Babafemi Adegbite is one of the lawyers for the detained Rivers State governorship aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party and member representing Degeme-Bonny Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Farah Dagogo. In this interview with DENNIS NAKU, Adegbite says the allegations levelled against his client are false
Do you know why your client was arrested?
If I tell you, I know it is not clear, apart from what is in the public domain, what the government alleged was that he instigated some people to cause problems at the Peoples Democratic Party South-South Secretariat, which you and I know is false.
Did the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, have the power to declare Dagogo wanted?
The governor has no power whatsoever to declare him wanted, none under the laws of Nigeria.
But the governor is the state’s chief security officer?
Being the chief security officer, he utmostly should respect and operate within the law more than any other person. It doesn’t mean he can arbitrarily arrest people and declare them wanted. It is not for you to use your position to hunt alleged political opponents. Farah Dagogo’s life should be paramount to him and not the other way round.
Did Dagogo brief you if he had any problem with the governor before this time?
He didn’t. From what Dagogo told his legal team, the problem started when he purchased the nomination and expression of interest forms to vie for the governorship seat of Rivers State, which is within his right to contest for, and he rightly did so.
What did Dagogo say was the problem with the governor?
The governor doesn’t want him to contest for reasons best known to him. However, you cannot circumcise somebody’s rights because you feel he shouldn’t contest or have somebody in mind. Allow everybody to go to the field. I wonder why he is afraid of Dagogo.
What is your opinion about the charges of conspiracy and cultism levelled against him by the Police?
If you have seen the charges filed against him, they are watery. However, anybody can make charges. What’s important is to prove it. Since the matter is in court, I wouldn’t want to talk about that.
Last week, the Federal High Court granted him bail, only to be arraigned in the High Court the next day. Isn’t that against the judicial process?
Perspective matters. I want to state that this is the first interview I will grant to any media house on this issue. Ordinarily, I do not join issue and don’t grant press interviews in matters before a competent court of jurisdiction. It has become imperative to set the record straight and let the world know what is happening to Hon. Farah Dagogo, a law-abiding citizen and a serving member of the Federal House of Representatives. Sadly, a serving representative without any crime can be incarcerated for almost three weeks now.
A Federal High Court granted him bail. I can say categorically that the Police frustrated that bail because they brought up all manner of excuses after the court granted the bail. They wanted to verify the sureties’ address, which was stated in the order.
Meanwhile, the court had already done all of that. The Police attached to the court had already verified the sureties’ residence that came forward to take him on bail. Ordinarily, someone like Farah Dagogo should not even have a surety. He should be granted bail on self-recognisance because he is a serving lawmaker. But the court, in its wisdom, ruled that somebody should take him on bail. We promptly provided someone, and the court verified his address, and we met all the bail conditions.
Only for the police to frustrate the bail after getting in touch with the government, and I don’t understand why the Rivers State Government should be involved? If you reported the matter to the Police, allow the police to do their work. You don’t teleguide them. You find out that on that particular day, they frustrated the bail. They were giving us one excuse or the other that they wanted to verify, that we should come back the next day.
The next day, which was Friday, May 13, 2022, against all known tenets of law and procedure, they brought him back to the State High Court. The State High Court had adjourned the matter to Monday the 16th. They brought him from his sickbed on a stretcher. They carried him physically into the courtroom without informing his lawyers. There were no hearing notices issued. You find out that only the prosecuting team was in court on that particular day. And the Trial Judge went ahead to attempt to take his plea. If not that he was too weak to utter any word, he would have taken his plea. And although he could not take his plea, he still went ahead to remand him in prison custody without his lawyer’s presence.
What more evidence do you need that there is a high level of conspiracy against Farah Dagogo, for reasons best known to the government of Rivers State? I said this without fear or favour because the Chief of Staff to the Rivers State Government House was present in court physically on May 13. They barricaded the whole place and did not allow the press to go anywhere near the court. His family members were not allowed to go near the court.
Nevertheless, without official notice, as lawyers, we rushed down to the court at least to have a firsthand experience of what was happening and they tried to stop us because we were not properly dressed, thinking we were not lawyers. You know it is highly disturbing that in a democracy, this kind of thing can happen to a federal lawmaker. One begins to wonder what happens to the ordinary citizen on the street. If you go to the correctional centres you will find out.
Suppose this can happen to a highly placed individual, a former member of the Rivers State House of Assembly, currently serving as a Federal House of Representatives member. In that case, you know that ordinary Nigerians have no future if things continue like this.
The first time Dagogo was arraigned, he was in police custody. The second time the court remanded him in prison custody. Why? Was it a preferred option by his legal team?
It is not about the preferred option. As I said, we were not present in court. We couldn’t have contributed to where he was being sent. All we want is his freedom, his fundamental right. He needs to be allowed to go about his normal duties. He is an aspirant for the governorship seat in Rivers State. The process is on. Somebody is trying to prevent him from being part of that process because he is very popular and knows he has what it takes to win. So they have been using state powers now to prevent him.
How is Dagogo’s health now, knowing that he was brought to court on a stretcher the other day?
Well, his health has not improved. He is still seeing doctors. He has doctors in Turkey and Dubai, his doctors that are supposed to treat him as it were now. We are making do with the doctors we have here and praying that he improves.
Do you think Dagogo still has a chance to pursue his governorship ambition since he did not appear before the South-South PDP governorship screening committee led by the Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri?
Let me set the record straight. Recall that Dagogo was declared wanted for something he has no hand in. He was not even there. So, how they came up with that story is a matter for another day. They will have to prove it in court. Now he was declared wanted. He made some calls to show his clear conscience, and he will go for the screening. After the screening, he will come because he knows that he has not done anything wrong. If it were somebody that committed a crime, he would run away.
However, he went for the screening, and right inside the screening hall was where he was arrested, right in the South-South PDP secretariat in Port Harcourt. He had entered the screening room. Unfortunately, he was not even arrested by regular Police but by the government house police led by the Camp Commandant, one Efeturi Irekefe. He was the one that arrested him and went to hand him over to Operation Sting’ (a special security unit in the state).
As I speak, I am sure there is no case file. He has not made any statement to the Police. There has been no investigation. Thursday, there was a failed arraignment next morning, Friday 29, in a Magistrate Court. It failed because the lawyers opposed his arraignment, so his plea could not be taken.
Surprisingly, after declining jurisdiction, the Magistrate went ahead to remand him in police custody. We were attacking that ruling when they now brought the legal advice to say that they had concluded plans to charge him to the High Court, which was the proper place to charge him if he did a case like that.
To your question, there is no way the process (governorship) can go on without Hon. Farah Dagogo because he bought the expression of interest form and nomination at N21 million. He submitted all his documents and presented himself for screening. So if the process goes on without him, it amounts to unlawful exclusion. I want to sound a note of warning. Even though he is in detention, he is not taking it lying low; the party in Rivers State stands the risk of not having a candidate if he pursues his legal right.
Hasn’t the governorship screening been concluded?
The process of the primaries has not been concluded; we can still remedy it.
What is the implication if he is not accommodated?
We are already in court. If he is not accommodated, the court will pronounce whether he was rightly or wrongly excluded. So, it is for the court to decide. But we will lay all the facts bare before the court.