“Following the arrest of Comrade Tonye Okio by men of the Special Investigation Bureau (SIB) of the Nigeria Police from Bayelsa state, and his non-release by the Magistrate court, a Civil Society group known as, Movement for Accountability and Good Governance, (MAGG) in collaboration with other civil society groups led by (MAGG) National President, Com Jasper Azuatalam in Press conference yesterday demanded the release of Comrade Tonye Okio.”
Narrating the ordeals of Tonye Okio and how his arrest, the civil society group said; “Com Tonye Okio was arrested on the early hours of Saturday, the 26th of October in his residence in Abuja by men of the Special Investigation Bureau (SIB) of the Nigeria Police from Bayelsa state. No reason was given for his arrest; the SIB men seized all communication gadgets belonging to him and his only sister with him at home that early morning. They did not give any reason for his arrest. Com Tonye Okio was driven from Abuja to Bayelsa state with his eyes blindfolded and seriously tortured.”
Speaking further group, said; “Tonye was detained by the Bayelsa state Police and when we learnt he was in Bayelsa, we contacted a lawyer to get bail for him. For several days, all the attempts to get bail proved abortive. He was not taken to court and was not granted bail either, but kept in detention for over 10 days. Suspecting some foul play, his lawyer, Bar Doueyi D Fiderikumo filed an application in the High Court of Bayelsa state, Nember division to enforce his fundamental right to freedom. In a bid to defeat our enforcement of Okio’s fundamental right, the State charged him to Magistrate court on the 5th of November, 2013. He was charged for Publication of defamatory statements against the person of the governor of Bayelsa state, Seriake Dickson – a day to the hearing of the fundamental rights case. There was no prior notice to anybody including Okio of his being taken to court until about 8:00 am of 05/11/2013 and he was not allowed to contact us (his lawyers). After taking his plea, the Magistrate adjourned the case to 21st November, 2013 for trial – 16 days in excess of the Magistrate’s powers to adjourn criminal cases as circumscribed under Section 231 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Bayelsa State.”
According to them; “his Lawyer wrote a letter to the court asking for an earlier date to enable the court take Okio’s application for bail but the court refused on the premise that there was no such convenient date. However, to our greatest surprise, the same court fixed 11th November, 2013 for the hearing of the bail application of the 2nd Accused Person (Mr. Fakumo) on the said 11/11/2013, the Magistrate unequivocally stated in the open court that he was only going to take the application of Mr. Fakumo and not that of Okio. It took over an hour of argument/submissions before the Magistrate accepted (in fact arm-twisted) to take Okio’s bail application. And even before he took Okio’s application, he had to rise and consider it first.”
Meanwhile in a ruling delivered on 21st November, 2013 the Magistrate granted Okio’s application for bail on the following terms: the sum of Five Million Naira; one surety in like sum; surety must be a serving Permanent Secretary in Bayelsa State and must be resident within the jurisdiction of this court etc. This of course is clearly a case of giving bail with a left hand and taking it back with the right hand and it is an eloquent testimony of the fact that the Magistrate never intended to grant him bail in the first place for a misdemeanor. Immediately after the ruling, the Lawyer informed the Magistrate that given the fact that the complainant in the suit is the Governor of Bayelsa State, it would be impossible to satisfy the conditions for his bail and the Magistrate said that there was nothing he could do about it in spite of the fact his mind was drawn to section 379 of the Criminal Procedure Code under which he has power to vary the terms of bail. His lawyer even overshot his corporate principles, duties/ethics as a lawyer and shopped for Permanent Secretaries in Bayelsa State to stand as sureties to take Okio on bail, but all to no avail. We suspect that the permanent secretaries in Bayelsa state have been warned and threatened with serious indirect sanctions from the state government should any stand as surety to Tonye Okio.
The Group said that they are aware that the Magistrate has in previous occasions granted less onerous bail conditions for far more serious offences he has either handled or is handling. The foregoing is an indication beyond doubt in our minds that the Magistrate is compromised and/or has lost the courage to stand firm on the tripod of fairness to do justice in this case and we reasonably believe that the magistrate is in league with the Governor of Bayelsa State, Mr. Henry Seriake Dickson (who considers Okio a political opponent by virtue of his association with the nPDP and now the All progressive Congress APC – a firm critic of his government) to convict him of the offence he is charged with.
Moreso, MAGG and other civil society groups said that they have filled an application at the Nembe division of the High Court of Bayelsa state, presided over by Justice Boufini to demand that the bail condition be varied; “The high court has fixed 3 consecutive days, but has not been able to sit on any of those days to consider the application. It has given one excuse or the other for not sitting and we don’t have any hope that it will sit soon. We suspect that this is part of the plans to continue to keep Tonye okio behind bars as a punishment for being in the opposition and criticizing Bayelsa state government. As it stands, the court will soon go on recess for Christmas and we suspect a grand plan to frustrate the effort to get Tonye okio out of prison and let him stay behind bars for the festive seasons. This means, he will be staying in prison till 2014.”
“We hear by call on all well meaning and patriotic Nigerians to join forces with us and make sure that Com Tonye Okio regains his freedom. We have written a petition to the Human right commission on the infringement of the rights of Tonye Okio and we hope to have their response soon. Tonye Okio is a law abiding citizen of Nigeria. He has never been convicted of any crime. He has worked for the Bayelsa state government during the tenure of Timiprye Sylva and has been a social media activist campaigning for good governance. It is shameful that in this age of our democracy, innocent citizens are still being harassed for airing their views on the social media. It is even more worrisome that while the Senate has thrown out the part of a bill that seek to jail online critics of the government for seven years, the Bayelsa state government is still haunting social media critics,” the Group said.
Furthermore, citing breach of Mr. Tonye Okio fundamental human right by the Nigerian Police and Judiciary, the Movement for Accountability and Good Governance (MAGG) has written a petition to the Human Rights Commission. In the petition dated 12th December 2013, which was signed by Comrade Jasper Azuatalam the Group’s President stated to the Commission the non-release of the said Okio by the Police and the Court in Bayelsa state who has been in detention endlessly for 48 days now and still counting , based on an offence which is bailable which they said is a breach of Comrade Tonye Okio, as they ask the Commission to use its office to look into the matter, with a view to prevail on authorities in Bayelsa State allow the detainee go home on bail.
Attached for more details on the petition are the copies of the Petition to the Human Right Commission and Police Charges against Tonye by the Bayelsa State Police Command.