Nigeria’s secret police, Department Of State Servuces (DSS) last week Wednesday arrested the Abuja Beureu Chief of Independent Newspaper, Tony Ezimakor after he punished a report about how the federal government paid Boko Haram insurgents millions of dollars and euros to secure the release of some of the abducted Chibok school girls and how some state and non state actors including foreign agents were profiteering from the insurgency in Nigeria’s North East.
While in their custody, DSS sought to forcefully retrieve information concerning the source of his report and threatened to keep him in custody until he bulges.
The secret organization however bowed to pressure on Tuesday after calls were made for his unconditional release by well spirited Nigerians, civil society organisations and Human Rights activists including Femi Falana, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, Kayode Ajulo, and convener of Our Mumu Don Do, Charles Oputa.
The Department of State Services (DSS) about 10:30p.m on Tuesday released detained Tony Ezimakor, the Abuja Bureau Chief of Independent Newspapers after they tore into his house located at Tundun Wada Extension of the Federal Housing, Lugbe, Abuja on Friday and removed valuables including his laptop, personal and official documents, among others.
If the government felt embarrassed, they ought to address the issue of corruption and deception within the inner circle of President Buhari as raised by Ezimakor’s report rather than arresting and detaining him indefinitely. This development is reminiscent of the military era where journalists were harassed, arrested and detained indefinitely by the military juntas.
Is Nigeria gradually slipping back to the dark days of military rule?
Reactions to Tony Ezimakors Arrest
Before his release on Tuesday night, constitutional lawyers in the country joined the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), civil society organisations, and other institutions and individuals to demand the unconditional release of Tony Ezimakor.
An Abuja-based constitutional and human rights lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, said the detention
At about 10:30p.m on Tuesday, DSS released detained Tony Ezimakor, the Abuja Bureau Chief of Independent Newspapers.
The insustence of the DSS about the sources of Ezeakome’s sources as precondition for his release and his detention for over 48 hours without charge amounted to a violation of his fundermamtal Human Rights.
The civil society organisation, OURMUMUDONDO Movement, led by Charles Oputa, a.k.a. Charly Boy, and other rights groups, had vowed to occupy the headquarters of Department of State Services (DSS) in Maitama today.
Before his release Tuesday night, constitutional lawyers in the country joined the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), civil society organisations, and other institutions and individuals to demand the unconditional release of Tony Ezimakor.
An Abuja-based constitutional and human rights lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, said the detention of Ezimakor was unconstitutional and a clear violation of his fundamental human rights.
“The detention of the Bureau Chief is barbaric, unconstitutional, wicked and an act of impunity of the highest order,” Ejiofor said.
“The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, never permits anybody to detain a Nigerian for more than 48 hours.
“The detention of Mr. Ezimakor for more than 48 hours without an order of court is in clear violation of the provision of the constitution,” the legal practitioner stated.
Similarly, Kayode Ajulo, another renowned constitutional lawyer, condemned the act.
He said: “The law is so clear, you do not have to detain any Nigerian for more than 48 hours.
“If you have a case against anybody, you have the right to file a charge against the person, and not to put the person in custody indefinitely.
“It is better to go to court to secure an order, and if the DSS flouts it, then it becomes contemptuous.”
The human rights lawyer insisted it was wrong to detain Ezimakor without charging him to court.
“The DSS is a creation of the constitution and other laws. DSS is subject to Nigeria’s constitution and must obey the laws of the land,” he stressed.
Femi Falana (SAN), Lagos-based human rights activist and legal luminary, said on Tuesday that the operatives of DSS cannot force Tony Ezimakor to disclose the source of his information.
Falana argued that the DSS ought to offer an open apology to him since the agency acted illegally and unconstitutionally.
In a statement made available to DAILY INDEPENDENT, Falana described the harassment of Ezimakor as a sad reminder of the case of Messrs Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, who were tried, convicted, and jailed by the Buhari/Idiagbon junta in 1984.
