A pro-democracy group, Human Rights Writers' Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of allegedly using subtle blackmail against a former presidential candidate of the opposition African Liberation Party (ALP), Chief Emmanuel Okereke, on the activities of the National Special Task Force against illegal importation and smuggling of small arms, ammunition and light weapons into Nigeria that had operated since 2010.
The EFCC had in a statement issued on January 27 alleged that Okereke was arrested for allegedly operating an illegal task force, running a recruitment racket, extorting and obtaining money. EFCC-feigned ignorance of the existence of the National anti-arms smuggling task force-a public-private partnership project.
But in a statement jointly issued by the National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf, the group alleged that the anti-graft body was being economical with the facts regarding the status of the task force.
The group also condemned the unconstitutional, illegal and gestapo media trial method adopted by the EFCC against the politician, who heads the national anti-weapon smuggling initiative.
Besides, the group stated that EFCC was quick to rush to the public mass media with their own side of the entire scenario so as to damage the public image of a prominent Nigerian who only few months back bagged a national presidential award after thorough security vetting.
The statement also added that information and documents obtained by it (HURIWA) under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act of 2011 showed that the Okereke-led anti-weapons smuggling initiative received generous high profile government blessing, contrary to the impression created by EFCC.
The group further added that it was unfair for EFCC to begin a media propaganda against ordinary Nigerians working for the anti-weapons smuggling task force headed by Okereke even when those purportedly arrested in Enugu and released on the so-called administrative bail had proceeded to the competent court of law to challenge what they termed as the military style invasion of their premises in Enugu; the confiscation of some cash paid by their members reportedly for a training camp in Enugu and for breaches of their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights.
"We are shocked at the rate that EFCC still goes about their job as if we are still witnessing the evil military dictatorship whereby innocent Nigerians in the eye of the law caught for allegedly being in conflict with the law are damaged, tried and destroyed in the public media before being paraded in the competent court of law for any alleged breach of extant laws.
"Every discerning Nigerian citizen is aware that Section 36(5) of the 1999 (as amended) gives every Nigerian fair hearing; protection from harassment and physical/psychological torture including media trial and are indeed to be seen to be innocent in the eye of the law until proven otherwise by the competent court of law in accordance with section 6 of the constitution which recognises the court as the sole custodian of the judicial powers of the federation," HURIWA stated.
Speaking further, the group claimed that: "The law in operation in Nigeria allows every good citizen of Nigeria to arrest and hand over to the law enforcement agency any Nigerian or person suspected of committing a crime to the Police just as information at our disposal shows clearly that the anti-illegal weapons smuggling initiative partners actively with the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) but has consistently faced stiff resistance whenever their members suspect foul play and compromise between men and officers of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and suspected illegal weapons smugglers in the line of duty and the national taskforce against illegal weapon smuggling raises alarm as good and patriotic citizens.
"We are aware that Importers Association of Nigeria whose members also work for the national anti-illegal weapons smuggling task force are currently in court with the NCS. The activities of preventing the smuggling of weapons into Nigeria is a patriotic venture which should be acknowledged and indeed has been acknowledged through documentary evidence from top government officials at the inauguration of the task force."