A coalition of civil and human right groups in Nigeria have called for the release from prison of Steven Kefas, a Nigerian citizen who is being held in prison over comments he made on Facebook criticising Nasir El Rufai, the Kaduna State governor and his allies.
Kaduna State is a flashpoint for the activities of Fulani herdsmen, the fourth most deadly terrorist group according to a global terrorism index, and most of the victims of their killing are Christians and indigenes of Southern Kaduna, where Mr. Kefas hails from. Since 2016, the militia Fulani herdsmen have killed more Nigerians than Boko Haram.
According to the human rights group which are spread across Nigeria, Kefas has been held in prison for two months with the judge, apparently influenced by the Kaduna State government, refused to set a date for his bail hearing for up to 60 days. He was arrested by the police gestapo style in May 2019 in Port Harcourt and transferred to Kaduna State on the orders of Governor El Rufai.
The Facebook post he was arrested for contained the details leading up to the kidnapping and murder of a the monarch of his community in Kaduna. The Kajuru chief, Dr. Galadima Maiwada the Agom Of Adara Chiefdom in Kaduna State was kidnapped and murdered by militia Fulani herdsmen as he returned from a meeting with the Kaduna governor.
His kidnappers had been paid a ransom for the release of the monarch and his murder was greeted by outrage by Christian leaders in Nigeria and his subjects.
The coalition condemned the strong-arm tactics of Governor Nasir El-Rufai and his government and called for the release of Kefas who made Facebook posts alerting Nigerians of the activities of terrorists in Kaduna. The governor has shown open support for the militia Fulani herdsmen responsible for the deaths of over 27,000 Nigerians since 2015.
Steven Kefas’ arrest and criminal charges over the exercise of his fundamental human rights is indicative of a dictatorship which has no regard for the constitution of Nigeria or the African and global charter on human rights of which Nigeria is a signatory. His case is one of many in which the government of Kaduna State led by Nasir El Rufai has used state resources to abuse the rule of law and intimidate citizens with dissenting views.
Below is the press statement e-mailed to The Trent on Sunday, July 21, 2019.
PRESS STATEMENT BY A COALITION OF CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS ON THE CONTINUED INCARCERATION OF STEVEN KEFAS
Following refusal by Justice Mairo Mohammed of the Kaduna High Court 2, Bida Road, Kaduna, to grant bail to Mr. Steven Kefas, who has at July 19, 2019 spent 59 days in detention, we wish to condemn the underhand dealings that has kept the accused for so long in prison remand.
Kefas is being charged to court over a Facebook posting in which the Chairman of Kajuru Local Government Area, Mr Cafra Caino, alleges is injurious to his person and made him a scornful object among electorates.
Activist Kefas was arrested in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on May 8, 2019 by operatives from the Kaduna State Police Command, following two petitions: one was by Aisha Dikko who was Governor Ahmad El-Rufai’s legal adviser and now the present State Commissioner of Justice. The other petition was from Cafra Caino.
Kefas was accused of using the social media to spread ‘malicious falsehood’ among others, with the intent to incite members of the public. He was granted bail by a magistrate court on May 13, 2019 and June 4 fixed for the commencement of his trial.
In the terms of the bail, the court ruled that Kefas must not be invited or be re-arrested by the police on the matter, pending the disposal of the matter by the court.
Despite the bail, he was re-arrested on May 21, and charged to another Magistrate Court on June 4, using Caino’s petition. He was later sent to prison remand, to await hearing on his bail. When the Magistrate Court was about to deliver verdict on his ruling, the case was transferred to High Court 2, presided by Justice Mairo Mohammed.
We have been reliably informed that despite efforts by Kefas’ lawyers to secure bail, Justice Mairo Mohammed reneged, claiming that the accused was engaged in social media posting within the period of the bail. She did not state if he violated the terms of his earlier bail or whether his alleged use of the social media was incriminating. Neither was any proof shown that he had used the social media as alleged.
She has fixed September 26, 2019 as date for commencement of the trial of Steven Kefas based on the allegations levelled against him.
Considering the trauma Citizen Kefas has suffered, it is categorically clear that he is being persecuted and not prosecuted. As a citizen of Nigeria who is entitled to a bail over the alleged offence, those opposed to free speech in the state are using the judiciary to further trample on his rights to bail.