The duo, Falana recalled, was incarcerated over their refusal to disclose their source of information pertaining to a story published in The Guardian newspaper over ambassadorial postings by the military junta.
Part of the statement reads: “Regrettably, the State Security Service is yet to appreciate that a journalist cannot be forced to disclose his source of information under the current democratic dispensation.
“It is high time the attention of the State Security Service was drawn to Section 35(2) of the constitution which provides that ‘Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice’.
“Since Mr. Ezimakor is constitutionally entitled to ‘remain silent’, the State Security Services lacks the power to subject him to disclose the source of his information.”
Falana maintained that by arresting and detaining Ezimakor for the purpose of compelling him to disclose the source of a story written by him and published by the Independent Newspapers, “the State Security Services has acted malafide, illegally, and unconstitutionally.
“As Mr. Ezimakor has not committed any offence known to law the State Security Services should release him unconditionally, and publicly apologise to him in line with the requirement of Section 35(6) of the 1999 constitution of Nigerian (as amended).”
On his part, Femi Aborishade, notable human rights lawyer, took a swipe at the DSS.
Aborishade said the journalist deserved to be celebrated not persecuted by the secret police for doing an investigative piece that would add value to the country.
He said Ezimakor’s action was duly protected under Section 22 of the 1999 constitution.
That section of the constitution imposes a constitutional mandate on the mass media to make those who hold the reins of power responsible and accountable to the people.
The fiery lawyer, in a statement made available to DAILY INDEPENDENT, said it was ironic that a government that claimed to be fighting corruption now detains a journalist who did an investigative reporting with findings which contradicted the Federal Government’s claim that no ransom was paid to the Boko Haram insurgents for the release of the abducted Chibok girls.
Aborishade remarked that one of the values of Ezimakor’s story was that it directed attention to the possibility the Boko Haram phenomenon might have been turned into a business venture through which some public officers squandered the wealth of the country.
He said: “A government that is serious about fighting corruption ought to have partnered a journalist like Tony Ezimakor to identify and expose those alleged public officials who might be unlawfully deriving pecuniary benefits from efforts to free the abducted Boko Haram victims and confer on Tony Ezimakor one of the highest national honours in recognition of his courage, skills, and sacrifices in helping to facilitate the attainment of the goal of fighting corruption, which is the central plank of the programme that brought the APC into power in 2015.”
Quoting Section 39(1) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, the lawyer said it guaranteed freedom of expression and the press, adding that the courts had interpreted this to include protection against disclosure of source of information by a journalist.
He added that Article 4 of the Code of Ethics for Nigerian journalists stipulated that “a journalist should observe the universally accepted principle of confidentiality and should not disclose the source of information obtained in confidence.”
The Code of Ethics for Nigerian journalists is made pursuant to Section 9 of the Nigerian Press Council Act.
In that case, he said, the Code of Ethics for Nigerian journalists has the force of law.
“We, therefore, condemn as not only unlawful but also unconstitutional, the alleged demand by the State Security Service (SSS) that Tony Ezimakor should disclose the source of his information as the condition for his release.
“As the Code of Ethics for Nigerian journalists prescribes, the right against disclosure of source of information is a universally guaranteed right and the courts, nationally and internationally, have upheld the right against disclosure of source of information,” he said.
He explained that under section 379 of the Criminal Code, the publication by Tony Ezimakor could be categorised as conditionally privileged, being a fair comment on issues of public interest and morality, which has not been established to be false or made in bad faith.
He implored the SSS to either charge Tony Ezimakor to court (if the authorities believed they could successfully press charges against him) or release him unconditionally and immediately.
“We shall resist, within the bounds of the law, any attempt by any regime to take us back to the dark days of military dictatorship under the repressive and obnoxious Decree No. 4 of 1984, which PMB used to viciously suppress press freedom as the then military dictator.
“The detention of Mr. Tony Ezimakor, the Abuja Bureau Chief of Daily Independent newspaper since Wednesday, 28th February 2018, allegedly by the State Security Service (SSS) without being charged to court is not only a sad reminder of brutal suppression of press freedom under Decree No 4 of 1984, it is an unacceptable violation of Sections 35(1) & (5) and 39(1), which provide constitutional guarantees for personal liberty, being brought before a court within reasonable time defined as one day where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of forty kilometers and freedom of expression and the press, including protection against disclosure of source of information,” Aborishade stated.
Read Tony Ezimakor’s article on Independent Newspaper
Barely ten months after the release of a batch of 82 of the abducted Chibok secondary school girls, investigation shows that the entire negotiations may have been nothing but a huge scam.
DAILY INDEPENDENT investigation that covered Nigeria, Switzerland, Chad, Niger and Cameroon has conclusively shown that Nigerian officials and Swiss agents involved in the clandestine talks to free the girls who were abducted from Borno State by the Boko Haram insurgents have turned the negotiations into an illicit goldmine of sort.
Remarkably, this offshore and on-shore investigations have rubbished claim by federal authorities that no ransom was paid to secure freedom for the two batches of the 276 abducted Chibok girls already released by Boko Haram as it has been proved that millions of dollars were actually paid to secure their release.
Most of all, DAILY INDEPENDENT sources uncovered the face behind the mask in the negotiations. He is Swiss Foreign Service agent, Pascal Holliger. But he is not alone as he has been working closely with some Nigerians and other foreigners in a labyrinthine way that reaches to other countries and involves various organisations. To give them an absolute cover of decency, the negotiations have been spearheaded by the Swiss government, ostensibly on humanitarian grounds.
Yet, as the whole process had been enmeshed in secrecy Red Cross, the only visible entity, has always insisted that its role was limited to mediation and confidence building “as a neutral intermediary and not involved in the negotiation” between the parties.
A thorough professional, Holliger graduated from the Institute of International Studies (IHEID), Geneva, Switzerland, under the tutelage of Jean Pierre Gontard, the renowned Swiss mediator with FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). As a staff of the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s Human Security Division, Holliger’s intelligence journey started with his deployment in South Africa, where he established his two NGOs, IMBEWU and Latitudes, that are ostensibly engaged in humanitarian works; the first provides education to disadvantaged children while the second helps them become professionals.
But as Nigeria’s North East region gained international notoriety and significance on the global intelligence chessboard, Holliger was deployed to Nigeria as a political officer.
There is also an unsubstantiated claim that Holliger’s lobby in the country coincided with pressure on former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 to negotiate the release of the school girls from their captors.
Indeed, ransom payment to terrorists by governments all over the world have remained a recurring allegation, governments have officially denied such payment. The Nigerian government has been no different; it has always denied the payment of ransom to insurgent groups toward securing release of high profile captives like the Chibok girls, the reality is entirely a different proposition.
As a matter of fact since the abduction of the 276 Chibok girls from their school dormitories by Boko Haram in 2014, the saga has become a goldmine for different state and non-state actors with different motives, all looking for roles in the rescue of the girls.
Recall that President Goodluck Jonathan, under intense international pressure in the fall of 2014 sought the assistance of Chadian President Idris Derby to secure release of the abducted girls.
Armed with a war chest of $2 million, his Special Emissary, Ambassador Hassan Tukur, was confident of his mission to Ndjamena. That was until alleged political consideration got in the way, the belief that if successful, the mission would enhance chances of the incumbent leader in the 2015 general election among others.
This failed mission also trained international attention on Idris Derby as the intelligence community began to study him in great detail – because anybody that could undertake such a mission must have a relationship with the Boko Haram insurgents, the intelligence community reasoned.
Many of the intelligence reports have suggested that Derby has surprisingly close relationship with insurgents across the sub-region. But such allegations are hard to substantiate.
What made the difference though with the involvement of the Swiss is that they have often succeeded where others fail, an intelligence source told DAILY INDEPENDENT.
Holliger, in a bid to have a foot hold in the Nigerian North East, was said to have partnered the Saudis who already had an agent in Maiduguri, by name Zannah Mustapha.
