The Sun Editor’s Ordeal

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Wabara on hospital bed

Ebere Wabara, associate editor, Sun, has been incarcerated by the Abia State police command over the alleged publication of seditious materials against Theodore Orji, governor of Abia State

|  By Maureen Chigbo  |  Apr. 14, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

THE morning of Friday, May 28, will remain indelible in the memory of Ebere Wabara, associate editor, Sun Newspaper. When he woke up around 6 O’clock, he could not have imagined the ordeal he and his family will go through in the hands of some policemen sent by the Abia State government to whisk him away from his house in Surulere, Lagos. But just as he went down from his room to fetch something from his car, some policemen swooped on him and would have taken him out but for the alarm he raised which attracted other members of his family in particular his wife. That was how his 30-hour incarceration in the custody of the police started. He was first taken to the Sholoki Police Station, Aguda, Surulere, and later to Oyingbo police station, also in Lagos, by the policemen, who acted on the orders of Adamu Ibrahim, Abia State Commissioner of Police.

Theodore Orji, Abia State governor
Theodore Orji, Abia State governor

When the attempt made by Frank Mba, force public relations officer, failed to spare Wabara, he was marooned in a very uncomfortable long and unsolicited drive in a car on a rough road filled with bumps. The journey which saw them arriving Umuahia, the seat of Abia State government by 12 midnight ended with Wabara being clamped into detention without food.

The journalists got the cave man treatment because he had angered the Abia State government presided  by Governor Theodore Ahamefule Orji with his acerbic columns on the bad administration of Abia State.  As it was stated on his 10-count charge sheet on Monday, March 31, when he was arraigned in a magistrate court in Umuahia, Wabara was accused of publishing seditious materials against Governor Orji. A suit number U/11/C/ 2014, between the commissioner of police and Wabara, alleged that the defendant committed sedition with his articles published in Sun and other local media within the period, spanning from January to March 2014. The charge sheet stated: “That you Ebere Wabara ‘m’ on the 19th day of February, 2014, at Umuahia in Umuahia North Magisterial District conspired with others, now at large, to commit offence to wit: seditious publication and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 517 of the Criminal Code cap 80 Vol. 3 Laws of Abia State of Nigeria 2005.

“That you Ebere Wabara ‘m’ and others now at large, on the 18th day of February 2014 in the aforesaid Magisterial District with intent to bring into hatred or contempt or excite disaffection against the person of His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Abia State, Chief T.A Orji, did publish a seditious publication entitled: Buffoonery by Mezie Abia Organisation in Sun Newspaper of 18th February, 2014 page 22, and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 50 (2)(a) punishable under Section 5(1)(c) Cap 80 Vol. 3 Criminal Code Cap 80 Vol. 3 Laws of Abia State of Nigeria 2005.

“That you, Ebere Wabara ‘m’ and others now at large, on the 30th day of January 2014 in the aforesaid Magisterial District conspired to commit offence to wit: seditious publication and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 517 of the Criminal Code Cap 80 Vol. 3 Laws of Abia State of Nigeria 2005. “That you, Ebere Wabara ‘m’ and others now at large, on the 30th day of January 2014 in the aforesaid Magisterial District with intent to bring hatred or contempt or excite disaffection against the person of His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Abia State, Chief T.A Orji did publish a seditious publication entitled “T.A Orji Self Delusion” in the City Reporter, a daily publication also circulating within Umuahia North Magisterial District and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 50 (2)(a) and punishable under Section 51(1)(c) of the Criminal Code Cap 80 Vol. 3 Laws of Abia State of Nigeria.” Wabara was also accused of sedition for publishing articles such as: “Demystify a Master Strategy”, “Go to Akwa Ibom, Weep for Abia”, “T.A. Orji’s 7 years Demystification of Kalu,” among others.

Wabara’s travails elicited immediate reactions from the public as the news of his arrest filtered in. The Nigerian Union of Journalist, NUJ, and the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, issued a statement demanding an unconditional release of Wabara.  “We are further worried that this arrest and detention runs contrary to common sense and the law. It is also our contention that no responsible government, especially the one likes ours that continues to pride itself on its democratic credentials should be seen to be arresting and detaining its citizens indiscriminately. If this act of impunity is allowed to continue, none of us will feel free and secure,” NUJ said.

Mohammed-Abubakar, Police IG
Mohammed Abubakar, Police IG

The union considered it unfortunate that the government of Abia state had openly shown its bias in this case as everything conceivable was done to frustrate the release of Ebere Wabara and to prolong his detention while his family continues to be psychologically traumatized.

“We vehemently protest over and repudiate the actions of government and authorities who make a mockery of the freedom of expression and commitments to pluralism and democracy when they encourage a culture of impunity and lawlessness against the media, NUJ said in a press release signed by Shuaibu Usman Leman.

