John Shiklam writes that Steven Kefas, an activist and social media commentator was granted bail after 150 days in detention for alleged incitement and defamatory comments against Cafra Caino, the Council Chairman of Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State
Steven Kefas, an activist and social media commentator has finally been granted bail after spending about 150 days in detention.
Ruling on the bail application which had been pending in the Kaduna State High Court 4, for months, the presiding Judge, Justice Mairo Mohammed granted him bail in the sum of N100,000 and two sureties.
The prosecution counsel led by Dabiri Bayero had opposed the bail, alleging that while in detention, Kefas was still making posts on the social media. However, the judge challenged the prosecution counsel to produce evidence of such claims.
She adjourned the case to February 4, 2020.
Kefas, an indigene of Kaduna State, was arrested on May 8, 2019, in Portharcourt, Rivers state, where he works, following two petitions to the police by the then special adviser to Governor Nasir el-Rufai on Legal Matters, Aisha Dikko, (now Kaduna State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice) and the Chairman of Kajuru Local Government Area of the state, Mr. Cafra Caino.
Dikko, according to a police First Information Report (FIR) dated May 10, 2019, tagged “inciting disturbance and injurious falsehood” had complained that Kefas allegedly posted some of his views on the social media platforms which were considered injurious to Governor el-Rufai and capable of causing breach of peace.
According to the FIR: “At about 1700hours, one Aisha Dikko, the Special Adviser on Legal Matters to the governor of Kaduna state, reported the above case to the commissioner of police Kaduna state via letter no GH/KADS/41/06 dated 21/3/2019, that sometimes in March 2019, one Solomon Steven posted some of his views to the public through his Twitter account @realkefason that the governor has promised to deal with directors in Kaduna Civil Service service to ensure that they do not vote for People Democratic Party (PDP) during the 2019 general elections and that the governor should be held responsible for any breakout in Kaduna after the general elections which is capable of causing breach of peace and defaming the governor’s character in the eyes of the general public contrary to sections 78 and 373 of the Penal Code Laws of Kaduna state 2017”.
Kefas was charged to Magistrate Court 14, where he pleaded not guilty to the allegations and was granted bail on May 13, 2019.
After perfecting the bail condition, he returned to
Portharcourt to resumed work. However, days after he returned to Portharcourt, his sureties were ordered to produce him to answer charges on the petition by the Kajuru Local Government Chairman, Mr. Cafra Caino.
His counsel, Gloria Ballason said Kefas turned himself in, on May 21, 2019 and was detained before his re-arraignment in another court- Magistrate court 10 to face charges arising from Caino’s petition.
The three count charge against Kefas, arising from the petition by the council chairman reads: “That you, Steven Kefas Solomon of Railway Avenue, Jaka Akpajo Portharcourt, Rivers State, on or about the 20th to 21st day of April, 2019 via your Facebook and Twitter accounts posted by means of internet communication words concerning a person intending to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm one Cafra Caino Boaz and his reputation to wit:
‘Let it be on record that while over 12k Kajuru IDPs are living in a terrible condition their Executive Local Government Chairman, Cafra Caino Boaz was hosting his ex-schoolmates to a birthday party at Kajuru Castle on Friday.
‘Now this is the kind of thing you get when peoples mandates are forcefully stolen and given to unscrupulous elements who are party mongers. ‘The young man couldn’t even fake compassion for the IDPs many who are still mourning the gruesome murder of their loved ones. ‘History and posterity will never be kind to Cafra because he alongside his boss El-Rufai have murdered sleep and may not find sleep themselves. ‘I am that guy who don’t see shit and keep quiet so please bear with me’.
“You thereby committed the offence of Defamation punishable under Section 372 of the Penal Code Law of Kaduna State, 2017. Others charges include “Inciting Disturbance, punishable under Section 78(1) of the Penal Code Law
of Kaduna State, 2017” and “Injurious Falsehood punishable under Section 373 of the Penal Code Law of Kaduna State, 2017.”
Kefas again pleaded not guilty to the charges.
He had earlier in his statement to the police on May 11, 2019, denied the allegations.
He told the police in his statement that: “On the May 8, 2019, I was accosted by men of the police on plain clothes. They invited me to Mini Okoro Division which was a few meters away from where they met me.