A lawyer, Mustapha was running a private school in the Borno State capital — Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School. The school was established by International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIRO), Jeddah, which, surprisingly, is listed in U.S. States Department’s charity organisations with ties to terrorism.
Our source disclosed that Mustapha had a long standing relationships with Boko Haram leadership, as a member and strong sympathiser of the Salafi-Wahabbi group. Again, this allegation is hard to confirm as secrecy is the mainstay of the cloak and dagger world of espionage and counter-espionage.
The investigation showed that Holliger recruited Mustapha and sent him to Switzerland for training in the act of soft intervention in the world’s conflict zones.
At the completion of his training he returned to Nigeria, now to serve as a valuable asset in the negotiations.
Holliger did not stop there. According to a Senior Counter Intelligence Officer with National Intelligence Agency (NIA), who is vast in the intelligence game, “Holliger is an interesting character and very professional agent who exploits to the maximum and penetrated Nigerian political establishments at the highest level”.
It did not take much time for the Swiss to be on first name terms with presidency’s inner circle, Abba Kyari, Lawal Daura, the NSA DG and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, DAILY INDEPENDENT gathered.
And to further gain their confidence, Holliger was said to have led a number of trips to his country in search of stolen funds that have links to Nigerian ex-officials, top of them the Abacha loot.
The bond among Holliger and the inner circle in Aso Villa is said to be so tight that national institutions like the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the NIA were kept in the dark about Chibok girls’ negotiations.
Not even Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was fully briefed on the details of the negotiations, our source claimed.
The investigation further showed that Holliger equally “enticed Nigerian officials with offers of discreet Swiss Coded Accounts and financial reward from the ransom money,” though no information emerged about who took the bait.
The intelligence source added that the Chibok girls and other cases of kidnapping for ransom in the region involving the Swiss and Nigerian government officials are at huge costs.
Unfortunately, the investigation did not unearth exactly how much was paid as ransom to secure the release of the 103 Chibok girls.
The Associated Press reported at the release of the 82 girls last year that “a ‘handsome ransom’ in millions of dollars was paid by Switzerland’s government on behalf of the Nigerian authorities. The Swiss would recoup the money from some $321 million it had said it would repatriate to Nigeria this year from frozen funds looted under former military dictator Sani Abacha.”
Our source at NIA claimed that the report was deliberate disinformation, purposely placed to deceive Nigerians. While corroborating the position that ransom was indeed paid, he expressed doubt if the ransom would not be paid in cash, as is the practice in intelligence circles, to avoid any trace of the operations.
He also joked that Boko Haram insurgents would hardly operate bank accounts.
“It is not true that the Swiss government will recoup from the looted funds. What happened is the agent, Holliger and his cohorts would collect the money in cash. The insurgents and their representatives cannot accept wired money or the deal would fail”, the source noted.
Aside the 82 girls released in May last year, 21 of the Chibok school girls had earlier regained their freedom to the delight of their parents, Nigerians and foreigners.
And only recently, similar meditation and negotiations were deployed to secure release of some abducted police women and University of Maiduguri lecturers held by two insurgent groups. While the Abubakar Shekau-led group allegedly released the ten policewomen, the UNIMAID lecturers where said to have been released by the Mamman Nur/Al-Barnawi group.
There is even a broadening suspicion within intelligence circles that the Chibok girls still in captivity may not be anywhere within the country’s borders, or Sambisa forest, already devastated through aerial bombardment by troops, but in a safe haven in a neighbouring country where they have become cash cow for some officials, working in concert with negotiators to squeeze scarce dollars from the government.
On the suspicion that the negotiators are just in it for the money our source said, “Also they cannot take millions of Euros to some bandits and terrorists without taking their cut. They have made the Chibok girls their cash cow; know this that all the talk of Swiss humanitarian offer is at a price. Also know that the Chibok girls are not under Shekau or any terrorist group. They are safe and secure: the Swiss, Chadians and Cameroonians know this”, he alleged.