Melaye’s long walk to detention

Senator Dino Melaye has been variously described as a cat with nine lives, given his penchant for surviving plots against him, including the recent failed bid to recall him from the upper legislative chamber. However, the senator has cases in three different court against him. Last Thursday, a Lokoja Magistrate court had order his detention for 38 days with the police. In this report, SAMSON BENJAMIN examines Melaye’s travails with the police and his eventual detention.

Melaye’s travails
The cat and mouse relationship between Senator Dino Melaye, the Nigerian police and Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogis state, reached its crescendo last Thursday when the legislator representing Kogi West Senatorial District was arraigned before a Magistrate in Lokoja. For about one month, the police and the senator have been playing cops-and-robbers games with each other. In particular, the police have been trying to drag Melaye to Lokoja over a six-count charge, including illegal possession of firearms, criminal conspiracy and illegal transfer of firearms. Last Wednesday, the senator was arraigned before a Chief Magistrate Court in Abuja for attempting to kill himself, by jumping out of a vehicle conveying him to Lokoja to face criminal allegations. The senator pleaded not guilty and was granted bail to the tune of N90million. Afterwards, the police re-arrested Senator Melaye and arraigned him again in Lokoja over a different matter.

At 9.17 am, a police ambulance with registration number NPF 2214 D, brought the senator to court 2 on a hospital stretcher, amidst heavy security. Thereafter, the legal fireworks started, with prosecution counsel, Barrister Alex Izinyon reading the charge sheet. Specifically, he cited relevant laws by saying the allegations against the accused persons were too weighty to be bailable. In his submission, Izinyon prayed to the court to remand Melaye in prison custody, while Kabiru Seidu, alias Osama, and Nuhu Salisu, a.k.a Small, the senator’s co-accused persons, should be put in police custody.

However, the senator’s counsel, Mike Ozeokeme, objected to the prosecution’s prayer and moved for Melaye’s bail. Specifically, he cited section 97 sub-section 2 of the Penal Code and section 56 of the Kogi state Administration of Criminal Justice Law to support his prayer. In addition, Ozeokeme presented two medical reports from the National Hospital, signifying that Melaye is bedridden owing to a spinal cord injury and so, he cannot jump bail. Similarly, the defence counsel pleaded with the trial judge to consider the bail application, saying his client has been with the police since April 24. Unimpressed, Chief Magistrate Suleiman Abdullahi ordered that Senator Melaye and the two co-accused should be reminded in police custody till June 11, 2018. In summary, the senator will cool his heels with the police for 38 days.

…His recent troubles
Significantly, the road to Senator Melaye’s detention started on April 23, when he was prevented by officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service, (NIS), at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, from traveling with his colleagues to Morocco on an official assignment. Spokesman of NIS, Mr Sunday James had explained that Melaye was arrested “based on instructions”.

Narrating his arrest at the airport , Melaye said that “I got to this airport, I was checked in and was already in the lounge waiting for departure. Immigration officers invited me that there is a directive from the police that I can’t travel; that I am on their watch list. I said it was not true, that the INTERPOL said they had not issued an alert on me. I opened INTERPOL’s website and showed them the denial. But they insisted that it was based on the directive from the police. I was disembarked and they asked me to go to their office (at the airport). They snatched my passport but I snatched my thing back from them”.

Siege on Melaye’s residence
However, shortly after he was released by the Nigerian Immigration Service, armed anti-riot policemen laid siege on Melaye’s Maitama residence. According to reports, the heavily armed cops had blocked one end of Shanga street, where the senator’s house is located. In particular, a Toyota Hiace bus with tinted glasses was used to block one end of the road while a pick-up van blocked the other end. In addition, the policemen prevented anyone from going in and out of the house while the siege lasted.

Melaye surrenders to police
Significantly, the siege on Melaye’s residence lasted for 24 hours and the next day, the senator decided to end the hide and seek game between him and the law enforcement officers. According to reports, Melaye came out and surrendered himself to the police and he was taken to the Special Anti Robbery Squad ( SARS ) office at Guzape District, Abuja and subsequently detained. Sources said the lawmaker surrendered to the police after some of his senator friends received assurances from the police authorities that he would not be taken to Lokoja where he alleged he might be assassinated .

