile the list of these Ijaw Sons in detention without trial, and forward a petition on their behalf, to the National Human Right Commission for comprehensive review of their cases. The Civil Society Organizations, especially the Civil Liberty Organization (CLO), should help bring off our Sons from endless detention without trial. DSS cells must not be the dovecotes for our sons.
Forcebray I. Inegha
Writer/Public Affairs Analyst