“At the station, they showed a petition from the Kaduna Stare government titled ‘Inciting Disturbance and Injurious Falsehood.’
“I was in a cell and on May 9, 2019, I was ferried to Kaduna via a KSTA bus . On reaching Kaduna another petition written by one Cafra Caino Boaz was presented to me attached with a Facebook post alleged to made by me.
“According to the petition, I defamed Mr. Cafra Caino and therefore should be investigated.
“A few days to Mr. Cafra’s birthday, a friend called my attention to a post he made on Facebook inviting me alongside others to his birthday celebration at Kajuru. I told the caller that I have no business with him and cannot attend his birthday while 12,000 of his people are IDPs on the day of his birthday which I did not attend.
“I am certain that my post was tampered with by hackers to have reflected what was captured in the petition.
“ It is also on record that Cafra has repeatedly told his friends and associates that he will deal with me simply because I refused to honour his birthday invitation which I am sure is my fundamental right.
“Records abound of when the post was first made on Twitter by a Twitter user and when the post was made on my wall, before it was tampered with.
“I am a pioneer member of a group that embarks on mobilisation of materials and hospital bills for IDPs in Kajuru, a move Cafra deems insulting to his government and has openly attacked and in some cases blackmailed members of the group including clergies.
“I want to conclude that I only shared an opinion/post made by a Twitter user on my wall and it didn’t emanate from me as alleged by the petitioner.
“When my Facebook account was hacked , I didn’t report to any security agent, but my friends on other media such as WhatsApp are aware because I notified them.
“A few days later when I recovered my account I made a post on Facebook wall notifying my friends that I am back online…”
The Magistrate court ordered that he be detained for two weeks at the police station for further investigations.
The court later denied him bail on the allegations that while in police detention, he was still engaged in social media activism, an allegation, which his lawyers said was not true as his phone was seized while being detained.
He was later moved to the Kaduna prisons and the matter was transferred to the State High Court 2, presided over by Justice Mairo Mohammed where it took months for the judge to decide on the bail application.
Several human rights groups had protested against Kefas’ detention without bail before the court decision.
A coalition of human rights organisations, under the auspices of Citizens for Steven Kefas, comprising Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and Coalition of Friends, had kicked against his continuous detention without bail before the decision of the court.
The human rights groups had called on the National Judicial Council (NJC) to investigate how a Nigerian citizen could be detained indefinitely in prison over a spurious allegation that attracts simpler bail conditions.
Meanwhile Kefas’ counsels, led by Gloria Ballason had filed a suit at the Kaduna state Federal High Court seeking the enforcement of his fundamental human rights and a compensation of N500 million compensation for his detention.
Joined in the suit No. FHC/KD/62/19 dated 10th October, 2019, are: Cafra Caino, Chairman, Kajuru Government Area of Kaduna State, Aisha Dikko, Special Adviser on Legal Affairs to the governor of Kaduna state, Governor of Kaduna state, Kaduna State Attorney General, Kaduna State Commissioner of Police and the Inspector General of Police, listed in the suit as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th respondents respectively.
Ballason prayed the court for 15 declarations among which are: “An order for compensation in the sum of N50 million against the 1st respondent who initiated the arbitrary arrest and visited the applicant in detention in order to threatened him on long term incarceration and detention and as compensation for the violation of the applicant’s rights of dignity and personal liberty as enunciated in section 43 and 35(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the loss of business earnings.
“An order for compensation and exemplary damages in the sum of N150 million against the 2nd respondent for meddlesome interloping on an action that is not personal and for the habitual and serial use of personal and positional power to cause the infringement and violation of the rights to life, dignity, free expression, fair hearing and freedom of movement of the applicant.
“An order for compensation in the sum of N200 million against the 3rd respondent for using his powers to intimidate the applicant and the public from expressing dissent in a democratic setting and exercising his fundamental rights to dignity of human person, personal liberty, fair hearing, free expression and movement through 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th respondents, among others.”
Kefas is not the first person to be arrested over social media posts by the Kaduna state government. In November 23, 2018, Segun Onibiyo, a Kaduna-based broadcaster with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), was arrested and detained for 24 days over a Facebook post said to be inciting and defamatory to Governor Nasir el-Rufai. He was granted bail by a Kaduna State High Court Presided by Justice Darius Khobo.