A lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, has raised the alarm over the detention of a journalist based in Akwa Ibom State, Kufre Carter, by the Department of State Services.
Effiong, in a statement late on Monday, said Carter had been held by the DSS operatives since the early hours of the day and refused to release him for failing to hand over his mobile phone.
The lawyer said the offence of the journalist was an audio interview he had with a Doctor in the state on the handling of the Coronavirus Disease in the state.
He accused the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, of being behind the ordeal of Carter.
Effiong said: “On Sunday, 26th April, 2020 our client, Mr. Kufre Carter, received a phone call from Mr. Uchechukwu Nnatube, the Director of Operations of the State Security Service (SSS) in Akwa Ibom State, who summoned him to report at the SSS Command in Uyo on Monday, 27th April, 2020 over a purported viral audio conversation which he alleged that our client had with a medical practitioner in Akwa Ibom State on the current situation in the state regarding COVID-19.
“As law abiding citizens and out of courtesy, we encouraged our client to report to the SSS even though we are aware that Section 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) guarantees citizens the right to privacy, including privacy of telephone conversations. We are also aware that Section 39 of the Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to freedom of expression.
“Contrary to the constitutional right of our client under Section 36 of the Constitution to have and consult with a legal practitioner of his choice during interrogation by security agencies, the SSS in Uyo became agitated the moment our client reported at their Command along with the Deputy Head of Inibehe Effiong Chambers, Mr. Augustine Asuquo.
“The said Director of Operations and other officers of the SSS refused to allow our colleague (Mr. Augustine Asuquo) to witness the interrogation of our client. The officers did not only insist that our colleague should leave their premises, they physically escorted him out of the SSS Command.
“The Director of Operations later called our colleague on the phone to demand that he should handover the PRIVATE mobile phone of our client to them. He made it abundantly clear that the SSS must see the phone of our client which he claimed will enable them to extract the record and details of a purported audio conversation they alleged our client had with a medical doctor.
“They also demanded that our client should furnish them with the phone number of the said doctor.
“Since their illegal demands were not met, the Director of Operations became more hostile towards our client and us.
“I (Inibehe Effiong) personally called Mr. Uchechukwu Nnatube to express concerns over the illegal actions of the SSS towards our client, but he became hostile the moment I told him that it was illegal for the SSS to demand the production of our client’s phone; which is our client’s private property. The Director of Operations hung-up on me and has refused to pick my calls since then.
“From all indications, we reasonably believe that SSS officers are torturing Mr. Kufre Carter in their custody in their effort to extract a ‘confessional statement’ from our client. The SSS is torturing our client for him to handover his private mobile phone to them.
“The Director of Operations also told us that they invaded our client’s residence to look for his phone but did not find it.
“We are aware that the Akwa Ibom State Government instigated the SSS to hunt, arrest, torture and detain our client over the alleged audio record after facing increasing public criticisms over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
“From credible information at our disposal, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, and other officials of the state government are involved in this shameful and illegal actions against our client.
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“The SSS has not told our client the offence that he committed to warrant his arrest and detention.
“The SSS in Akwa Ibom State has not told us what their business is with a purported private conversation that allegedly leaked to the public.
“The SSS has also not told us when it became a criminal offence in Nigeria for citizens to criticise the government or to express their opinions on the actions of the government.
“Since Nigeria is a country governed by laws and not a Banana Republic, we ask the SSS in Akwa Ibom State to immediately retrace from their illegal actions and release Kufre Carter forthwith, or to charge him to court first thing on Tuesday.
“It is a sad commentary that while other States are struggling to curtail the spread of coronavirus, Governor Udom Emmanuel and the Akwa Ibom State Government have become extremely paranoid about public criticisms and are now resorting to primitive use of force to clampdown on innocent citizens.
“Kufre Carter has not eaten since he reported at the SSS Command in the morning.
“We wish to also place on record that there is no social distancing at the SSS Command in Uyo. We hope that this is not a deliberate attempt to expose our client to the dreaded COVID-19.
“We wish to remind the Akwa Ibom State Government that we will never be intimidated by their illegal resort to primitive force.
“As a journalist and public affairs commentator, our client has no criminal record.
“Nigerians and the international community should prevail on the SSS in Akwa Ibom State to act like a responsible law enforcement agency and release our client immediately, and stop behaving like a colonial police for politicians and public office holders in Akwa Ibom State.”