The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Thursday dismissed a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), seeking to be allowed to wear the traditional Isi-Agu attire in custody.
James Omotosho, the presiding judge, agreed with the State Security Service that the Igbo dress had markings of the defunct nation of Biafra and subsequently dismissed the suit as unmerited.
Mr Kanu, in the court filing FHC/ABJ/CS/482/2022, argued that the SSS subjected him to several inhuman treatments, including denying him of his rights to wear any clothes of his choice like “Isi-Agu” behind bars or any time he appeared in court for his trial.
He alleged that the national intelligence office allowed other inmates in its custody the freedom to wear any clothes of their choice, saying only him was restricted to wearing only a single piece of clothing.
Mr Kanu also said SSS subjected him to torture, breaching his right to dignity, among others.
He, therefore, sought an order directing the respondents to allow him to put on any clothing of his choice while in the facility or when appearing in public, among other reliefs.
But in a counter affidavit filed by the DSS and its DG, they urged the court to dismiss Mr Kanu’s claim.
The SSS said it was untrue that other suspects were allowed to put on any clothing of their choice, including Hausa and Yoruba traditional wear.
They said that the facility was not a recreational centre or traditional festival where Mr Kanu and other suspects would be allowed to adore themselves in their respective traditional attires.
They argued that there is a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) on dress code by persons in their facilities.
The SSS said its operating policy “only allowed detainees to wear only plain clothes which do not bear symbols, writings, colours and insignias that are offensive to any religion, ethnic group or even the Nigeria state in general.”
The organisation accused Mr Kanu’s family of bringing traditional attires and other clothing with Biafra insignias and pair of red shoes decorated with shining beads for him to wear in custody and also to attend court for his trial.
The clothes have colours of the non-existing Biafra Republic, which is the subject matter of the applicant’s criminal trial.
They said the Isi-Agu attire, popularly called chieftaincy attire, was not a suitable dress for persons in detention facilities and was against its procedures.
Mr Kanu’s family also argued that Justice Binta Nyako, the main judge in charge of Mr Kanu’s substantive trial for terrorism, had directed that Mr Kanu should be allowed to wear any plain clothing of his choice and that anything contrary would contravene the court’s directive.
The SSS denied breaching Mr Kanu’s rights to human dignity as alleged by the IPOB leader.
Delivering the judgment, Mr Omotosho held that the right to human dignity is contained in Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution.
He said it was clear that a right to human dignity related to the right against torture, and inhuman treatment, among others.
The judge held that Mr Kanu’s case did not relate to torture or forced labour as he was never tortured while in custody based on the evidence before the court. He said a right to dignity was not a right to change clothes as an inmate in a prison.
“The applicant cannot come to court to seek rights which are not in the Constitution,” the judge said.
Besides, Mr Omotosho held that Mr Kanu failed to provide the photographs and names of inmates who were allowed to wear different attires while in custody.
He said the burden was on him to prove his case, but the applicant merely rely on bare facts without any evidence.
He described the IPOB leader’s allegations as “a hypothesis without concrete evidence.” The judge, consequently, dismissed the case for lacking merit.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr Kanu’s lawyers would appeal today’s decision.
Another judge, Taiwo Taiwo, who had since retired, had dismissed a similar suit brought by Mr Kanu in 2022.
In the judgment, Mr Taiwo held that Mr Kanu had not provided sufficient evidence that his fundamental rights were infringed upon by the security outfit “as there is no proof of torture before the court.”
On Mr Kanu’s right to practise his religion, the judge said the suspect had constitutional rights to practice his religion in custody, but he agreed with the SSS that a suspect in custody cannot be allowed to practice his religion in such a way that would disturb the peace of other suspects in custody.
On the allegation that the IPOB leader was receiving inadequate treatments from DSS’ doctors, whom he had referred to as quacks, Mr Taiwo said he failed to supply “lead evidence by calling a medical practitioner to convince the court that based on the medical report, the treatment” was inadequate.