We Are Not Fugitives, Charles Taylor Is

This is a personal statement. It describes ongoing events affecting my colleagues and I here in Nigeria in relation to our work on accountability for fugitive former Liberian President, Charles Taylor.

Some minutes after noon on Monday, August 1, 2005, operatives of the Nigeria's State Security Service (SSS) arrested Steve Omali and Michael Damisa at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. Steve and Michael are professional printers. They had printed a set of posters on the "Charles Taylor Wanted" campaign for the Coalition Against Impunity.

The coalition brings together over 345 NGOs in 17 African countries and beyond campaigning to ensure accountability for international crimes for which fugitive former Liberian President, Mr. Charles Taylor, stands indicted. Also involved in the Coalition Against Impunity (CAI) are the Open Society Justice Initiative, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Nigerian Coalition on the International Criminal Court, the Transitional Justice Working Group in Liberia, among others.

I work on the African program of the Open Society Justice Initiative and have been involved in designing and implementing the advocacy work of the Coalition. I am also counsel in on going judicial review proceedings to determine the legality of Mr. Taylor's asylum in Nigeria. The Open Society Justice Initiative and Amnesty International are amici on record in those proceedings. The Court presided over by Judge Steve J. Adah, will announce a ruling on 13 September.

The SSS have confiscated 10,000 copies of the posters. The posters are merely reprints of the Interpol Red Notice for Mr. Taylor, which was issued in 2003. Nigeria is a member of INTERPOL. I will be sending to you under a separate transmission a soft copy of the poster. You may wish to bring it to the attention of other persons on your own network.

About 15:00 hours on Monday afternoon, Matthew Damisa, Steve's brother, went to visit his brother at the SSS Headquarters in Abuja. The SSS also arrested him, like Steve and Michael, Matthew is detained as I write.

Yesterday, Tuesday, August 2, two persons claiming to be staff of the SSS, led by one Mr. Igwe, visited our offices in Abuja to ask for me. They claimed that their Director had asked to see me in his office. They declined to give the name of their Director or to say where they were asked to take me. When my colleagues insisted, they indicated that it was in relation to the Charles Taylor Campaign and suggested that the SSS would be willing to trade the detained printers for me. This sounds like hostage taking by a State institution.

The SSS is established by the National Security Agencies Act, first promulgated by Nigeria's then military regime as a decree in 1986. The Decree was later transformed unchanged and specially entrenched in Section 315(5) of Nigeria's 1999 Constitution. It can only be changed by the same procedure for amending the Constitution. The SSS is set up under this Act to prevent and ensure prosecution of crimes against Nigeria's internal security.

The operatives of the SSS that came for me produced no identification. They had neither letter nor warrant for my arrest. They did not allege that I or any of my colleagues in the Coalition or connected with the OSI, OSIWA, or the Justice Initiative had committed any crime. They continued to harass my colleagues in our offices for my cellular numbers. At the time this was happening, I was in Lagos at the presentation of the annual report on human rights in Nigeria by Nigeria Civil Liberties Organization. My colleagues directed them to my friend, colleague, and legal representative, Uche Onyeagocha who is also a Federal Legislator. They declined to speak to Uche. By the end of the day, I was advised that two SSS operative were staking out our offices awaiting my arrival in Abuja.

Upon learning of the arrest of Steve and Michael and Matthew on Monday, I immediately formally informed Nigeria's Federal Attorney General and Justice Minister, Chief Bayo Ojo SAN, by letter. The Chambers of the Attorney-General signed in receipt of the letter. After they came for me, I updated the information to the Attorney-General's chambers. I have also lodged a formal complaint with Bukhari Bello, the Executive Secretary of Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission, and Justice E.O. Ayoola, the Chairperson of the Commission, who is incidentally also the Chairperson of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, whose Prosecutor indicted Mr. Taylor. In consultation with me and at my request, my colleagues formally wrote to the Director-General of the SSS, Col. Kayode Are, offering to arrange a mutually agreeable time for me to meet with him and his operatives, or, alternatively, indicating whether they were looking for me on in connection with any crimes known to Nigerian law.

Nigeria is ruled by an elected President, Olusegun Obasanjo. Chapter IV Nigeria's 1999 Constitution contains elaborate guarantees of human rights. Nigeria is party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Convention against Torture. It is unlawful under any and all of these instruments to detain anyone for more than 48 hours. As I write, our printers and their brother have been detained for over 48 hours without access to lawyers or visits.

The SSS had previously arrested and detained two members of my family—Iheoma Obibi and our son, Dilim Odinkalu born in February 1997—in 2000 and 2003. On both occasions, they briefly detained them overnight and confiscated their passports. Iheoma and Dilim are British nationals. The passports were later released following the intervention of the UK government. On both occasions the SSS interrogated Iheoma about her work with the UK charity, Alliances for Africa. They also interrogated her about my work.

I should report that I am not presently in danger to life or limb. I wish I could say the same about my liberty.

I am in good spirits. I am not a fugitive. I am not a criminal suspect. None of my colleagues in the Coalition Against Impunity is. Nor are any of my colleagues in OSIWA and the Justice Initiative. The fugitive is Mr. Charles Taylor. The tragedy in all of this is that the government of a supposedly democratic country has chosen to unlawfully deploy its security apparatus to prevent entirely lawful activities designed to ensure accountability for some of the gravest international crimes.

Best

Always

Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

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