Lawyer Douglas Ogbankwa has told how he was attacked by agents of the Lagos State Command State Security Service (SSS), where he had accompanied a client to answer a case.
Ogbankwa, who is also the Director of Strategic Communications at the African Bar Association, narrated his ordeal, which he said left him with a lingering fear for his life, in a thread of tweets he shared via his X account ( formerly Twitter) on Tuesday.
“I am currently afraid for my life as the man holding the gun said that if I go back to the DSS office, I will be shot dead,” the lawyer wrote about his traumatic experience at the SSS office.
DSS, which stands for Department of State Service, is the name that the spy agency itself has chosen, as opposed to the State Security Service (SSS), which gives it its enabling law.
In the episode that began with his dogged efforts to defend his client’s interests, according to Mr. Ogbankwa, the agency’s officers slapped him and dragged him on the floor before sending him to an underground cell.
How it started
According to him, he was abused after his insistence on being present while his client took his statement. According to him, the Administration of Criminal Justice (ACJ) Act 2015 gives him the right, as a lawyer, to be with a client while making a statement to a law enforcement agency.
“I visited the DSS office with my client and we were in the waiting room when, at intervals, two different ladies wanted to take my client to go make a statement without my presence. “I protested that I needed to be present under the provisions of the ACJA,” she wrote.
Ogbankwa said his insistence on joining his client to write his statement drew the ire of the agency’s Principal Staff Officer (PSO), Operations and Intelligence.
He said the official, dressed in a blue local suit but whose name he did not give, shouted at him and ordered him to leave.
“It was at that point that I informed him that I was not a kindergarten student who should be mistreated, because he was very rude, rude and aggressive. Then he told me that he should leave the Office and I told him, the DSS Office is a Federal Government Agency and I was a freeborn, I should be able to access it at reasonable hours of the day.
“That’s when I asked my client to leave. We were leaving when the PSO Intelligence and Operations Office asked that the door where he was being held be locked.
“I informed him that being assertive is not a crime, but a right as we are in a free society,” he stated.
Assault and arrest
The lawyer said the officer’s subsequent reaction was to slap him in the face, followed by an avalanche of more than seven slaps from other officers who pounced on him on the orders of their boss.
He wrote: “He slapped me immediately and asked his boys to put me in an underground cell. They dragged me on the ground, they pulled me out by my leg; I received more than 7 slaps and hits.
“I got up and informed them that they were no longer doing SSS business, but rather personal matters, as I do not know state command officers who act this way. This Operations and Intelligence PSO is new and the lawyers have really suffered at its hand.”
He said his attacker disregarded his threat to make sure the Nigerian president learned of his misconduct.
He said they responded by saying “they are the President’s boys.” “One of them even said they would kill me here and nothing would happen.”
The lawyer, who said he was released later that day, described how he feared for his life following an officer’s threat that he would be shot if he dared set foot in the SSS office again.
Mr Ogbankwa’s post sparked a flurry of angry comments, berating the SSS and its officials who have always been at the center of accusations of impunity and disregard for judicial decisions. Some also expressed frustrations at how SSS and his agents easily got away with abusive actions.
Among the commentators was Rinu Oduala, a human rights activist who played a leading role in the October 2020 #EndSARS anti-police brutality protest.
“A lawless country with laws on paper,” he wrote.
A human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, also wrote: “Animals disguised as law enforcement officers,” a comment that also prompted a response from Dr. Effiong John, who blamed Nigerian courts for handing down sentences that supposedly validated acts. of impunity.
“Our courts have even emboldened them with the senseless sentences they have recently issued. It’s going to get worse. Impunity with legal backing will soon be the next normal. It’s a shame,” the response said.
Despite low public confidence in the Nigerian judiciary, one commentator, Malachy Odo II, encouraging Ogbankwa to seek legal redress in the courts, wrote: “Hopefully, you will make them pay for this in the form of damages.” .
But another user, #30, who expressed concern about how SSS always seemed to have escaped sanctions for its abusive conduct, pointed out the judiciary’s lack of ability to hold the agency accountable.
“They act like this because they know that no one will hold them accountable. Even if you sue them, the judiciary is not entirely independent in that way,” the comment read in part, adding that the media that was also meant to escalate the issues “and force their action would prefer to remain silent and continue.” trends”.
Ijeoma Abdulazeez also tweeted: “Imagine. They are the president’s boys. They are all boys for the rich. Everyone should hide their faces in shame. “
Tope Johnson encouraged Mr Ogbankwa to report the case to his branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the body of Nigerian lawyers, while expressing frustration that the association was not giving these issues the attention they deserved.
“That’s unfortunate, all the more reason I don’t attend the NBA conference, because the issues they’re supposed to address won’t be addressed; Copy your NBA branch and I will put it in other lawyer chat groups,” the comment read.
The NBA speaks, SSS remains silent
Reacting to the development, NBA National Publicity Secretary Akorede Lawal told Newslodge on Wednesday about the association’s efforts to launch an investigation into the matter.
He said the association had contacted Mr Ogbankwa and asked him to send a formal complaint to the association.
“Our member has been harassed and his personal rights have been violated. He has been affected in many ways while doing his work for his client. We will take necessary measures, including the weight of our association, to ensure that justice is served for him,” Lawal told our reporter over the phone.
In what suggested that Ogbankwa’s case was not an isolated case, Lawal said NBA president Yakubu Maikyau had set up a committee to address the highhandedness that lawyers often face in dealing with security agencies on behalf of Your clients.
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Yakubu Maikyau. [PHOTO CREDIT: Twitter handle of Mr Maikyau]He said the NBA-Security Agencies Relations Committee (NBA-SARC), ably led by Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Chukwuka Ikwuazom, is “already investigating” issues like Ogbankwa.
He said it was “imperative for us to identify the officers involved,” and emphasized that all parties in the case would have a fair hearing.
But Newslodge’ efforts to obtain comments from SSS were unsuccessful as the agency’s spokesperson, Peter Afunanya, did not respond to our journalist’s phone calls and text messages.