A Kogi State senator, Dino Melaye, outwitted a well-armed contingent of anti-robbery police officers during an attempt to arrest him in Abuja on Thursday.
Mr. Melaye, representing Kogi West Senatorial District, manoeuvred himself out of the premises of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Maitama Thursday night, circumventing over a dozen officers from police Special Anti-Robbery Squad who were deployed to the location to arrest him.
The stand-off began on Thursday afternoon when Mr. Melaye was arraigned by the police for allegedly providing false information to homicide detectives in an attempt to implicate his political rivals in Kogi State.
Mr. Melaye drew a mixture of empathy and scorn when he raised an alarm in April 2017, telling reporters he was the target of an assassination plot allegedly sponsored by Edward Onoja, the chief of Staff to Governor Yahaya Bello, and other officials in the state.
The police initially took six suspects into custody — including a local government chairman— based on the account of the incident provided by Mr. Melaye. Mr. Onoja was not arrested at the time, but he was reported to have been investigated over the matter.
But things became complicated for Mr. Melaye when an audio emerged of a phone conversation in which the senator could be heard allegedly telling Mohammed Audu, a son of the late Kogi politician, Abubakar Audu, how he falsely incriminated Mr. Onoja and others in the purported attempt to assassinate him.
After examining the recorded phone conversation, following a petition by Mr. Onoja, the police charged Mr. Melaye for perjury.
However, the police did not drop charges against the six suspects arrested based on Mr. Melaye’s complaints days after the alleged incident. This is believed to be because Mr. Melaye allegedly mentioned only Mr. Onoja by name as the person he fabricated allegations against.
At the opening of the hearing in the police’s case against Mr. Melaye Thursday, the senator pleaded not guilty to two counts of perjury.
At about 1:00 p.m., he was granted a N100,000 bail afterwards, which included terms that he must provide two sureties of note.
But while Mr. Melaye was trying to perfect the conditions before going home as the judge had ruled before adjourning the case to March 16, the senator and his supporters noticed some “strange movements” outside the court, according to witnesses accounts to PREMIUM TIMES.
The strange sightings included three police trucks and a Toyota Sienna minivan. All were packed with policemen in SARS gears.
Upon enquiries, Mr. Melaye learnt that the officers came for him. He then decided to hold himself inside the court building to avoid being arrested.
Customarily, a suspect who has been granted bail by a court and met the conditions cannot be re-arrested within the court premises by security personnel unless there’s a valid warrant of arrest for the suspect, according to two different legal analysts contacted by PREMIUM TIMES Thursday night.
Mr. Melaye was trying to avoid the fate of Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister for aviation whom EFCC officers picked up inside the premises of the Federal High Court in Lagos minutes after being granted bail by a judge in an ongoing corruption trial.
The anti-graft agency argued at the time that there was a valid warrant for the rearrest of Mr. Fani-Kayode, a fierce critic of the Buhari administration.
After waiting for several hours inside the court, during which he took time out to post tweets accusing Mr. Bello of being behind his ordeal, Mr. Melaye’s breakthrough finally came around 7:54 p.m.
While the court building was still surrounded by SARS officers, Mr. Melaye managed to sneak out to a waiting sports utility vehicle about 150 metres from where he was trapped.
How the senator was able to do remained unclear not only to police officers but to a battery of reporters lurking around the ornamental trees which lie towards the eastern corridor of the court.
The Hyundai vehicle that drove Mr. Melaye away had an official Senate number plate and left at about 7:54 p.m.
A few minutes later, some of the SARS officers started learning from news reports online that their target had slipped away.
The officers, about 18 in number, left in their vehicles at about 8:32 p.m. and drove to a location around Wuse Zone 4.
Details of what led to the stand-off in the first place were still murky as at 11:00 p.m. Thursday night, hours after it ended.
Neither the police nor Mr. Melaye gave a definite explanation of the controversy in separate exchanges with PREMIUM TIMES.
“We don’t know what is going on,” Gideon Ayodele, a spokesperson for the senator, told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Thursday night. “But their tactics confused us a lot.”
While emphasising that he didn’t know why SARS operatives were hunting Mr. Melaye, Mr. Ayodele said it was unfortunate that his principal had become a victim of power politics for reporting an alleged crime to the police.
“He was the one that petitioned on allegations of trying to assassinate him,” the spokesperson said. “If you carry out your investigation and you discovered that the petition is not true, then you throw it away, that’s the worse that could happen.”
He, nonetheless, insisted to PREMIUM TIMES that his principal’s assassination claims were not fabricated.
We’re not involved — FCT Police
Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments about the siege Thursday night.
But Abuja police commissioner, Sadiq Bello, told PREMIUM TIMES his command was not involved.
“One thing I know is that my officers are not involved in that,” Mr. Bello said by telephone. “FCT police are not involved in that and, as such, I don’t have much to say.”
The officers were dressed in black T-shirts marked SARS-KGS: FHQ-ABUJA, indicating that they might have come from the Force Headquarters.
History of humiliation
Nigerian security agencies are not strangers to botched attempts to forcibly arrest famous politicians.
In May 2015, the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) laid a siege to the home of Buruji Kashamu shortly after the wanted narcotics suspect was elected senator.
Mr. Kashamu, a senator, locked himself inside a toilet when anti-narcotics operatives arrived his Lagos residence on May 23, 2015. They were later compelled to stand down after a judge ruled that their action was illegal as no valid extradition warrant was out for the politician.
In November 2015, the State Security Service was severely reprimanded by a federal judge for laying a siege to the home of a National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki.
The SSS accused Mr. Dasuki, who served as NSA between 2012 and 2015 under President Goodluck Jonathan, of stealing public funds while in office. He was then denied access to travel abroad on medical grounds.
Mr. Dasuki denied all the allegations against him and his trial for alleged fraud and possession of arms is still proceeding in courts at both trial and appellate levels.
But Adeniyi Ademola of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court ruled that the action of the SSS was illegal and ordered all operatives to stand down. The secret police ignored the order at the time.
President Muhammadu Buhari ultimately sacked Mr. Ademola last month, about 16 months after he was arrested by the SSS on allegations of judicial bribery and racketeering.
“The security agencies are aware that Nigeria is now under a democratic system, but they’re still conducting their affairs like they did during the military era,” said political analyst Shola Olubanjo.
Mr. Olubanjo, a legal practitioner, said the police should have exercised patience with Mr. Melaye, especially since he is a serving senator.
“Are the police saying they cannot write to the Senate that Mr. Melaye is a person of interest to them?
“We cannot continue to draw ourselves backwards when other countries are trying to move forward as fast as they could,” the analyst said.