Court Awards Journalist N10 million, Another Dismisses Charges Against Him

Jones Abiri
Jones Abiri

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on September 13, 2018, awarded  N10.5m as damages against the Department of State Services (DSS) for the illegal detention of Mr. Jones Abiri, for over two years without charge. Jones, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Weekly Source newspapers was arrested in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State Capital, on July 21, 2016 and incarcerated for two years without trial.

In another development, an Abuja Magistrate Court on September 17, 2018 struck out the case against Jones saying it does not have jurisdiction over the state where his alleged offence took place.

Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Abuja Federal High Court, delivering judgment in a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed by Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), on behalf of Jones held that Jones’ detention for two years without trial constituted a violation of his rights and awarded him the sum of N10.5m.

Mr. Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer had filed a fundamental human rights enforcement suit at the Court on behalf of Jones seeking among other prayers an order directing the DSS to pay the journalist N200m in damages for the illegal violation of his fundamental rights.

The suit prayed for a declaration that the detention of the journalist in Abuja without access to his family members, friends and medical doctors since his arrest on July 21, 2016, was “illegal and unconstitutional.”

Falana argued that the detention “violates” Jones’ fundamental rights including, rights to personal liberty, dignity of person, fair hearing, health and association, as well as freedom of association.

He also contended that Abiri’s rights which were violated by the DSS were guaranteed by sections 34, 35 and 40 of the Constitution as well as Articles 11 and 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.

Falana urged the court to also make “an order directing the immediate release of the Jones from the custody of the DSS and to restrain the DSS from further violating the journalist’s fundamental rights in any manner whatsoever, and howsoever without lawful justification”.

Justice Dimgba held that the federal government had no right to detain Jones after taking his statement in 2016 but should have arraigned him adding that the federal government’s submission that Jones was detained for national security was baseless.

The judge said the federal government should have filed the suit against the journalist and asked the court to refuse him bail, so that the court will use its discretion in determining whether he should be granted bail on not. He therefore declared Jones’ detention illegal and an abuse of his fundamental rights.

Jones, who was accused of criminal intimidation for allegedly sending text messages demanding payment from two oil companies was released from detention on August 15, 2018.