Melaye jumps from a moving vehicle
However, the drama between the police and Melaye took a bizarre and dangerous dimension, when the distinguished senator jumped out of a moving vehicle which was conveying him to Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State, to answer questions on his alleged connection to a murder case among other allegations. Melaye , on suspecting that the police were taking him to Lokoja, allegedly engaged the officers in the bus in a scuffle and managed to jump out of the van, after it was blocked by unidentified vehicles around the busy Area 1 bus stop.

An eyewitness said about five hefty men , believed to be the lawmaker ’s supporters, emerged from nowhere in two pick-up vans and made efforts to spirit the senator away in their vehicles. According to reports, the action caused pandemonium in the area as the police threatened to shoot the lawmaker and his supporters. This led to a scuffle during which the lawmaker was allegedly manhandled and Melaye sustained injuries as a result. Consequently, he was rushed to Zanklin Hospital .

Police handcuff Melaye in Hospital
Shortly after, the police team reinforced and trailed Melaye to the hospital, which is located at Mabushi district of Abuja, where he was re -arrested and handcuffed. Also, visitors including some senators who visited Melaye, were barred from seeing their colleague. Later, the police forcefully evacuated the embattled lawmaker to the National Hospital , where he was admitted in the Trauma Centre.

Senate show of solidarity
However, in a show of solidarity and sympathy to their colleague, about 75 senators visited Melaye at the National Hospital. Prior to the visit, senators had alleged abuse of power and disregard for the legislative institution by the executive arm of government in the handling of the matter between Dino Melaye and the Nigeria Police . To demonstrate its worries, the upper legislative chamber had suspended sitting on that day as the law makers refused to attend to all matters on its Order Paper. On that day, 20 bills and a report on its investigation of subsidy monies spent by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation ( NNPC) , were slated for deliberations but the legislators refused to attend to them.

In a brief remark , Senate president Bukola Saraki expressed disappointment at the attitude of security agencies . He told his colleagues that the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris had been avoiding his calls since the last 48 hours. Saraki said that the IGP’s action was ‘’not a disrespect to me as an individual but to this institution because you cannot talk about security without collaboration with the legislature’’. In addition, the senate president described Melaye’s humiliation as an attack on the National Assembly.

Police arraign Melaye on stretcher
Last Wednesday, the police had arraigned the embattled senator, from the hospital to a Wuse zone 2 magistrate court on a stretcher. According to the First Information Report (FIR), Melaye was accused of destroying the side glass of a police vehicle, attempting to kill himself by allegedly jumping off a moving vehicle and allegedly resisting arrest. He is said to have committed offences punishable under Sections 148, 153, 172, 173, 231 and 326 of the Penal Code Act.

Specifically, the FIR reads in part: “On the 24th of April 2018, about 1330hrs at Area One roundabout Abuja, within the jurisdiction of the court, you Senator Dino Melaye of the Federal Republic of Nigeria while being conveyed in a Police White Hilux Bus with Registration number NPF 3354 D to Lokoja, Kogi State, to be arraigned in court for conspiracy and unlawful possession of prohibited firearms in charge Number CMCL/14SC/2018 filed at the Chief Magistrate Court Lokoja, you Senator Dino Melaye intentionally broke the side windscreen of the bus and jumped out of the bus after it was blocked by a Hilux Vehicle with registration number Kaduna MKA 603 GY occupied by your younger brother Samuel Melaye and one Barrister Amefula David Emeka and driven by yet to be unidentified person who escaped from the scene after the blockade….”.

Melaye pleaded not guilty to the charge and was granted bail to the tune of N90million. However, after fulfilling the bail conditions, Senator Melaye was rearrested by the police shortly after his release to face another criminal charges against him in Lokoja. In a statement issued afterwards, police spokesman Jimoh Moshood said that the senator had been certified medically fit to face trial. The statement read in part “, the Police Investigation Team re-arrested Senator Dino Melaye today, 2nd May, 2018 after his arraignment at Chief Magistrate Court, Wuse for the pending offences of Criminal Conspiracy and Unlawful Possession of Prohibited Firearms already filed in a Court of competent jurisdiction in Lokoja for which he will be arraigned without further delay.”

