Inibehe Effiong, the lawyer to detained journalist, Kufre Carter, has accused the Department of State Services (DSS) of insisting on a directive by Akwa Ibom Governor, Udom Emmanuel, before releasing his client even after perfecting bail.
A statement he signed on Saturday said from his discussion with a DSS official, “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 a directive to that effect”.
Effiong had raised an alarm about Kufre’s fate, insisting that the government and its institutions were acting beyond their powers.
He noted that the defence team waited for the SSS in Akwa Ibom State for over 24 hours to comply with the valid order of the court served on them on Friday, May 23.
“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 conditions imposed on our client, Mr Kufre Carter Akpan.”
Effiong recalled that Kufre, a presenter with XL 106.9 FM Uyo, was arrested by the DSS April 27 over a purported phone conversation with an anonymous medical doctor, which the state government alleged castigated the Commissioner for Health, Dr Dominic Ukpong, over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said Uwemedimo Nwoko, the Attorney General of Akwa Ibom, arraigned Kufre on three-count charges on alleged defamation which carries a maximum punishment of three years imprisonment.
Effiong said following the arraignment, the defence applied for the bail and was not opposed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who represented the Attorney General.
“The trial Chief Magistrate, Winifred M. Umohandy, admitted our client to bail in the sum of Three Million Naira 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.”
The lawyer explained that given the stringency of the bail conditions, the legal team immediately applied to the Akwa Ibom State High Court for variation.
Effiong expressed shock that Nwoko opposed variation of the bail conditions, but did not oppose the original bail ab initio.
He noted that on May 18, Justice Archibong Archibong of the State High Court varied the bail conditions and reduced the bond to N200,000 to be executed by a surety resident within the court’s jurisdiction, plus a Letter of Identification from a prominent person in Akwa Ibom.
Effiong said on May 22, the perfected bail was signed by Umohandy and that the court mandated a Police Sergeant attached to the court to go to the DSS and secure Kufre’s release.
The activist stated that he personally accompanied the police officer to the DSS office in Uyo along with a colleague, Augustine Asuquo, at about 2:12 p.m.
“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. It should be noted that the High Court in its Order stated emphatically that “upon the fulfillment of the conditions, the applicant shall be released from custody without any further conditions.
“The SSS is not empowered by law to subject the valid and subsisting Order of the court to their own interpretation; has no power to determine the effect of any motion or appeal filed by the Attorney General; has no power to arrest or detain any citizen of Nigeria for a purported case of defamation. By insisting that our client will only be released from their custody on the directive of the Governor of Akwa Ibom, the SSS has flagrantly flouted the Order of Hon. Justice Archibong Archibong.”
Effiong said his client and the defence team will petition the Body of Benchers, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) and other regulatory bodies in the legal profession to sanction Nwoko.
The lawyer called on the federal government, the Director-General of the DSS, the National Human Rights Commission, civil society, international community, the media and spirited Nigerians to urgently prevail on the DSS in Akwa Ibom State to obey the subsisting order.