By Alhamdu Durami
Our attention have been drawn to the fact that after the unfortunate incident of Friday, 19th February 2021, in Billiri, Gombe State, many innocent people have been and are still being indiscriminately arrested and incarcerated by the Gombe State Government and security agents without. granting them their right to fair hearing. Our investigations also revealed that most of the victims were arrested based on malicious and false reports sent to the security agents who also happen to be friends and relatives of the malicious reporters. That innocent people could be arrested and thrown in prison based on mere speculations and malicious information from their own enemies is not proper.
While we feel sad by the unfortunate incident that led to the loss of lives and property, we urge the State Government to handle the matter with utmost care and humane face and in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria below:
Section 17, Subsection 1(c):
governmental action shall be humane.
However, and unfortunately, through the utterances of the State Governor and his spokespersons as contained in the recent video clips of press briefing, which have gone viral, they seem to be instilling fear and mistrust in the hearts of the people and inciting other segment of the population of the State to launch a reprisal attack on a particular tribe over an internal fight that did not concern them. This action is inimical and contravenes the resolution of Nigeria as a nation as enshrined in the following clause of the Constitution: “for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our Country on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people.”
In one of the video clips, the Commissioner of Internal Security Alh. Musa Batari, was heard saying that 16 (sixteen) people had been arrested and that they were in prison and that the search for other suspects was still ongoing. But the one million Naira question is: How could suspects outrightly be sent to prison lockup without first taking them to police station to write their statement of defence from where they can be taken to a court of law in order to absolve themselves of the allegations labeled against them? This has contradicted Section 35, Subsection 3 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria quoted as follows:
“Any person who is arrested or detained shall be informed within twenty-four hours (and in a language that he understands) of the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention.”
However, we were made to understand that these people have been in detention for more than 96 (ninety-six) now without trial in any court of law. Some of them, according to reliable information reaching us, were not even in good condition of health.
Additionally, Section 35, Subsection 4 of the 1999/Constitution stipulates that:
“Any person who is arrested or detained in accordance with subsection (1) (c) of this section shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time,” And Section 35 (5) further clarifies that: “In subsection (4) of this section, the expression “a reasonable time” means-
(a) in the case of an arrest or detention in any place where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of forty kilometres, a period of one day; and
(b) in any other case, a period of two days or such longer period as in the circumstances may be considered by the court to be reasonable.”
We understand these innocent individuals have been kept in Billiri prison which is not more than two hundred metres away from a court of law but unfortunately they have not been taken to court for trial.
As human right activists, we urge the State Government to treat this matter with humane face, as we will not hesitate to take any action within the confines of the law to ensure the rights of all affected individuals are protected through whatever legal means available either through compensation or public apology by the State Government as provided in Section 35, Subsection 6:
“Any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person.”
In addition, we urge the authorities concern to treat all persons with dignity and respect as they are only suspects, until the court of law proves otherwise. Section 36, Subsection 5 of the Constitution states:
“Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.”
Consequently, it is our prayer that no individual, either Christian or Muslims and from whatever tribe, should be tortured during the course of investigation as such action contravenes Section 35(1) (a) of the Constitution:
“No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment.”
In conclusion, we pray that the security agents should be able to trace those who are responsible for this heinous and dastardly act and be arrested, so that they will face the full wrath of the law in order to serve as deterrent to others. However, care should be taken not to throw away the bathing water along with the baby.
We come in peace!
Long live Billiri Local Government Area!
Long live Gombe State!!
Long live Federal Republic of Nigeria!!!
Right Hon. Durami Alhamdu is the Executive Director of APHRICOD, an NGO in Abuja