Court Orders Police Again To Release Or Charge Man Detained For Allegedly Defaming Fashola
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Abuja, has issued another order to the police to either charge or immediately release Chike Ibezim, who has been in month-long detention over an alleged malicious publication posted online against the immediate-past Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola.
The court issued the fresh order on Friday (9 September), restating the one it earlier issued on 30 August for the release of the detainee.
“The order dated 30 August 2023 is explicit; it is unambiguous and very clear in its terms,” the judge, Olueymisi Adelaja, sitting in the Kubwa division of the court, declared on Friday.
She frowned on what she described as the police’s “act of disobedience of the order of this court”.
The judge noted that the police acted in disobedience “by varying the bail conditions”, adding that “the act of disobedience of the express orders of the court is unacceptable.”
“The said bail conditions are therefore unacceptable to this court, the orders of this court are for either the immediate release of the applicant from custody or for the respondent to charge the applicant to court for any offence disclosed against him,” the judge declared.
Arrest and detention
Mr Ibezim has been in the custody of the police in Abuja for over a month.
The police arrested him at his office in Maitama, Abuja, on 10 August over an alleged malicious publication shared via the X, formerly known as Twitter, handle of a blogging platform, @ReporteraNews, on 5 August.
The post in question alleged that Mr Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and top member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, was involved in the drafting of the judgement of the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC).
It added that soldiers had been deployed to restrict movements around Mr Fashola’s residence ahead of the judgement which the PEPC would deliver about a month later on 4 September.
While being paraded by the police at the Force Headquarters in Abuja recently, Mr Ibezim said the blogging site and its X handle were owned and run by his brother, Nnamdi Ibezim, whom he described as a journalist.
But the police spokesperson, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said the investigation confirmed that the phone line with which the post was made on X was registered by Mr Ibezim.
Mr Ibezim, who described himself as the owner of a startup company and a software engineer, confirmed the phone number to be his company’s official line, but denied knowledge of it being used to make the controversial post.
In response to a question by Mr Adejobi, Mr Ibezim said that having been in detention for 26 days, he could not tell his brother’s whereabouts.
He also said his office in Abuja was only being used by his brother as a correspondence address.
Mr Adejobi confirmed that the police had completed his investigation and would soon charge him in court.
In a press statement, he said the police investigation had established a prima facie case of malicious publication, cyberbullying, and other related offences against the suspect.
He also said the police launched their investigations following a petition from Priory Terrace Solicitors on behalf of Mr Fashola.
The police spokesperson said the social media post linked to Mr Ibezim was meant to “cast aspersion on the person of the former Minister, contrary to Section 24 of the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention) Act, 2015, which has the potential to cause harm, distress, and damage to his reputation, as well as posing great threats to national security and stability of our dear country.”
Ruling on a suit filed by Mr Ibezim to secure his release from police detention, Ms Adelaja, a judge of the FCT High Court in Kubwa, Abuja, on 30 August, ordered the police to either release him or charge him in court immediately.
The Inspector General of Police, the Force Investigation Bureau (FIB), and a police inspector, Ikemba Cyprian, were sued as respondents in the suit.
On 3 September, four days after the court issued the order for the release of Mr Ibezim, Mr Adejobi insisted via his X handle that the suspect was being kept in lawful custody based on a court order, details of which he did not reveal.
Following the refusal of the police to comply with the 30 August order of the court, the detainee’s lawyer, K. Okafor, appeared before the judge on 9 September to inform her of the development.
Ruling, Ms Adelaja held that she had made the earlier order “in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria with particular reference to Section 35(4) and 35(5) of that Constitution”.
She said the respondents being law enforcement agents, “it is absurd that the respondents are the ones disobeying the express provisions of the Constitution and even the order of a court of competent jurisdiction.”
She therefore ordered: “The respondents are mandated to obey the order of this court granted on 30 August 2023.”
She added that in the event they failed to comply with the order, Mr Ibezim’s lawyer “is free to take the necessary enforcement procedural steps.”