By now Mubarak Bala, who was arrested on April 28, 2020 after a complaint that a Facebook post he made was “provocative and annoying to the Muslims”, has spent over 520 days imprisoned in the Northern Nigerian State of Kano. He remains in prison despite that fact that he has not been arraigned before a court. And despite the fact that a Nigerian court ordered his immediate release last December.
In an effort to end this grave violation of Mubarak’s fundamental rights, four Nigerian Human Rights Lawyers have penned an appeal to President Buhari to intervene. We urge President Buhari, to note this appalling breach of Human Rights that is happening right now in the country he heads, and to take decisive action to restore Mubarak Bala’s Constitutional rights.
Here is the letter sent to President Buhari today:
AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT BUHARI REGARDING THE CONTINUING ILLEGAL INCARCERATION OF MUBARAK BALA
September 23, 2021
We are four Nigerian human rights lawyers, and we write to you, the President of Nigeria, as the person who is entrusted above all others to uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to protect the human rights of its citizens and safeguard the good reputation of our nation.
We beseech you to consider the case of Mubarak Bala.
Following a complaint about a post he made on social media, Mr Bala was arrested at his home in Kaduna on April 28, 2020 and taken the following day to Kano where he was detained by police.
NO ACCESS TO LAWYERS
Mr Bala was held incommunicado and denied access to his lawyers. This is contrary to §36 (6)(c) of the Constitution which gives detainees the right to be represented by a lawyer of their choice.
After many unsuccessful attempts to gain access to their client, on June 17, 2020, Mr Bala’s lawyers applied to a magistrate for an order to be permitted to see their client. A Court Order was granted and served on the Kano Commissioner of Police on July 16, 2020. This Court Order was disregarded.
Since then, Mr Bala’s lawyers have been granted only one meeting with their client in late 2020, more than seven months after his arrest. This was unacceptably late, and it was insufficient to deal with the complex issues of this case and to safeguard Mr Bala’s wellbeing. We are aware that Mr Bala requires regular medication for hypertension, but he has been denied access to a doctor since April 2020 and has received no medication for his ongoing condition.
On May 8, 2020, Mr Bala’s lawyers filed a petition at the Federal High Court in Abuja to enforce his fundamental rights. In accordance with the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 such petitions must be given the highest priority and should be heard within 7 days (Order IV Rule 1). The Preamble to the Rules (3)(g) is unambiguous, “Human rights suits shall be given priority in deserving cases. Where there is any question as to the liberty of the applicant or any person, the case shall be treated as an emergency.”
Yet a series of delays (mainly caused by Kano State lawyers not attending court hearings and absent judges) resulted in the case was not being heard until October 19, 2020, 164 days after the Fundamental Rights Enforcement notice was filed. That it took so long for an emergency case to be heard in Nigeria is appalling.
The judgment was delivered on December 21, 2020. The court found that Mr Bala was being detained in gross violation of his fundamental rights. The court ordered the respondents to issue an apology, to pay compensation and to release Mr Bala immediately. Mr Bala was not released.
Mr Bala’s lawyers filed a second emergency Fundamental Right Enforcement petition on January 28, 2021. A hearing was scheduled for March 1, 2021 but was adjourned to April 25, 2021 and then was adjourned again. Currently no date is scheduled for this emergency case to be heard.
FAILURE TO BE CHARGED
Mr Bala was not charged with any offence until June 2021, (14 months after he was arrested) and he is yet to be arraigned. This is in gross violation of the Constitution, which requires citizens to be charged and brought before a court within 7 days, or to be released (§35 (4)).
Mr President, in what way has the Nigerian state safeguarded Mr Bala’s fundamental rights? It has not. It has violated them systematically and repeatedly. Sir, please help right this wrong that has occurred on your watch.
Mr Bala has now been deprived of his liberty for more than 520 days but has yet to be found guilty of any crime. Indeed, the case against him has yet to be heard in court. Kano State has amply demonstrated its inability to treat Mr Bala fairly and legally. This case has been widely reported in Nigerian and world news, and many foreign governments have expressed their concern. For these reasons, and because of the deep violations of fundamental rights involved, we believe you can, and should, intervene.
This case began under the jurisdiction of Kano State but the Federal Government was joined in the matter as far back as May 19, 2020, when the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) was cited as a respondent in Mr Bala’s first Fundamental Rights Enforcement petition.
You could end this tragedy by instructing the AGF to transfer Mr Bala to a prison in Abuja and to ensure that he has full access to his lawyers, to his family who reside in Abuja and to medical treatment. Furthermore, you can instruct the AGF to treat Mr Bala’s second Fundamental Rights Enforcement case as the emergency it is.
Let the courts decide if Mr Bala has committed any crime but, in the meantime, restore to him the rights the Constitution guarantees him. That is all we ask.
Mr. Kola Alapinni
Mr. AA Muhammad
Mr. Ebuka Ikeorah
Mr. Rouf Gazali
HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYERS