By Nuel Suji – A group, known as the Benue Concerned Citizens has decried the detention of immediate past governor of the state, Dr. Gabriel Suswam by the Department of State Security (DSS) for over two months without trial.
At a press in Abuja on Wednesday, the group, which is a coalition of lawyers, political and pro-democracy activists and other professionals, strongly condemned the continued incarceration Suswam, who has only been granted limited access to his wife but no other family member, lawyer or friend since February 25, 2017 when he was detained by the DSS.
Hon. Tim Nyor, who spoke on behalf of the group, appealed to Nigerians of conscience and particularly the security agencies, civil society organizations, international community and political authorities of the country to help prevail on the DSS to either release former governor Suswam or immediately charge him before a Court of law for trial.
It lamented that Suswam, a two-term Governor of Benue State, a former two-term member of the House of Representatives, a National Merit Award Honoree (CON), a lawyer and responsible Nigerian, who honoured an invitation by the DSS on February 25, 2017 but has since then been detained in the facilities of the secret police, “has been denied access to medical attention and treatment for two months and we fear that his health is at risk.”
“As a constitutional democracy, the Nigerian state must always act within the provisions of the law no matter the attraction to do otherwise. In this instance, the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, is very clear that nobody shall be detained for more than 48 hours without being charged to court. It is unconstitutional therefore that he has been kept incommunicado for over two month. This is illegal, unconstitutional, immoral, and unethical. The fundamental human rights of this Benue leader, Rt Hon Gabriel Suswam has been grossly abused. This brazen violation of the constitutional provisions by the DSS in this case must stop forthwith. We demand the unconditional release of this Benue leader,” said the group.
The rest of the text of the press briefing read thus: “We join other people of conscience, legal authorities, human rights advocates and pro-democracy activists to call on the DSS to immediately release from detention this national figure or charge him accordingly before a court of competent jurisdiction in accordance with the law.
“We make bold to say that even if the DSS were to charge him to court, Dr Gabriel Suswam needs to receive medical attention to be strong enough to face trial just as he needs time to meet his lawyers to prepare for defense, both of which he cannot effectively do well in detention.
“We particularly call on the political authorities, especially the National Assembly to wade into this matter and save him from harassment, intimidation and humiliation from the state. We equally call on the international community to come to our rescue by impressing on the Nigerian authorities to stop forthwith the abuse of the fundamental human right of Suswam by his continued detention without trial.
“Propelled by the words of Desmond Tutu, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor; if an elephant has its feet on the tail of a mouse and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality” we must speak out. We are not against the law but we must resist all forms of democratic aberrations and injustice. We are governed by laws and statutes and they must be fully respected.
“We are further perturbed and most embittered by statements emanating from the DSS at his last court appearance, where he challenged his continued detention, where petitions from the Benue state government alleged that his release would make Benue State ungovernable.
“We decry the conspiratorial complicities of governments and government institutions in matters of security and personal freedom. If a man of Suswam’s stature and accomplishment can be so unlawfully incarcerated without trial for two months, one then wonders the fate of the common Nigerian. We must remain guided and guarded by the core tenets of democracy, justice and fairness, and this must be seen to be applicable to this situation. The greater Benue security challenge remains the rampaging Fulani herdsmen invasion of our lands and not the political persecution of a peaceful ex-governor perpetrated and orchestrated from distant but obvious places.
“It is unjust, unconstitutional and immoral that he is been made to serve a prison term even before trial by his continued detention. It is regrettable that he is made to serve this grave injustice after serving meritoriously as governor. Is it a crime for someone to serve his fatherland as a democratically elected governor. Why cause this untold pain to the former governor. Who is afraid of Dr. Gabriel Suswam presence in the nation’s political space. Who and why does anyone want to keep him permanently behind bars in such an unwholesome manner.”