Significantly, a Chief Magisterate court had ordered police to detain Meyale for 38 days but yesterday, Chief Judge of Kogi state, Nasir Ajanah granted an interim order for him to be transferred to the National Hospital, Abuja. Ajanah who said this at the High Court in Lokoja, explained that the hearing for the bail conditions of the senator would hold on Monday. The chief judge explained that the relocation order is to enable the senator receive medical attention, following the lack of facilities at the Police Clinic, Lokoja, where he is currently being held. in police custody. According to him, the interim order became necessary because of the absence of a prison that has the required health facilities that will take care of Meyale’s condition.

Dogara, Falana, others react to Melaye’s arraignment on stretcher
In the meantime, mixed reactions have been trailing the arraignment and subsequent detention of Senator Melaye in police custody by the Lokoja Chief Magistrate court. Last Thursday, House speaker Yakubu Dogara had berated the police for humiliating the law maker. Specifically, he was responding to a point of order raised by Hon. Sunday Karimi (PDP, Kogi), during Plenary session, when he said that “Melaye is being prosecuted because of this belief. And as members of national assembly, we cannot continue to keep quiet. There is a need for us to act and prevail on the IG on the issue.”

Responding, Dogara said the matter is already being deliberated on the floor of the Senate and being a “motion of personal explanation”, the house cannot debate on it. However, he said that “ nothing must happen to the senator. If anybody in this country has committed an offence, the law is there for the person to be prosecuted or arraigned within the ambit of the law.’’

The speaker admonished the police to ensure that his Melaye is ‘’secure first before prosecution. The prosecution cannot come at the expense of death.” He further warned that if anything happens to the detained lawmaker, the responsibility will lie on the security agents. According to him, “I have not seen in any country where someone is arraigned in court on stretchers when he or she is not fit to plead guilty or not guilty. If anything happens to him, (Dino) the responsibility will be on the security agency,” Mr Dogara said.

Similarly, human right activist and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, described the situation as unacceptable. According to him, “the arraignment of Senator Dino Melaye in a stretcher in Abuja yesterday and Lokoja this morning is unacceptable in a civilised society. It is particularly degrading and humiliating as it violates the fundamental right to the dignity of his person guaranteed by Section 34 of the Constitution and Section 7 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

Even though the Senator has my sympathy, it is indistinguishable that he has only been given a little dose of the humiliating treatment that is daily meted out to the flotsam and jetsam of our unjust society by the Nigeria Police Force and other law enforcement agencies in Nigeria.’’ Falana advised that the senator’s case should not be treated in isolation by the Senate and the bourgeois media.

However, Barrister Jiti Ogunye disagreed with his learned colleague, arguing that the drama trailing the arraignment may not be unconnected with Melaye’s initial show of power.
According to Ogunye , “before he surrendered himself, there were antecidents, there were drama, showmanship and things like that. When you are invited by the police, you should make yourself available. You are not a fugitive of justice, you are a senator of the Federal Republic,” Mr Ogunye said.

Melaye’s other travails
Significantly, Senator Melaye’s tangle with the Police goes beyond the Criminal Conspiracy and Unlawful Possession of Prohibited Firearms filed against him at a Lokoja Magistrate Court. At an Abuja High Court, he was charged with providing the Police with false information about an assassination attempt on his life. On March 1, the federal government had dragged the senator before Justice Olasumbo Goodluck on a two-count charge of giving false information about an assassination attempt on his life to the police in April 2017. The federal government has filed a two-count charge against Senator Dino Melaye for allegedly giving false information to the police in relation to claim in April 17 of an attempt on his life.

The charge marked: CR/106/18 was filed on January 31 this year before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Maitama by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).

Melaye is, in the charge, accused of falsely incriminating the Chief of Staff to Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, Edward Onoja David, in his assassination attempt claim. Specifically, the senator was accused of deliberately giving false information to the police, especially to frame Governor Yahaya Bello’s Chief of Staff as the mastermind of the assassination attempt on him at his hometown in Ayetoro-Gbede in Kogi State in April last year. In the second count, Melaye was accused of making false statements in a phone conversation with Mr. Mohammed Abudu Abubakar, a son of the late former governor of Kogi State Abubakar Audu, with the intention of harming the reputation of David.
Signifcantly, having survived the attempt to recall him as senator, Melaye has three cases in court to contend with. Will the cat with nine lives survive these onslaughts?

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