Fury over arrest, detention of HEDA’s executive director on ‘frivolous petition’
• CHRICED, JODER say corruption is fighting back
The Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) has flayed the Nigerian Police over the arrest and detention of the Executive Director of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), Mr. Olarenwaju Suraj.
Suraj, who is also the chairman of a frontline civil society coalition, Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), has been a leading voice in the quest for accountability and justice for Nigeria with respect to the massive bribery, which followed the sale of the controversial OPL 124 oil block, also known as Malabu. He was arrested on Wednesday, April 14, in Abuja, following a petition by former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Bello Adoke, who has been standing trial in Nigeria and Italy.
Adoke was said to have petitioned the Nigeria Police, alleging that Suraj was part of those who forged documents against him (Adoke) while the case was going on in Italy.
On Tuesday, April 13, 2021, Suraj and Dr. Gbenga Oduntan, founder and Editor-in-Chief, The International Lawyer, had called on the media to step up its focus and investigation on anti-graft crusade. They made the call at a conference held at Sheraton Hotels Lagos.
Suraj was released on Thursday, after meeting necessary bail conditions. But his arrest has since attracted reactions from Nigerians who said the HEDA executive director’s unrelenting position on corruption must have prompted the fight back.
In a statement yesterday, Executive Director CHRICED, Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi described Suraj’s arrest as a clear example of powerful, influential and connected members of the society using institutions of the state to harass and oppress those who dare to question their actions.
The group said it was disconcerting that the Nigeria Police is already creating the impression that Suraj is guilty, even without any exhaustive investigation of the case. “It is condemnable that the Nigeria Police is not acting as an impartial and dispassionate investigator in the matter, but appears to be doing the bidding of an interested party,” the group noted.
CHRICED added that it finds it unacceptable that the Nigeria Police is not concerned about the real issues around how Nigeria was ripped off with respect to the Malabu deal. It said: “As the lead institution for law enforcement, we believe the Nigeria Police, alongside sister anti-corruption agencies, should be interested in what happened to the $1.1 billion, which was paid into an Escrow Account of Nigeria, but was said to have been paid as bribes to top officials of government. A patriotic police force should be interested in bringing to book those who fleeced the country, instead of joining to persecute a courageous citizen who has been campaigning for justice.”
The group called on the Nigeria Police to tender unreserved apology to Mr. Suraj; and to stop creating the impression that Nigeria is a country where law enforcement institutions collude with the corrupt and powerful, to suppress the voices of citizens who kick against their actions. “We call for a stop to the harassment and intimidation of Mr. Suraj forthwith, as this is clearly a case of corruption fighting back,” it added.
CHRICED also called on civil society groups to speak up to condemn the attempt to muzzle Suraj. “It is Olanrewaju Suraj being harassed today; it could be any other civil society leader tomorrow, if everyone remains silent in the face of state-sanctioned tyranny and oppression,” the group warned.
In another reaction, Executive Director of Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER), Mr. Wale Adeoye said Suraj’s arrest and detention was an embarrassment to the country. “It has shown the world that Nigeria is a haven of corrupt people who are ready to go to any length to intimidate those fighting against graft,” he noted.
AT a media roundtable organised by HEDA in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation on Tuesday, Suraj and Oduntan had said the fight against corruption could not be left to the government, politicians and or financial institutions alone. They argued that the media has a significant role in anti-graft, being the only free institution to take up such responsibility.
Suraj noted that the major challenges confronting Nigeria, especially insecurity, agitation for self-determination and banditry, among others, were a result of massive corruption in the system.
He challenged the media to start raising questions and investigate corruption. He urged the media to beam its searchlight not only on elected or appointed public officers but also on individual businessmen and women, and activities of multinationals.
According to Suraj, “Research has shown that most and major corruption cases in Nigeria are done in collaboration with external forces. It is high time we created a system that will make it difficult, if not impossible, to move our wealth out of Nigeria.”
Oduntan alleged that 70 per cent of monies Nigeria lost through illicit corruption goes into the hands of multi-national companies. “This is done in collaboration with some financial institutions. It is high time Nigeria placed more emphasis on business corruption, which often involves multi-nationals.”
Oduntan also accused some law firms, account firms and banks as collaborators in helping public officers to fleece the country.
In a telephone conversation with The Guardian yesterday, Suraj confirmed his arrest, detention and release by the police. According to him, “It is true I was arrested on Wednesday by the Nigeria Police in Abuja based on unsubstantiated petition from Adoke. I was released on Thursday after satisfying necessary conditions.”
When contacted, Deputy Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), CSP Adeniran Aremu said the appropriate division that arrested and detained Suraj must be situated for an appropriate response.
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