Court declares The Sun editor’s arrest, detention illegal … Chides Gov. Orji

Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court sitting in La­gos has declared the bench warrant issued against Associate Edi­tor of The Sun, Mr. Eb­ere Wabara by Abia State
Magistrates’ Court ille­gal and unconstitutional.
The court also barred the Police from re-arresting or detaining Wabara and his colleague, Chuks Onuoha.
Justice Abang gave the verdict on Friday while de­livering judgment in the suit filed by Wabara and Onu­oha over the breach of their fundamental rights by the police.
Wabara instituted the suit against the Inspector Gen­eral of Police (IGP), Abia State Chief Magistrate, Mr. John Ukpai and the Attorney General (AG) of the state, Umeh Kalu over his abduction by the police from Lagos to Abia State.
Wabara was abducted from his Surulere, Lagos home on March 28, 2014 by men of Abia State Police Command, who later took him to Umuahia in hand­cuffs.
After his release on bail at 10.15p.m. on Saturday, March 29, 2014, Wabara landed in hospital due to the ordeal he went through in the hands of his abduc­tors. However, his ill health did not stop the police from preferring a 10-count charge bordering on sedi­tious publications against Abia State governor, Theo­dore Orji.
Due to his absence in court, the police also se­cured a bench warrant against him and his surety, Onuoha, The Sun corre­spondent in Umuahia.
But delivering judg­ment in the suit which was filed and argued on behalf of the applicants by the late human rights activist, Bamidele Aturu before his death, the court chided all the respondents, especially, Governor Orji and the Abia State Chief Magistrate, Mr. John Ukpai for their roles in the illegality.
Justice Abang urged the governor to be tolerant of criticisms rather than seek­ing self-help by using state machinery to oppress his critics.
“ The governor should re­alise that we are in a democ­racy, which guarantees free­dom of speech. Journalists have their role to play and whenever anybody feels ag­grieved by their action, the way to deal with them has been spelt out by the consti­tution of the country.
“The arrest of the appli­cant is unlawful because he did not commit any offence based on the charge pre­ferred against him.
“We are no longer in co­lonial era, Nigeria is a sov­ereign state, the so called sedition charge has gone with colonial masters.
“The action of the gov­ernor is barbaric, archaic, unconstitutional, undemo­cratic,” justice Abang said.
Chief Magistrate Ukpai was also berated for his over-zealousness, while the police were given a knock for the role they played in the whole saga.
The court set aside the bench warrant issued by the magistrate, holding that the magistrate erred in law.
Before the judgment was delivered, the court first ruled on the preliminary ob­jection filed by the respon­dents.
At the trial, the appli­cants’ counsel prayed the court to grant all the reliefs sought by the applicants in the interest of justice.
He urged the court to dis­miss the preliminary objec­tion filed by the respondents on the issue of jurisdiction and look at the substance of the suit.
The Attorney General (AG) of Abia State, Kalu, however, submitted that the issue of jurisdiction was very crucial in determining the suit.
He prayed the court to dismiss the suit for lack of jurisdiction.
But ruling on the pre­liminary objection, Justice Abang said it was an ap­plicant’s claim that deter­mined whether a court had jurisdiction to entertain a case. The applicants’ reliefs, the court said, bordered on the breach of their funda­mental rights holding that the court had the power to determine the matter.
Justice Abang held that both a state High Court and Federal High Court had con­current power to entertain fundamental right suits.
On the issue of territorial jurisdiction, the court held that “ it was not in dispute that the first applicant was arrested in Lagos before taken to Abia State, and with that fact, both Lagos and Abia divisions of the court have jurisdiction to entertain the suits.”
On the substantive suit, the court held that the mag­istrate erred in law by issu­ing bench warrant against the applicants.
The court held that filing a charge against a person before a court did not consti­tute an arraignment.
Justice Abang said the applicants were never ar­raigned before the magis­trate, which meant they were not before the court and the court did not have jurisdic­tion to issue bench warrant against them.

Court declares The Sun editor’s arrest, detention illegal … Chides Gov. Orji Court declares The Sun editor’s arrest, detention illegal  … Chides Gov. Orji Reviewed by Unknown on Monday, March 23, 2015 Rating: 5

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