The Department of State Security (DSS) has continued to hold Nnamdi Kanu’s personal assistant, Bright Chimezie, in its custody for more than 14 months despite a court order directing the agency to release him or charge him to court. Mr. Chimezie, who was a personal assistant to the leader of the now proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), was arrested on October 14, 2016, exactly a year and four days after his boss was arrested by the DSS.
However, instead of charging the 45-year-old man to court as was done with Mr. Kanu, the state security agency has held him in detention till date even though the court directed the agency to release him or charge him to court. Mr. Chimezie’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, obtained the order from a Federal High Court in Uyo on May 24, 2017, but seven months after the order was given, Mr. Chimezie remains in the custody of state security.
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, who gave the order, stated that “the arrest of the applicant (Bright Chimezie) on the 14th of October, 2016, and his continued detention by the Respondent without granting him bail or being charged to Court, is unlawful and a gross violation of his Fundamental Right to personal liberty under Section 35(1 and 93) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
By refusing to abide by the court order, the DSS is not only breaching the fundamental human rights of Mr. Chimezie but is also committing contempt against the court.
The judge also held, “that since the Law recognizes that where a citizen has been detained above the constitutionally prescribed period without any justification, any subsequent arraignment or charge before a Court of Law does not cure the illegality or abrogate his right to damages, he is entitled to damages for unlawful detention. Therefore, the Respondent shall pay the sum of N5,000,000.00 (Five million naira) to the Applicant as damages for the unlawful detention of the Applicant from 14/10/2016 till date.”
Rather than comply with the order, the DSS moved to amend the initial charges against Mr. Kanu to include Mr. Chimezie. While the amended charge has been served on Mr. Chimezie, the charge has not been read before the court for the defendant to take his plea. Furthermore, Mr. Chimezie has not been arraigned before any court of competent jurisdiction.
This would amount to tactically circumventing an active court order in order to unlawfully keep a man in custody contrary to the extant laws. Also, in a copy of letter addressed to the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on the matter, Mr. Chimezie’s lawyer argued that the DSS included his client’s name in the charge against Mr. Kanu merely to give the impression of compliance to Justice Ojukwu’s order.
“In a desperate but unavailing charade to present an impression of strict compliance with the directives, contained in the order made on the 24th day of May, 2017, the name of the applicant was smuggled in as the 5th defendant in charge no: FHC/ABJ/CR/383/2015 between Federal Republic Of Nigeria vs. Nnamdi Kanu & Ors.
“In the amended charge, dated 21st day of June, 2017, and filed on the same date, our client was charged with two offenses to wit: (a) conspiracy to commit treasonable felony and (b) improper importation of goods,” Mr. Ejiofor said. He argued that the two offenses are bailable and that the constitution only allows for a person to be kept in custody for three months, after which he must be released or charged to court.
In addition, the charge was first amended on November 7, 2017, which was 23 days after the arrest of Mr. Chimezie. The lawyer queried why the DSS did not include his client in the charge then but waited seven months to do so, only when an order compelling them to either release him on bail or charge him to court was served on the agency.
“Since the amendment of the charge on the 21st day of June, 2017, the inclusion of our Client as the 5th Defendant in the amended charge, he has not been produced before the Federal High Court seized of the matter for the purposes of taking pleas to the charge, till date.
“On record, the charge came up on the 17th day of October, 2017, November 20th, 2017, and 5th December, 2017, but on all of the above dates, our client was not produced in Court, neither was the said amended charge ever mentioned in Court.”