More law suits may be filed against the Federal Government in local and foreign courts, activist-lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Femi Falana has warned.
He hinged his warning on the alleged provocative impunity of the Nigerian Navy (NN).
The senior advocate spoke on the heels of the case instituted against Nigeria at the International Court by Swiss authorities over the detention of an oil tanker – San Padre Pio – since January 23, last year.
According to Falana, the Navy has no fewer than 150 people in its detention camp without trial, adding that some of the suspects have been kept incommunicado for over two years.
Falana said in a statement yesterday: “Many more cases are going to be filed against the Federal Government in municipal and foreign courts due to the provocative impunity of the nation’s naval authorities who are behaving as if they are above the law. From the information at my disposal, the Nigerian Navy is detaining not less than 150 people without trial. Some have been incarcerated incommunicado for over two years.
“I have already asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to attend to my petition expeditiously. I have also requested the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdu Kafarati, to designate judges of the court to commence the monthly inspection of the detention facilities of all federal government agencies in line with the provisions of Section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.”
In a statement, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said on May 21 that it requested the International Tribunal in charge of the law of the sea to order Nigeria to release the tanker vessel, its crew and cargo.
The Swiss ministry said the ship and the cargo had been losing their value, causing damage to the companies involved.
San Padre Pio, with her 16-man all Ukrainian crew, was arrested by naval personnel attached to the Forward Operation Base (FOB) in Bonny Island, Rivers State for alleged diesel smuggling and violation of the country’s territorial waters.
The ship, which has 5,500 tons cargo capacity, was handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside the crew members but it was yet to be ascertained if the commission released them without recourse to the court.
Asked the status of the vessel, EFCC spokesman Tony Orilade promised to revert today.
The Director of Naval Information Commodore, Suleiman Dahun, also said he would forward The Nation’s questions to the appropriate department for response.
However, a source close to the Navy described the allegation of 150 detainees as laughable, noting that with the Harmonised Standard Operating Procedure (HSOP), the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) handover arrested suspects and equipment to relevant prosecuting agencies.
“Where will the Navy keep 150 suspects? It is laughable that someone can come out with such claims. The HSOP mandates the military to handover all suspects to prosecuting agencies. The military does not have powers to prosecute and that it why there have been closer synergy with the Police, EFCC, Ministry of Justice and the Nigerian security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), among others.
“This allegation is unfounded and a ploy to distract the Navy from ongoing investigations on a suspect arrested for alleged piracy spanning across Nigeria’s waters to the coast of Cote D’Ivoire.
“Recall that the present and even past Chiefs of Naval Staff (CNS’) had complained about the losses the navy usually suffered when its account is garnisheed by the court when there is delay in prosecution.
“The Navy usually hands over suspects and vessels to relevant agencies but because these agencies do not have the facilities to keep the vessels, it is then kept within naval facilities since it is the same government”, the source said, pleading for anonymity.