Femi Falana queries navy’s position on whereabouts of 15 detainees

Femi Falana
Femi Falana. PHOTO: SHIPS & PORTS archive

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has lambasted the Nigerian Navy for feigning ignorance as to the whereabouts of 15 persons that have been in detention for eight months.

The navy’s Director of Information, Commodore Suleman Dahun, had said on Monday that the detainees were not in navy’s custody, claiming that he could not say where they are.

In a statement, however, Falana said, “My attention has been drawn to the sadistic denial of the whereabouts of the 15 military and civilian personnel who have been held incommunicado by the Nigerian Navy since September 2018.

“As their whereabouts are unknown why did the navy apply to the Chief Magistrate Court in Apapa, Lagos, for an order to detain them? Why did the navy not deny the whereabouts of the detainees when the magistrate ordered their immediate and unconditional release from custody on January 7, 2019?

“Since the whereabouts of the detainees are not known, why did the Navy file counter-affidavits in opposition to the application for the release of Captain Dada Labinjo and Lt. Commander Bola Labinjo from further detention?

“Why has the Navy filed a motion for stay of execution of the order of the federal high court for the immediate release of Lt. Commander Bola Banjo? Why did the navy apply for an adjournment to react to the application for the enforcement of the fundamental right of Mr. Benjamin Gold? For goodness sake, at what stage did the detainees disappear from the custody of the Navy?”

The Navy had arrested 15 Nigerians including Captain Dada Labinjo, Lt. Commander Sherifat Ibe Lambert (also known as Mrs Bola Labinjo) and Benjamin Gold for an undisclosed offence.

Others in custody include Peter Pulle, Pius Paul, Onoja Reuben, Adeleke Adewale, Labinjo Kehinde, Ogunmoyero Oluwasehun, Emmanuel Oputa, Innocent Sunday, Iejoro Friday, Hamza Yakubu and Segun Yusuf.

The detainees, who are mostly civilians, were dumped in a military detention facility at Apapa in Lagos. However, in order to legalise the arrest and detention of the detainees the naval authorities obtained a remand warrant from a Magistrate Court sitting at Apapa.

But as the detainees who were incarcerated for over three months were not charged with any criminal offence the magistrate court reviewed their case on January 7, 2019, and ordered the naval authorities to release them from illegal custody forthwith.

In what was described as contempt of the valid order of the court, the Navy transferred the detainees to another military detention facility in Abuja. Following the application by Lt. Commander Labinjo filed for the enforcement of her fundamental right to personal liberty the Federal High Court directed the Navy to release her from illegal custody.

But the valid order of the Federal High Court has equally been ignored by the Navy without any legal justification. Even though the civilians among the detainees are not subject to service law, the Navy has continued to detain them in military detention facilities, according to Falana.