Femi Falana, a prominent human rights activist and lawyer, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct the Nigerian Navy to release 40 Nigerians, which he said have been illegally detained for a long period of time.
Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, made his demand in a letter addressed to the president and seen by journalists on Sunday.
According to the senior lawyer, the Navy authorities secured a warrant from a magistrates court in Apapa, Lagos, approving the incarceration of the detained persons.
He, however, stated that the same court ordered the release of the detainees in January 2019 after it was found out that they had been locked up for three months without any criminal charges filed against them.
Falana told the president that the detention of the individuals, at facilities in Abuja and Lagos, was unlawful and ran contrary to sections 34 and 35 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Ratification and Enforcement.
The letter read: “We have received complaints from the family members of 40 Nigerian citizens who are being detained without trial on the orders of the Authorities of the Nigerian Navy.
“It may interest Your Excellency to know that the detainees have been held incommunicado in dehumanising conditions for periods ranging from six to eight months.
“In fact, some of the detainees are incarcerated in an underground military detention facility in Abuja while others are held inside one of the vessels impounded by the Nigerian Navy in Marina, Lagos.
“The detainees have been subjected to mental, psychological and physical torture contrary to the provisions of the Anti Torture Act, 2017.
“Furthermore, in utter contempt of court the authorities of the Nigerian Navy have defied valid and subsisting orders of competent courts for the unconditional release of some of the detainees.
“Apart from such contemptuous conduct the Nigerian Navy recently denied knowledge of the whereabouts of the 15 detainees held in a detention facility in Abuja.
“As soon as we pointed out that the remand order procured by the Nigerian Navy for the detention of the 15 detainees had been quashed by the Chief Magistrate Court in Apapa, Lagos State the Naval Authorities turned round to file criminal charges against 5 of them before a Court Martial.
“Since all the detainees are entitled to their fundamental rights to dignity and liberty guaranteed by sections 34 and 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended and articles 5 and 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Ratification and Enforcement Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, we urge Your Excellency to direct the Chief Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, to either release the detainees from unlawful custody or arraign them in court without any further delay.
“In view of the fact that the illegal detention of the 40 Nigerian citizens for several months without trial has exposed the Federal Government to unwarranted embarrassment the Chief of Naval Staff ought to be sanctioned by Your Excellency.”
Falana’s letter to the president follows an earlier one addressed to Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, asking the country’s chief law officer to take action against the Navy.