Also a statement entitled “Police Crossed the Line” and signed by Aishatu Sule, deputy president, NGE, said: “We are completely stupefied at the conduct of the Abia State Police, which has decided to exhume a colonial law from our statute book at a time like this. It tends to indicate that while the rest of the country is moving forward, the police in Abia are marooned in an inglorious past. If Mr Wabara has broken any law of the land through his writings, the decent thing to do is to invite him to make explanations. If such explanations are unsatisfactory, he should then be charged to court. But to storm his come in commando fashion, and whisk him hundreds of kilometres away smacks of a country yet to come to the realities of democratic rule and civility. We cannot afford to remain consigned in such inglorious morass”. The Nigerian Guild of Editors calls for the immediate release of Wabara, and if he then needs to answer any question, it should be done according to civil and decent norms. “The  media, alongside other patriotic institutions, fought for the democracy the country enjoys today. We, therefore, call on President Goodluck Jonathan, the Inspector-General of

Police, M.D Abubakar, and other well- meaning Nigerians to  intervene, and ensure that sanity prevails. Holding journalists like Wabara clearly carries the imprint of military regimes, and we hasten to caution our leaders who are beneficiaries of the struggle by the media to entrench democracy to avoid such acts of impunity if we desires to succeed in our quest for national development, and the import of this must never be lost on such Leaders,” the NGE said.

Femi Adesina, managing director,  The Sun Publishing Limited, sees the abduction of Wabara as a throwback to the dark days of military dictatorship, when might was right, and the strong trampled on the weak.  “It is unconscionable, repressive and flies in the face of all that is decent and civil. It has all the trappings of autocracy, rather then democracy If Mr. Wabara infringed any law, we would have expected the police to invite him to answer questions, and then charge him to court. The approach that has been adopted is Gestapo-like, and unbecoming of those who instigated it. Those entrusted with the upholding of the law are not expected to trample on others. This is what the policemen from Abia State have done, and it runs contrary to the code of conduct for policemen as espoused by Mohammed Dikko Abubakar .

Perhaps, the pressure mounted by the two professional bodies prompted the bail granted to Wabara on the orders of the Mohammed Abubakar, inspector general of police, on Saturday, May 29. But it did not stop the Abia police from arraigning him on Monday despite the letter from his lawyers informing them that Wabara was sick.

Umeh Kalu, attorney general of Abia State
Umeh Kalu, attorney general of Abia State

Also, the police command on Monday got a warrant from the state’s magistrate’s court, in Umuahia against Wabara and Chuks Onuoha, Sun correspondent in Umuahia, who stood surety for him. Wabara who was driven to Abia in handcuff could not appear in court due to ill health arising from the ordeal he suffered while in police custody. The case had been adjorned to April 10.

However, on April 1, Wabara through his legal counsel Bamidele Aturu went to the Federal High Court, Lagos to enforce his fundamental human rights by obtaining an order restraining the abia State government and the Nigerian police from arresting him.  In a suit No: FHC/CS/L, Wabara and Onuha were listed as plaintif while the inspector general of police , John Ukpai, chief magistrate, Abia, and attorney general of Abia were listed as defendants. The document signed by John Nnokwu of the Bamidele Aturu and Co, sought “a delaration that no officer serving under the operational command of the 1st Respondent can lawfully arrest and detain the Applicants on the basis of a bench warrant purportedly issued by the 2nd Respondent on the 31st day of March 2014 in respect of charges of sedition or criminal defamation which on the authority of the Court of Appeal decision in Arthur Nwankwo V State (1985) NCLR 288 is no longer a legally punishable offence having regard to section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.

“A DECLARATION that the bench warrant purportedly issued for the arrest and detention of the Applicants by the 2nd Respondent on the 31st day of March 2014 in respect of charges of sedition or criminal defamation which on the authority of the Court of Appeal decision in Arthur Nwankwo V State (1985) NCLR 288 is no longer a legally punishable offence having regard to section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended is null, void, illegal, inoperative, unconstitutional and of no effect whatsoever.

“AN ORDER setting aside the bench warrant purportedly issued for the arrest and detention of the Applicants by the 2nd Respondent on the 31st day of March 2014 in respect of charges of sedition or criminal defamation.

“A DECLARATION that Charge No.U/111c/2014 Between Commissioner of Police v Ebere Wabara containing charges of sedition or criminal defamation which on the authority of the Court of Appeal decision in Arthur Nwankwo V State (1985) NCLR 288 is no longer a legally punishable offence having regard to section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended is null, void, illegal, inoperative, unconstitutional and of no effect whatsoever.

“AN ORDER quashing Charge No.U/111c/2014 Between Commissioner of Police v Ebere Wabara containing charges of sedition or criminal defamation which on the authority of the Court of Appeal decision in Arthur Nwankwo V State (1985) NCLR 288 is no longer a legally punishable offence having regard to section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.

“AN ORDER of perpetual injunction restraining the Respondents whether by themselves, agents, servants, privies, or officers or by whomsoever and howsoever from arresting or detaining the Applicants or in any other way limiting, restricting, or abridging their right to personal liberty guaranteed by section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, cap A. 9 , Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 on the basis of the bench warrant purportedly issued for the arrest and detention of the Applicants by the 2nd Respondent on the 31st day of March 2014 in respect of charges of sedition or criminal defamation.”

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