Detention Of Akwa Ibom Journalist, Lai Mohammed Was Misled
Our attention has been drawn to a video circulating on social media showing the public remarks made on Wednesday, 6th May, 2020 by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed on what the Minister considered to be the reasons for the arrest and continued detention of our client, Mr. Kufre Carter, by the State Security Service (SSS).
Our client was arrested on Monday, 27th April, 2020 over a purported private phone conversation which the Akwa Ibom State Government and the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, alleged to be defamatory.
Regrettably, we wish to note that the Minister of Information while stating the outcome of his findings in Abuja during Wednesday's press briefing by the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, relied entirely on a one sided, false and misleading narrative painted to him by the Akwa Ibom State Government.
We do not wish to engage in factual contestation with anyone on social media since the case is before the court. But we are impelled to state for the records, that the Minister was totally misled.
The insinuation that our client may have done something ethically or morally wrong cannot be the basis for explaining the criminal charge instituted against our client by the Director of Public Prosecutions in Akwa Ibom State.
The Minister said that our client, Kufre Carter, who he rightly acknowledged as a journalist, had a phone interview with an anonymous doctor on the response of the Akwa Ibom State Government to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Minister, the said purported interview was not aired on XL FM where our client works, but he claimed that the interview was posted on Facebook by our client. This according to him, was the reason for the arrest and detention of our client.
We are waiting for the Government of Akwa Ibom State to argue this in the court of law. That is where we will reply them.
We are pleased that the Minister from his findings, did not uncover any criminal act committed by our client to justify the vicious actions taken by the state government and the SSS against him.
We are also pleased with the fact that the Minister did not find any legal basis to support the arrest and detention of our client.
However, we are perturbed by the silence of the Minister on the role and involvement of the SSS in this case.
Nigerians expected the Minister to express in unambiguous terms, the disapproval and displeasure of the Federal Government of Nigeria to the overreaching, embarrassing and utterly abusive deployment of the SSS, a supposed intelligence gathering agency, to arrest a citizen over a purported case of defamation.
The Minister as the spokesperson for the federal government should have asked the SSS what their business is in a purported case of defamation.
It is to the shame of this country that such scandalous and abusive deployment of an agency created to gather intelligence and protect the country has been swept under the carpet.
If there are no consequences for the meddlesome actions of the SSS in this case, it will further erode the change mantra propagated by the Buhari administration - of which Alhaji Lai Mohammed is a major proponent.
Since the Minister of Information admitted that he is in contact with Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State in respect of this case, we implore him to ask the Attorney General about the plans made by the state government to fully compensate our client for the gross violation of his fundamental rights.
Since the Minister alluded to the fact that our client is unable to perfect his bail, we wish to inform the Minister that on Thursday, 30th April, 2020 (a day after our client was arraigned before a Chief Magistrates' Court), we filed an application at the High Court of Akwa Ibom State seeking the variation of the bail conditions imposed on our client.
Thankfully, Monday, the 11th day of May, 2020 has been fixed for the hearing of our application (motion) before the State High Court for variation of the bail conditions.
While we appreciate the concerns and the efforts of the Minister, we implore him to also take interest in the manipulation and gross abuse of the SSS by the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Since the SSS is an agency of the federal government, there should be consequences for the travesty and intolerable abuse of the SSS by the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Impunity should not be condoned.
For records, we are confident that the Akwa Ibom State Judiciary will do justice to this case, and that our client will be vindicated at the end of the day.
In the end, light will triumph over darkness.
Inibehe Effiong ESQ.
(Counsel to Kufre Carter).
7th May, 2020.