BY GLORIA MABEIAM BALLASON ESQ.
Earlier this week, I instructed my lawyers to file a suit on my behalf against the Nigeria Police Force and the Governor of Kaduna State for the enforcement of my fundamental rights. Let me explain why I did so.
Since 28 November, 2019, the police have laid siege on the office of House of Justice, in Barnawa, Kaduna, reportedly in search of me. House of Justice is a public interest advocacy and legal service centre in Kaduna, Nigeria. I lead its advocacy work. Over the past decade, I have established and practised Law from Kaduna.
On that day, three hefty men, claiming to be from the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Kaduna reportedly showed up on Thursday, 28 November, 2019 and requested for me. My colleagues in chambers informed them that I had gone out. After waiting for several hours, they left.
It was only hours to the annual House of Justice Summit and Banquet slated for Friday, 29 November, 2019. I was out trying to put finishing touches to the preparations. The theme for the 2019 House of Justice Summit was Governance, Impunity & Accountability”
I should add that throughout the process of organising this event, I was in contact with both the Police and other security services. We had confirmed several high profile guests from within and outside Nigeria. A retired Deputy Inspector-General of Police, G.C. Nwobodo was the Chairman of the event. Betty Kaari Murungi, Kenya’s leading international human rights expert, who has extensive experience with the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC) and now works at the African Group for Justice and Accountability was our keynote speaker.
Other panellists confirmed for the event included Senator Shehu Sani, Justice H.A. Abiru of the Court of Appeal, Dr. Sam Amadi (former Chairman of the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC), Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu (former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission) and a cream of some of Nigeria’s best human rights advocates and public commentators such as Chief Richard Umaru, Samie Ihejirika, Abiodun Baiyewu, Mark Amaza, Bella Anne Ndubuisi, Murtala Muhammad, Maxwell Kyon and Jennifer Agbaji.
Around 5:10pm on Friday, 29 November, 2019, just at the hour when the Keynote speaker was about to take to the podium, I got a call from a man who introduced himself merely as “DSP Atiku”. He claimed the police had been trying to reach me over a petition written by one Engineer. I asked for the name of the Engineer, he said he did not know. I asked for particulars of the report, he provided none. I told the caller I had noted the call and hung up.
In the minutes that followed, the same number and the number of other persons claiming to be policemen also called. I consulted with my colleagues and we agreed the event will proceed as planned. Given the insecurity in Kaduna, I did not feel comfortable to go off at the invitation of a person whom I did not know.
Given previous correspondence with them concerning the Summit, I was confident that the Kaduna State Command of the Nigeria Police Force knew my whereabouts. Indeed, over one dozen police officers were deployed at the venue. If they needed my presence, they knew how and where to locate me.
On Monday, 2 December, 2019, I was in Court with my colleagues for the case of Steven Kefason, a client, when three hefty policemen again reportedly showed up at the work premises of House of Justice. This time around, they remained on the premises for more than three hours then left.
I was billed to be in two different states for different cases the next day and day after. I returned to the office and was on my way out when our fronts line personnel informed me about the policemen’s visit. I inquired if they left any invitation or any correspondence. There was none.
The day after, while I was outside Kaduna, one of the men reportedly returned in the morning. He saw my vehicle parked and made a frantic call asking his colleagues to join him immediately. He claimed I had been found. The security guards and my colleagues tried to explain to him that I had traveled in a different car. His colleagues arrived and questioned my colleagues until they felt threatened.
In the days that followed, the police continued the same routine at my office with slight variation. For three consecutive Sundays 1, 8 and 15 December, plain clothes policemen had shown up at the Church that I attend requesting for me. I was outside the state.
On the 17 December, 2019, my lawyers wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Police, Kaduna State Command and the Inspector General of Police reporting the above sequence of incidents. In response, on the following day, 18 December, the police delivered a letter to the office addressed to me. It required me to attend to be interrogated by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, SCID on 23rd December, 2019 on unspecified charges.
Upon receipt of the invitation from the police, on 18 December, my Lawyers wrote back stating that I had traveled and offered to show up at the Station at a mutually agreeable date in the New Year. Since then, it would seem that the entire policemen in Kaduna state were put on my trail. They would call with different numbers and send messages at least two each day, harassing or threatening me.
At about this time, my lawyers made an inquiry and came into possession of a petition written to the office of the “Executive Governor of Kaduna State” dated 20 October, 2019 by a purported “Engr E.K. Gaiya” and titled: “Complaint of nearly 40 years of Criminal Attack on Life and Property….” The petition asked for investigation of 20 persons and organizations. Topping the petitioner’s list of those to be investigated was Nigeria Police for “Abduction, Torture and Extortion”.
The same petition also refers to a certain “Bar Gloria” as number 13 on its list, after the police, for “N255,000.00 (Two hundred and fifty five thousand naira) Notorious Criminal.” I can only assume that in the course of investigating themselves for allegations of “abduction, torture and extortion”, the police have decided that I am their “Bar Gloria”?
Engr. Gaiya’s petition was copied to the APC Chairman of Kaduna State and The Commissioner of Police Kaduna State Command. The Police have confirmed that this was the basis for the siege of my offices.
I should state that the spate of harassment by persons who have identified themselves as policemen have left me threatened and concerned for my safety. I find it curious that all the persons who visited my offices or called trying to contact me are men that I do not know. The Kaduna State Police Command alone can explain why they choose to set hefty men after me. I can only assume there are no women in the Command.
I represent a number of clients whose rights have been violated by the State Governor. At the end of a fully contested case in May 2017, the High Court of Kaduna State issued an order restraining the Governor and the Police from harassing me. Quite clearly, they feel they are above the Law.
This harassment has, predictably created a hostile work environment for me as a practising lawyer.
I am a Nigerian Citizen doing what I can in a profession I chose for a country that I call my own. I am law abiding and peaceful but I refuse to be silenced. NO I WON’T!