Alleged Unlawful Detention: Journalist Slams N150m Damages Suit against DSS

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Alex Enumah in Abuja

A journalist, Chido Onumah had dragged the Department of State Services (DSS) and its Director General before the Federal High Court Abuja, over his alleged unlawful arrest and detention by operatives of the security agency last month.

Onumah in the suit filed on his behalf by his lawyer, Moses Ideh, is seeking N150 million in damages against the DG of the DSS and the DSS who are first and second defendant, respectively in the suit.

The suit filed yesterday, October 23, was brought pursuant to sections 34, 35, 39 and 44 of the 1999 constitution and order it rules 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 and xi and xii of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) rules, 2009 and articles 2, 3, 4, 6, 7(1)(a), 9(2) and 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Enforcement and Ratification) Act, CAP A9, laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

In the suit supported by an 18-paragraph affidavit deposed to by the plaintiff himself, Onumah averred that, he suffered emotional torture, psychological trauma and torment from “fierce looking gun-wielding officials/agents of the respondents who took turns to shove me about in a bid to create apprehension in me”.

Onumah was arrested on September 29 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on his return from a trip to Sweden and detained by operatives of the DSS for nearly six hours.

According to him, he was arrested because on arrival, he was putting on a T-shirt with the inscription, “We are all Biafrans”.

The DSS through its spokesperson, Peter Afunanya had denied that the agency arrested and detained the journalist, insisting that the agency merely engaged Onumah in interaction over an inscription on his shirt.

However, the journalist in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1270/2019, wants the court to declare his arrest and detention as illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional.

He is also asking the court to declare, “that the unlawful seizure of the applicant’s T-Shirt and coercion to write an undertaking never to wear the said T-Shirt again by officials and/or agents of the respondents amounts to a violation of his right to own property and his right to Freedom of Expression as contained in Section 39 and 44 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

“A declaration that the mental and physical trauma which the applicant had to endure during the period of time he was held in detention by officials and/or agents of the respondents constitutes a violation of his right to dignity of his person as provided in Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

Consequently, he is praying the court for an order of mandamus compelling the Director General of the DSS to carry out a thorough and in-depth investigation and prosecution of all its officers and/or agents directly and remotely responsible for the his unlawful arrest and violation of his fundamental rights.

In addition, he prayed the court for an order directing the respondents to tender a written unreserved apology to him which would be published in two National Dailies for the harassment and unwarranted mental and physical trauma meted to him while in custody of the respondents.

“An order for the immediate release of the Applicant’s T-shirt.

“Compensatory damages in the sum of N100,000,000 (one hundred million naira)only, to the applicant for the violation of his fundamental human rights.

“Examplary damages in the sum of N50,000,000(fifty million naira) only, to the applicant for setback, trauma, psychological and emotional distress experienced and still being experienced.

“And for such further or other orders as this Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstances.