A Federal High Court in Abuja has awarded 10 million Naira (about US$27,500) in damages to Jones Abiri, describing the journalist’s two-year detention without trial as an “outright conviction.”
Giving his ruling, the judge, Nnamdi Dimgba, rejected as baseless the government’s submission that Abiri was detained in the interest of national security. He also questioned the government’s refusal to arraign the journalist after taking his statement upon his arrest.
Abiri, who is the editor of the Weekly Sources newspaper, was arrested on August 2016 on accusations of being part of a separatist group and carrying out terrorist activities. Abiri’s family and colleagues however believed his arrest was in connection with a report he published which alleged that the country’s military were planning a coup against President Muhammadu Buhari.
On August 15, 2018, the journalist was temporarily released after the presiding judge at the Abuja Magistrate Court in Zone 2 relaxed stringent bail conditions which he could not meet upon his first appearance in court some two weeks earlier.
His maiden appearance in court and subsequent release on bail came after human rights lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, filed a suit on July 3, 2018 against the Department of State Services, (DSS) for the arbitrary detention of the journalist.
Falana was demanding a 200 million Naira (about $US554,700) in damages for Abiri. He argued that the journalist’s detention was an illegal violation of his fundamental rights which are guaranteed by Sections 34, 35 and 40 of Nigeria’s Constitution as well as Articles 11 and 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
On August 21, following Abiri’s temporary release, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) joined twenty other press freedom and human rights organisations across the world to sign a petition calling on Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure the outright and immediate release of Abiri and to sanction his abusers.
The MFWA therefore welcomes the decision of the court that compensates Jones Abiri on the abuse of his fundamental human right. This is an emphatic rejection of the use of national security pretenses to curtail constitutionally guaranteed rights, especially press freedom.
We commend Femi Falana for taking up the matter as well as the media fraternity in Nigeria and press freedom organisations across the world for their massive solidarity.