Businessman detained 2 months for ‘criticising’ Gombe governor | Dailytrust

Businessman detained 2 months for ‘criticising’ Gombe governor

Bala Sani will remain in jail till at least May 24 for determination of his bail
Bala Sani will remain in jail till at least May 24 for determination of his bail

An Abuja-based businessman and social critic, Bala Sani, an indigene of Gombe State, has been under detention for the past two months over alleged Facebook posts that Gombe State Government found ‘insulting.’ Daily Trust on Sunday visited his family and reports how the breadwinner and father of three observed the Ramadan behind closed bars even as he ermains detained.

Bala Sani, 47, was busy at his POS business stall at Karu, a suburb of Abuja, on March 16, 2022, when officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) whisked him away to Karu Divisional Police Office.

He spent the night in detention without being informed of his alleged offense until the following morning when his cousin, Mahmud Yusuf, whom he (Sani) had earlier alerted about his arrest went to bail him.

The police on duty told them they were instructed to detain Sani pending his transfer to Gombe State, where he will answer to charges filed against him by the state government.

Three days after their arrival in Gombe, Sani was on March 21 taken to Magistrate Court 6, where two-count charges of malicious falsehood and inciting disturbance were slammed against him.

Thereafter, Chief Magistrate Babayo Abba Usamatu ordered his detention at a Custodial Centre pending determination of the case.

It was gathered that after spending about two months in the custodial centre awaiting trial, the accused through his counsel, Barrister Luka Haruna, was granted bail.

However, the stringent bail condition given by the court made it impossible for the accused to regain his freedom. He was asked to bring as sureties two serving permanent secretaries in the state or two district heads, a development that has kept Sani behind bars for two months now.

Not satisfied with the bail condition, Luka approached a state High Court 3 and sought for the review of the bail condition.

During the court sitting on May 5, the state Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Barrister Zubairu Mohammed Umar, who stood for the state government, argued that the accused will jump bail if he was released by the court.

After a heated debate between Luka and the attorney general, the presiding judge, Justice Abdulhamid Yakubu adjourned the case to May 24, which is about three weeks, in order to rule on the bail application.  

Why Bala Sani was arrested

Bala Sani’s cousin, Mahmud Yusuf, alleged that his cousin’s prolonged detention is as a result of his criticism of the present administration, which the government didn’t find funny.

It was learnt that the accused person had in September 2021 published a series of post on his Facebook page, accusing Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya of wrongly taking credit of the ongoing industrial park project, christened Muhammadu Buhari Industrial Park.

He argued that contrary to Yahaya’s administration’s claim of initiating the project, the N16.4bn industrial park is totally owned and funded by the federal government.

Within the month, Bala Sani engaged the officials of the state government, who attempted to debunk his claim, in another series of posts explaining how the federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari initiated the project since 2017, two years before Governor Yahaya took over.

The dust created by the hot debate and exchange of words over the industrial park was yet to settle, when on March 8, 2022, the accused person posted a copy of a petition against the state government over plan to lease out the Gombe State University of Science and Technology (GSUST) Kumo to a foreign body.

The state government had announced signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Lincoln University of Malaysia, to put the hitherto abandoned institution to use.

Bala Sani in a series of posts on Facebook said that he has joined several others to petitioned the state government to the National Universities Commission (NUC), challenging the process and procedure that culminated with the signing of the MoU.

However, less than 10 days after his last post on March 8, Sani was whisked away from his shop in Karu, by police, allegedly on the instruction of the Gombe State Government. 

Suspect remains incommunicado under detention

Yusuf told Daily Trust that since Sani’s transfer from Billiri Custodial Centre to Gombe, even his wife has not been allowed to see or communicate with him.

“Our only contact or opportunity to see him, was during his court appearances when he will appear in prison uniform, sandwiched between warders like a criminal.

“Even at that, we can only wave at him, we are not be allowed to go near him or talk to him. All our efforts and appeals to allow his wife access to see him were not granted,” he alleged.

POS and tailoring businesses collapse – Cousin

Prior to his arrest, Bala earned his livelihood through a POS outlet in Karu, while his wife looks after his tailoring shop, also in Karu. It was gathered that it was through the two businesses that he caters for the education and daily upkeep of his three children and other relatives.

“But since his detention, his wife and three children had to relocate to Gombe, in order to be close to him. Therefore, all his businesses were abruptly suspended.

“School has resumed but his children couldn’t go back because their mother is here in Gombe struggling to secure the release of their bread winner,” his cousin Yusuf complained. 

CSOs condemn arrest, prolong detention

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have condemned the action and the prolonged detention of Sani Bala, describing the action as violation of his fundamental human right.

Chairman of the coalition of CSOs, Ibrahim Yusuf, said they have condemned what had happened because it is a violation of his constitutional right which grants him freedom of expression and association.

“The constitution allows him to say his view about anything concerning the government or any other matter within the ambit of the law and constitution of the country.

“Provided that what he said didn’t defame the character of anybody, as such the treatment meted to Bala Sani is not right. The bail condition is not right, asking him to bring two permanent secretaries or two serving district heads is too stringent and not possible because they are under the payroll of the state government and would not like to offend the government, especially that it was the government that was alleged to have ordered for his arrest,” he said.

Yusuf, therefore, called on the judiciary to look at the bail condition again, adding that the government should also be lenient and ready to accept constructive criticism.

He said: “The judiciary should also be cautious of playing to the gallery because they are supposed to be the last hope of the common man. People look up to them for respite, however, if they appear to be playing the tune of government, people will lose confidence.”

Bala Sani is 5th social critic to be detained in 3 years

Daily Trust on Sunday had reported that in the last three years, Bala Sani is the fifth social critic to be publicly arrested and detained allegedly on the orders of the state government.

For instance, in March 2020, Atiku Boza-Boza and Adamu Babale Makera, social critics and members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, were sent to prison by an Area Court after they were arraigned on a work-free day.

Also, in September 2020, Khalid Mu’azu Izala, PROII of PDP in Gombe LGA, was remanded in prison custody for allegedly insulting Governor Yahaya and some members of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

He spent 21 days in detention before he was released, for allegedly criticizing the policies and programmes of Governor Yahaya’s administration.

Likewise, in November 2021, Muhammad Adamu Yayari, a new media aide to Senator Danjuma Goje, was detained for about 30 days on the order of a Chief Magistrate Court, for posting the resignation of some executive members of the APC in Yamaltu/Deba LGA of the state.

Similarly, an online publisher and member of the PDP, Dahiru Hassan Kera, is currently hiding, over alleged threat to arrest him by the Yahaya’s administration, for publishing stories that the government found ‘unfavourable.’

State government has no powers to instruct court to detain anyone – Attorney General

When contacted, the state Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Barrister Zubairu Mohammed Umar, told Daily Trust on Sunday that the government has no power to instruct court to detain anyone.

He told our correspondent via a text message, that he would not comment on Sani’s issue because the case is still pending before a court.

“The case of Bala Sani is still pending in court, so I won’t make any comment. Suffice to say however, that no state government has the power to instruct any court of law to detain anyone,” the commissioner of justice said.

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