Thirty-three Nigerians arrested by Kenya anti-narcotic officers on suspicion of entering the country illegally are being held at various police cells in the country despite a court ordering their immediate and unconditional release, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
Kenyan newspaper, Standard Digital, reported that the suspects were arrested in Kasarani, a suburb of the country's capital, Nairobi on Thursday morning.
According to the newspaper, the police said they were arrested by anti-narcotic detectives pursuing leads in a drug trafficking-related incident.
According to a senior police officer in Kasarani, Peter Kilmani, the suspects posed as students of two universities in the area.
"When they arrived, they declared they were students at the universities, but our investigations have shown they are in other illegal businesses," Mr Kimani told Standard Digital.
The report also added that the suspects who included an Eritrean were taken to Kiambu Magistrate Court where the police were "hoping to get more time to keep them while they process their deportation papers".
'Release them unconditionally'
PREMIUM TIMES has however obtained a court order showing that the police application to remand the suspects was declined by the court. The court ruled that that they should be released unconditionally.
A copy of the court ruling signed by B. Khaemba, the principal Magistrate of Kiambu Magistrate court dated April 12, in the case of Ogochukwu Madubuike and others, reads:
"This matter coming up for ruling on 12th April 2019 and in the presence of the suspects and the prosecution;
"It is hereby ordered:
1. That request for suspects to be remanded at the police station is hereby declined.
2. That the suspects be released unconditionally, and the file be and is hereby closed."
But instead of obeying the court order, the Kenyan police decided to detain the suspects in pairs and threes at police stations across Nairobi, sources who asked not to be named for fear of being targeted by the Kenyan police told PREMIUM TIMES on Monday.
A representative of the students' union of United States International University (USIU), one of the two private universities in the area, said 12 of those arrested are genuine students. It said one of the suspects is a student of USIU.
She shared transcripts of some of the students and a letter signed and stamped by the USIU's registrar, Lydiah Masinde, confirming the status of a student of the USIU with PREMIUM TIMES.
One of our sources, a Nigerian businessman, said the suspects were arrested following a police raid near a restaurant popular among Nigerian students. He said contrary to Standard Digital's report, they were arrested on March 29.
He alleged the Kenyan police "is in the habit of raiding areas populated by Nigerian where people are arrested to extort them". He said he was afraid of the safety of the students, especially as they have been separated.
Owen Vincent, a lawyer representing some of the arrested students, told PREMIUM TIMES that he was going to file a contempt of court case against the police for refusing to release the suspects.
"We also don't understand why they are still being held. That is why we have filed a case in court to address that issue. Why are they being held, yet this is an order stating that they are released," he said during a telephone interview.
"What I can tell you is that this is an injustice. They are being held in prison for no apparent reason. That is why we are going to the high court to challenge the decision."
Mr Vincent claimed some of the arrested students were released on Friday.
He accused the country's interior minister of ordering the deportation of others despite not being charged for committing any offence.
"They have not been charged with any crime. That is why we are challenging the decision of the interior minister that they should be deported."
He said the case file at the high court had been slated to be heard on April 18.
Meanwhile, the lawyer representing one of the detainees has secured a court injunction stopping the police from deporting him.
The injunction dated April 12 was signed by the deputy registrar of Constitutional and Human Rights Division of Milimani High Court.
PREMIUM TIMES could not reach the Kenya Police for comment. The contact telephone number on their website failed to connect after multiple tries.
'No help from Nigerian High Commission'
Mr Vincent said the matter is a diplomatic one and that he believed that the Nigerian High Commission should intervene in the matter. He added that a letter was sent to the Nigerian High Commissioner, Momoh Shiedu, but he has not responded.
"One of my colleagues wrote a complaint to Nigerian High Commissioner, she was told they call them back. We thought this is something that the Nigerian and Kenya government can resolve diplomatically.
Mr Shiedu did not return multiple calls to his mobile number. He also did not reply to a text message sent to him requesting for comment about the incident.
The spokesperson of National Association of Nigerian Students in Kenya, (NANS0), Akeem Ajani, told PREMIUM TIMES during a telephone interview that he could not make a statement about the matter until the association's executives "meet later in the week".
"We are not Aware"
When reached comment about the incident, the Special Adviser to the President on Diaspora Affairs, Abike Erewa, said all enquiries should be directed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Akpan Friday, a spokesperson of the ministry of foreign affair said he was unaware of the matter. He, however, promised to find out and return with a comment.
He did not do that after several hours and did not answer or return subsequent calls to his mobile number.