Police: Grant Bala access to a lawyer and formally charge him
Sir: To appease the international community, Nigerian authorities have told British parliamentarians that Nigerian humanist, Mubarak Bala, has been charged in court in Kano. They claimed that he was charged with insulting religion. This is not exactly the case. This representation is another attempt by Nigerian officials to misinform the world, misrepresent issues and become a party to delaying and denying justice. Police arrested Bala in Kano on April 28 and whisked him to Kano the following day.
Since April 29, the police in Kano have held Bala incommunicado without access to a lawyer and family members. The police have consistently undermined Bala’s legal representation and frustrated efforts by the lawyer to meet Bala.
At first, the police in Kano denied knowing the whereabouts of Mr. Bala. They took the lawyer to the various police cells to confirm that Bala was not in their custody. For some days, there were speculations that police detectives might have murdered Bala on their way to Kano. Efforts to get police officials in Kano and Abuja to confirm the fate of Mr. Bala proved abortive. Both the Commissioner of Police, Habu Sani, and the Police Public Relations Officers in Abuja, Frank Mba were not picking or returning calls. They were not providing any useful information or lead to what happened to Bala. After some days, information emerged that Bala had been ‘‘charged’’ in court in May.
Further investigation revealed that the ‘‘charge’’ was only a ploy by the police to obtain a remand, that is a mandate to remand him. Bala has not been formally charged. Several pre-hearings have been scheduled but due to one excuse or the other, they were postponed. In all the pre-hearings, the lawyer made efforts to see Bala but the police blocked them.
First of all, the lawyer and the police prosecutor met and agreed on the date to meet Bala. However, on that day, the police prosecutor did not turn up. When the lawyer contacted him, he claimed that he was sick. At subsequent pre-hearings, the police did not allow the lawyer to Bala. The police have refused to produce him in court. In fact, at a point, the police prosecutor claimed that Bala had been taken back to Kaduna. Some persons contacted the commissioner of police in Kaduna and he confirmed that Mubarak Bala was in his custody. At the last prehearing, the lawyer had to formally apply to see Bala and the application will be heard next week.
So it was improper and unfair for Nigerian officials to tell the world that Bala had been charged in court. Do you charge a person in court without giving him or her access to a lawyer? Is the case of Bala that of prosecution without legal representation? Is that not against the constitution? Why are Nigerian officials misrepresenting the situation in this case? Look, today marks 54 days since Bala was arrested, he has not been produced in court. He has not been allowed to see a lawyer. Why are Nigerian authorities making it clear that Bala would not receive a fair trial in Kano or anywhere in Nigeria? There have been repeated calls to the Nigerian police to transfer Bala’s case to Abuja or another neutral ground. But these requests have fallen on deaf ears. The police have either refused or ignored these prayers. The police are not handling this case as required by law. They do not want to transfer the case to a neutral ground, based on legitimate concerns. The police do not want to grant Bala access to a lawyer or formally charge him. At the same time, they are giving the impression that they are prosecuting Bala as required by law. They are not. Why is Nigeria eager to create the impression that state officials are going about the case of Bala in line with the constitution?
Meanwhile, the Nigerian authorities are acting in flagrant violation of Bala’s human and constitutional rights. Nigerian officials should not forget the legal maxim: quod approbo non reprobo (that which I approve I cannot disapprove). They should stop approbating and reprobating in this case. If as Nigerian officials have told the world, Bala has been charged, then they should, as a matter of urgency, end this legal charade going on in Kano and Abuja. The police should grant Bala access to a lawyer and formally charge him in court.
Leo Igwe wrote from Lagos.