The Department of State Services has refused to release Kufre Carter, a sports journalist based in Akwa Ibom State, despite a court order from the state's Magistrate Court.
Carter was arrested on 27th April, 2020 for allegedly criticising the Commissioner for Health in the state, Dominic Ukpong.
Inibehe Effiong, counsel to the detained journalist, who confirmed that he was yet to be released despite perfecting his bail condition, added that DSS officials said his client will only be released from custody on the orders of Governor Udom Emmanuel.
He said, “We have waited for the State Security Service in Akwa Ibom State for over 24 hours for them to comply with the valid order of the court served on them on Friday, 22nd May, 2020 for the release of our client, since they have refused to obey the court, I am impelled to issue this press release.
“On Friday, 22nd May, 2020, we fully and completely perfected the varied bail condition imposed on our client, Mr Kufre Carter Akpan. Our client, a journalist and presenter with XL 106.9 FM Uyo, was arrested by the State Security Service (SSS) on 27th April, 2020 over a purported private phone conversation with an anonymous medical doctor which the Akwa Ibom State Government alleged castigated the state Commissioner for Health, Dr Dominic Ukpong, over his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State arraigned our client on a three-count charge bothering on alleged defamation which carries a maximum punishment of only three years imprisonment in the event of conviction. Following the arraignment, we duly applied for the bail of our client which was not opposed by the Director of Public Prosecutions who represented the Attorney-General.
“The trial Chief Magistrate, Winifred M. Umohandy, admitted our client to bail in the sum of N3m with one surety in like sum. The trial court required that the surety must be a Permanent Secretary with the Akwa Ibom State Government or a civil servant of Grade Level 17. The court also asked that our client should obtain a letter from the Village Head attesting to his identity.
“Given the stringency of the bail conditions which our client could not fulfil, we immediately applied to the Akwa Ibom State High Court for variation. Shockingly, the Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Uwemedimo Nwoko, opposed the variation of the bail conditions which was strange since he did not oppose the original bail at the trial magistrate court.
“On Monday, 18th May, 2020, Hon. Justice Archibong Archibong of the High Court of Akwa Ibom State judicially and judiciously varied the stringent bail conditions which the honourable court found to be “stringent”, “excessive” and “unaffordable” and reduced the bail bond to the sum of N200,000 to be executed by a surety who should be resident within the jurisdiction of the court. The court also requested our client to obtain a letter of identification from a prominent person in the State.
“On Friday, 22nd May, 2020, we perfected and fulfilled the bail of our client which was approved, signed and authenticated by the trial Chief Magistrate, Winifred M. Umohandy. The magistrate court mandated a police sergeant attached to the court to go to the SSS and secure the release of our client.
I personally accompanied the police officer to the SSS Command in Uyo along with my colleague, Augustine Asuquo.
“We arrived at the facility at about 2:12 p.m. and the SSS was duly served with the court order made by His Lordship, Hon. Justice Archibong Archibong, along with documentary evidence duly signed by Chief Magistrate Winifred M. Umohandy which shows that our client had fulfilled his bail conditions.”
Inibehe added that on getting to the SSS command in Uyo, he was told by officials that the Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State had written to them and instructed them not to release Carter because the government was proceeding on appeal against the judgment.
He added, “After delaying us for several hours, the Deputy Director, the Director of Operations, the Legal Officer and other officials at the SSS Command in Uyo met with me and told me that I should give them “a little time” for them to study the court order and act on it. I waited for the above mentioned SSS officials for about thirty minutes to enable them study and comply with the valid and subsisting order of the high court.
“When we reconvened, the SSS officials told me that the Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State had written to them and instructed them not to obey the court order because the government is proceeding on appeal against the well-reasoned ruling of the high court varying the stringent bail conditions of our client.
“This is the first time in the history of legal practice in Nigeria that an Attorney-General who did not oppose the bail of a defendant decided to oppose application for variation of bail conditions and after losing, proceeded to appeal. We challenge the Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State to cite any precedent where what he has done in the case of our client has ever been done, whether before or after Nigeria’s independence.
“From my discussion with the SSS official on Friday, they ostensibly made it clear that they will not obey the court order for the release of our client except and until Governor Udom Emmanuel gives them directive to that effect.
VIDEO: Mother Of Journalist Detained By DSS For Criticising Akwa Ibom Commissioner Protests As She's Denied Access To Her Only Son— Sahara Reporters (@SaharaReporters) May 9, 2020
WATCH FULL VIDEO: https://t.co/4pnZNb2J65@MrUdomEmmanuel @NigeriaGov pic.twitter.com/UODkDMhgfC
It should be noted that the high court in its order stated emphatically that “UPON THE FULFILMENT OF THE ABOVE CONDITIONS, THE APPLICANT SHALL BE RELEASED FROM CUSTODY WITHOUT ANY FURTHER CONDITION(S).
“Since our client (the applicant) has fulfilled his bail conditions as signed and attested to by the trial Chief Magistrate, and the SSS has been duly served with evidence of same along with the Court Order, the SSS has no reason in law to keep our client in their custody. No process filed by the Attorney General can override the Order of the Court.
“The SSS is not empowered by law to subject the valid and subsisting order of the court to their own interpretation. The SSS has no power to determine the effect of any motion or appeal filed by the Attorney-General. The SSS also has no power to arrest or detain any citizen of Nigeria for a purported case of defamation which is outside it’s statutorily mandate of safeguarding the internal security of Nigeria.
“By insisting that our client will only be released from their custody on the directive of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, the SSS has flagrantly flouted the order of Hon. Justice Archibong Archibong which commanded the immediate release of our client upon the perfection of his bail conditions without any further condition(s).
“Once again, we call on the Federal Government, the Director-General of the SSS, the National Human Rights Commission, civil society, international community, the media and spirited Nigerians to urgently prevail on the SSS Command in Akwa Ibom State to obey the valid and subsisting order of the high court by releasing our client forthwith, and stop subjecting the country to further international ridicule.”