What court order? Benue Police refuses to release jailed publisher over ‘defamation of governor’

by Mayowa Aboah

Oga Tom Uhia

The police in Benue have disobeyed a court ruling to release the publisher of the monthly independent Power Steering magazine, Oga Tom Uhia, over an alleged defamation of state governor, Gabriel Suswam. Uhia was charged last Wednesday with five counts of criminal conspiracy, injurious falsehood, and defamation of character.

After the preliminary hearing, the High Court in Makurdi granted Uhia bail of N2 million, and the provision of a surety, conditions which Uhia met. However, despite this, Alexander Oketa, Uhia’s lawyer, revealed that the police has kept Uhia in custody.

The lawsuit is the result of June’s re-issuing of Power Steering’s September 2010 article which questioned whether Suswam was a lawyer. The story alleged that Suswam used forged academic credentials to gain admission into schools for his graduate and post-graduate degrees. The magazine said its investigation was based on published documents and the confession of an individual who claimed that he procured forged documents for Suswam. The allegation has been denied by Suswam.Back in 2010, the police filed similar charges against Power Steering, its editor-in-chief, the individual who claimed to have procured the forged documents, and a fourth party. However, that case was quashed after a judicial panel indicted the magistrate of the case of “unethical” conduct in favour of Suswam, according to court documents.

Oketa said that despite that ruling, the police continued to persecute Uhia, even after an April 2014 ruling by a High Court that restricted the police from “entertaining any charge or application pertaining, concerning and relating to the facts” of the case filed in 2010.

If convicted, Uhia could face up to two years in jail and/or a fine. His trial date has been scheduled for September 1.

Similar cases of the Nigerian Police disobeying court orders have also been recorded in Rivers state. In December 2013, the High Court sitting in Abuja had ordered the Rivers state House of Assembly to re-open for its legislative duties, after it was shut down due to political troubles. Twenty-two members of the House attempted to move into the complex but were prevented from doing so by about 200 policemen.

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