Activists lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) has urged the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to ensure that the 80 suspects “illegally detained” by the Navy are released without further delay.
He also urged the commission to recommend the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, to President Muhammadu Buahri for sanction for gross infringement of the rights of the detainees to dignity, liberty and fair hearing.
The request was contained in a letter, titled, Re: Request for release of 40 Nigerian Citizens from Illegal Custody of Nigerian Navy, dated May 25 and sent to the Executive Secretary of the NHRC in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
Falana said his request for sanction against the Chief of Naval Staff is meant to serve as a deterrent to other public officers who have a penchant for violating the rights of Nigerians.
The eminent lawyer said his request for sanction against the Chief of Naval Staff followed information at his disposal that the Presidency had directed the Navy to either release the detainees or arraign them in appropriate courts.
He said the directive to the Naval chief was issued in response to his petition to President Buhari and the NHRC on the prolonged detention of 40 Nigerian citizens without trial.
Falana noted that in a bid to deceive the Presidency, the naval authorities gave the false impression that the detainees had been transferred to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to charge them with criminal offences at the Federal High Court.
“Specifically, on May 23, the Navy paraded 32 detainees before the media and announced that they had been transferred to the EFCC office in Abuja. Barely 24 hours later, the Navy claimed to have transferred another group of eight detainees to the EFCC at Warri, Delta State.
“It may interest you to know that the 40 suspects purportedly handed over to the EFCC are not among the 40 detainees named in our petition under reference. Thus, the Navy has confirmed that not less than 80 citizens have been held incommunicado in undisclosed military detention facilities for several months without trial.
“In any case, the Navy has not handed over the 40 suspects to the EFCC. In fact, the naval authorities have since disclosed that the detainees have not been handed over to the EFCC, contrary to the clear directive of the Presidency,” he said.
Falana said the response of the naval authority to the directive of the Presidency that the detainees would not be released from illegal custody amounted to “provocative impunity”.
According to him, the Chief of Policy and Plans at Naval headquarters, Rear Admiral Beegroy Ibe-Ekwo, reportedly said “the appropriate prosecuting agencies for such offences are looking very closely into that matter. And whatever it is, if anybody has any grouse about any action, perhaps, he should resort to the court instead of these media hypes, with all due respect, in the name of human rights”.
Falana urged the NHRC to ensure that the 40 suspects and 40 detainees being held illegally by the Navy are released without further delay.
“It is hoped that the Presidency will not hesitate to call Rear Admiral Ibe-Ekwe to order for making a mockery of the directive of the Presidency on the continued incarceration of the 40 detainees.
“Since the senior military officer is challenging us to ‘resort to the court’, the commission may wish to ask him to justify the refusal of the naval authorities to comply with the subsisting orders of the Chief Magistrates’ Court, Apapa, Lagos, and Federal High Court for the release of some of the detainees,” he said.
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