By Femi Falana SAN
On June 8, 2014, the police had reportedly attacked the convoy of Governor Kayode Fayemi following the disruption of a peaceful rally embarked upon by members of the All Progressives Congress. In order to justify the illegal disruption of the rally the police arrested Niyi Afuye who was then the Ekiti State Commissioner for Information and Government Affairs.
Arrested with Mr. Afuye, were eleven other leaders of the APC. The suspects were Messrs Idowu Aladejebi, 68; Afuye Jide, 30; Anisulowo Kayode,46; Azeez Suleiman, 19; and Ajayi Idowu, 18. The other suspects were Babadi Ajayi, 35; Abiodun Omoniyi, 68; Oyedapo Olaoluwa, 29; Sunday Olalere, 27; Dapo David, 26; and Akinyemi Tayo, 25.
The suspects were taken to Abuja where they were detained at a notorious cell in the Federal Criminal Investigation Department at Area 3, Abuja. All efforts made by the Ekiti State Government to secure the bail of the suspects proved abortive. It was at that juncture that Governor Fayemi instructed me to handle the case and ensure the release of the suspects. I accepted to handle the case pro bono publico. I travelled from Lagos to Abuja for full briefing by the suspects. I had known Niyi Afuye as a decent and law abiding citizen since our undergraduate days at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
He denied the allegation on behalf of himself and the other suspects. I proceeded to request the police authorities to admit them to bail. But the application was turned down by the police on ground of “orders from above.” As the police could not justify the continued incarceration of the suspects the police alleged that the violent rally convened by the APC in Ado Ekiti had resulted in the death of one Peter Akin while many others sustained varying degrees of injury. As I was planning to file an application for the enforcement of the fundamental right of the suspects to personal liberty at the Ekiti State High Court where they were arrested and briefly detained before they were transfered to Abuja the police decided to file a charge against them at the Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court.
Surprisingly, the police slammed a 3-count charge against them. In the charge, the police alleged that the accused persons conspired among themselves to commit an act of terrorism under sections 1(2)(d), 2(2)(h) and 17 of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2013. The police also alleged that the accused persons shot and used dangerous weapons/devices “which resulted in the death one Peter Akin” and that the accused persons “incited, promised and induced other persons to commit an act of terrorism”, actions which the police allegeBiti d constituted an act of terrorism.
No doubt, the gravity of the terrorism charge scared the other suspects. But Niyi Afuye dismissed the charge and described it as a cheap blackmail designed to portray them as a bunch of dangerous criminals. His display of exceptional courage boosted the morale of other suspects. Niyi equally strengthened my resolve to deploy legal skills to take him and other suspects out of the lion’s den. Convinced that the monstrous charge could not be substantiated, I assured the suspects of my commitment to join issues with the police over the abuse of the prosecutorial powers of the State. However, the publication of the charge in the print and electronic media attracted odium for the Federal Government. Consequently, the authorities directed the police to withdraw the frivolous charge.
On the day fixed for the arraignment, I led a team of lawyers including Mr. Olasoji Olowolafe (now a Senior Advocate of Nigeria) to defend the suspects. To the utter chagrin of the defendants the police made a u-turn by applying for the withdrawal of the charge. Even though the defence team had no objection to the charge, I urged the trial court to warn all police authorities in the country to desist from filing frivolous charges for the purpose of intimidating the political opponents of the President and the various State Governors. The trial Judge struck out the case and discharged the defendants. As soon as they were freed, Niyi and his fellow political detainees returned to Ekiti State as heroes of democracy.
About 4 years later, Niyi Afuye reached the apogee of his political career when he was unanimously elected the Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly by his colleagues. With his maturity and political sagacity, he ensured that the legislative house conducted its affairs in strict compliance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Rules of the House, to the pride of the entire people of Ekiti State. Although he served the Government meritoriously there was no public hospital equipped sufficiently to attend to the No 3 citizen in the State when he took ill recently. Hence, the tests conducted to aid the diagnosis of his ailment were carried out at the Afe Babalola University Teaching Hospital, Ado Ekiti. Regrettably, he passed away on October 19, 2022 due to lack of adequate medical facilities in the public hospitals in the State.
Having regard to the facts and circumstances of Niyi’s avoidable death the greatest tribute that can be paid to him is for the Ekiti State Government to upgrade and equip public hospitals with adequate medical facilities to save the precious lives of the people. No doubt, the entire members of the Ekiti House of Assembly have paid glowing tributes to him they should keep up the legacy of Rt. Honourable Niyi Afuye by shuning impunity in all its ramifications. In particular, the legislators should emulate the late Speaker by distancing themselves from invidious and insidious activities that can expose the House of Assembly to unwarranted ridicule.