Consequent on the above, we note that there exists presently a culture of impunity and judicial recklessness that is ably encouraged by Governor El-Rufai, and arising from this unholy alliance between the governor and the judicial arm in the state, the courts have now been turned into an effective tool to silence opposition and punish rights-seeking activists and media practitioners in order to serve as deterrent to others.
We now wish to declare as follows that:
1. The continued incarceration of Kefas, who has committed his life to the exposure of injustice and mass killings that have decimated communities and wreaked monumental havoc on ethnic nationalities of the North and Southern Nigeria by terrorist foreign herdsmen, especially in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State, in our view is illegal and a deliberate ploy deployed by Governor El-Rufai to unleash terror on active voices opposed to his tyrannical disposition. We can no longer keep quiet in the face of galloping totalitarianism that is sweeping Kaduna State. To save the state from anti-democratic forces that are committed to keeping Kefas in detention, Nigerians and the international community, especially Amnesty International, should rise and beam its searchlight on the violation of fundamental human rights, including detention of persons deemed as ‘enemies’ of Kaduna State Government.
2. The denial of bail to Kefas by Justice Mairo Mohammed is a violation of his Fundamental Human Rights. We totally disagree with the judge over her reason in denying bail to Kefas. It is not heard anywhere in the world where persons under bail are restrained from social media postings. We want to know whether the bail conditions bar him from social media postings, apart from the matter under adjudication. Therefore, the grounds for refusing bail is not tenable.
3. Kaduna State is becoming an axis of violent suppression of opposition voices and violation of individual liberties. This has been made possible through the courts under the cover of some far fetched laws to cover up the conspiratorial tyranny . We recall the detention of Adara elders who were set free after spending 100 days in prison remand without any proof to the alleged offence. Dr. John Danfulani, a lecturer with Kaduna State University critical of the Kaduna State Government, not only lost his lecturing job, but was detained for over two months also. Audu Maikori, a Southern Kaduna son resident in Lagos was arrested in Lagos and unjustly detained for a couple of days in Kaduna. The Paramount Ruler of the Kurama Chiefdom, Dr Ishaku Damina, who is a first class monarch was also detained for over two months without bail. He had handed over alleged kidnappers to the military who later disclosed that they shot the alleged kidnappers to death while attempting to flee detention. The paramount chief was later detained over criminal conspiracy in the killing, among other charges..
Journalists and other media practitioners, including clerics, have also been guests to prison officials over their professional works. Among them was Luka Binniyat, then a reporter with Vanguard Newspaper. He spent 93 days before he was granted bail. In 2017, Kaduna state was voted by the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) as the “worst place to practice journalism in Nigeria” after unprecedented clampdown and imprisonment of its members.
Clerics on humanitarian services and other humanists, moved by the needs and anguish of victims of killings in the state, have been invited by the Kaduna State Investigation Bureau (SIB) office on unfounded allegations just to intimidate them. Among them are Father Williams Kaura Abba who was instrumental in bringing succour to some victims of the Kajuru killings.
All these are pointers that Kaduna State citizens are now faced with crippling tyranny that seeks to keep people silent in fear of perpetual detention.
4. We call on Nigerians to brace up in the days ahead to confront this emergent tyranny associated with culture of impunity that has been emboldened by judicial recklessness. We can no longer keep silent and give up our rights under the present democratic setting. The violation of anyone’s right is the violation of everybody’s rights.
5. We call on Nigerians and other international bodies to rise up and stave off further violation of individual liberties, just as we call on Justice Mairo Mohammed to do the needful and grant bail to Kefas.
Nze Ugo-Akpe Onwuka (Oyi II)
International Coordinator – CITIZENS AGAINST TYRANNY
Rev. Frank Okechukwu
BRIDGE-BUILDERS INTERNATIONAL NETWORK
Mr. Joshua Peter Akunji,
National Youth Leader
ADARA YOUTH CONGRESS
SOUTHERN KADUNA INDIGENOUS PEOPLE’S FORUM (SKIPFo)
Fr Williams Kaura Abba
COALITION AGAINST KAJURU KILLINGS
Comrade Deji Adeyanju
INT’L SOCIETY FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE RULE OF LAW (INTERSOCIETY)