Rather than issue a public apology to Mr Anthony Okolie, an Asaba, Delta State-based businessman, unlawfully detained for 10 weeks for purchasing and using a SIM card previously used by daughter of President Muhammadu Buhari, Hanan, the Department of State Services, Nigeria’s ruthless secret police, has embarked on a campaign to tarnish the victim’s image in a bid to justify their heinous act.
Okolie was arrested in September 2019, cuffed with chains and ferried to Abuja from Asaba where he was held for 10 weeks without a court order for using the SIM card in question.
He had purchased the item in December 2018 from an MTN outlet in Asaba for N2,000 and had used it up until September last year when he was suddenly arrested by the DSS on the orders of Hanan.
After subjecting him to physical and psychological torture for 10 weeks and with President Buhari’s daughter failing to show up at the DSS headquarters to testify if Okolie had used the telephone number for any illegal or criminal act, the secret police eventually released the young man, telling him that his “sins had been forgiven”.
Speaking with SaharaReporters earlier in the week, Okolie said that he was treated like a criminal for committing no offence.
He said, “I was seized like a criminal and subjected to threats by DSS officers and transferred to Abuja, chained in the legs and handcuffed from Asaba to their headquarters.
“After my statement, I was abandoned in custody. They said I was making use of a SIM card previously used by Hanan Buhari, that I am a criminal and that the President wanted to see me.
“I bought the SIM card legally and committed no offence by so doing. It was however, surprising to see myself being detained for 10 weeks.”
The young man went on to narrate how his unlawful arrest and detention had destroyed his fish farm investment worth N5m, shattered his relationship with his fiancée, who he was about getting married to before the incident, and escalated his mother’s health condition.
However, in a report in its Sunday edition, a national newspaper, apparently doing the bidding of the DSS, turned logic on its head by offering a counter and uninspiring narrative of the entire event and facts surrounding Okolie’s illegal arrest.
In the story written by its Regional Editor, Northern Operation, and titled: I’m labourer, not fish farm investor, Anthony Okolie, man who used Buhari’s daughter’s number, the newspaper and especially the writer not only shamelessly tried to criminalise the Delta State-based businessman but also failed to support its claim of him carrying out criminal activities with the SIM card in question without any sort of evidence.
Alleging that Okolie used the SIM to swindle unsuspecting members of the public especially those, who knew Hanan with the telephone number, the newspaper’s story failed to mention names of those it claimed were defrauded by the young man and how much was involved on each occasion.
Apart from citing exclusive documents seen by it, the newspaper and writer of the story didn’t make any attempt to convince readers with its own version of events by tabling some proof.
Throughout the story by the national daily, there was no attempt by the newspaper or the writer to contact Okolie to get his own side of the story as good journalism practice stipulates.
Instead, the publication ran wholly with what the ‘exclusive document’ it claimed to have sighted outlined.
Describing the story as a deliberate attempt by the DSS to use the media outfit and the journalist behind the story to defame Okolie and cover its criminal act, legal representative of the victim, Tope Akinyode, said that they will take the matter to court in the coming days in order to get justice for the young man.
He said, “Our attention has been drawn to a poorly-written propaganda on a national newspaper in which the media outfit made spurious allegations against our client, claiming the allegations are the outcome of its investigations.
“In the publication, even though the newspaper admits that our client lawfully bought the SIM in question without having any knowledge that the phone number was once used by Hanan Buhari; President Buhari's daughter, the newspaper howbeit disgracefully proceeded to turn logic on its head by alleging that our client used the SIM card to perpetrate fraud and illegal activities.
“The newspaper alleged that our client discovered that the name Hanan Buhari was registered against the phone line on a mobile App; True Caller, and our client should have complained to the network provider as a result.
“The publication further stated that rather than complain, our client disguised as a lady to defraud people of money.
“The publication did not state the names of the persons defrauded or the amount received out of fraud.
“For the records sake, it is important we draw the attention of the public to the fact that our client was illegally detained for 10 weeks at the SSS facility without a detention order and was not charged to court all through.
“Instead, having discovered that any case against our client would head for the rock, the SSS cowardly released our client after 10 weeks of detention claiming he had been forgiven.
“We make bold to state that if it were true indeed that our client actually perpetrated fraud, it would have been illegal, immoral and outrageously insensitive for the SSS not to have charged him to court.
“The refusal to charge him to court is due to the fact that there is absolutely no case against him because he has not committed any offence.
“We are sorry for the newspaper for deliberately shattering its own integrity by such a distasteful publication.
“As earlier noted, we have concluded plans to file a lawsuit against Hanan Buhari, SSS, and MTN Nigeria and the lawsuit shall be filed shortly. We shall not allow lawlessness to thrive.”
Okolie’s ordeal is indeed an insignificant fraction of the violation of rights of citizens perpetrated by the DSS in recent times.
In September 2019, the Nigeria Bar Association said the DSS was carving a notorious image for itself by constantly disobeying court orders.
In a statement by the association’s National Publicity Secretary, Kunle Edun, at the time, the NBA described the agency’s attitude towards court orders as unfortunate and unacceptable.
“The NBA notes that the Department of State Security is cutting for herself the notorious image of an agency that enjoys treating judicial process with disdain, particularly as it pertains to obeying orders of courts enforcing the fundamental rights of Nigerians,” the statement reads in part.
Fearing what the DSS could be up to next, Okolie told SaharaReporters that he has since switched off the telephone number in question.
“I've switched off the line ever since that bizarre incident because I'm still scared and don't know what their next plan may be,” he said.