In tears, 80-year-old Mama Abiri undressed. Before strangers, family, and friends alike, Mama clasped her frail breasts, and cried inconsolably, naked. With emotions only a mother could express, Mama cried in the native Ijaw language of the Niger Delta creeks. Mama was calling on Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, to feel her pain and hear her plea.
“Please, I am begging. Please, pity me. Anyone that is holding my son, please release him for me,” Mama cried. “I gave birth to him. I breastfed him. I know my son. He is not a militant. He is not a criminal. He is a journalist.”
For almost two years, Jones Abiri has not been seen nor heard from. Married with a wife and five children, Jones would have celebrated his 50th birthday on June 4 this year. Jones was a 300-Level student aspiring for his first degree in Law from the National Open University of Nigeria. All that is in the past.
Now, Mr Abiri remains in a state of forced disappearance as the State Security Service (SSS), Nigeria’s secret police, has detained him for over 700 days without trial, and without access to his family, lawyers, and doctors. Under international human rights law, a person is a victim of (en)forced disappearance if detained by state authorities or a third party with the authorisation of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s whereabouts and condition in a bid to deny the victim the protection of the law.
On July 21, 2016, a dozen heavily-armed agents of the self-styled Department of State Services arrested Mr Abiri, the publisher of Weekly Source newspaper, outside his office at 288 Chief Melford Okilo Expressway, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Eyewitnesses said the SSS agents, who came in three cars, did not read him his rights and did not produce a warrant before handcuffing him, raiding his office, and taking him into custody.
“Some men wearing black came to where we were and asked if he was Jones,” Garba Suleiman, a local provision store vendor who witnessed the arrest said in pidgin English.
“He said yes, and they grabbed him, handcuffed him, and took him. Nobody knew why.”
John Angese, the chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Bayelsa State, in an interview in March recalled how at gunpoint the SSS threatened everyone, including journalists, not to cross a parameter line. The SSS spent hours searching Mr Abiri’s office before carting away his computer and documents, sealing his office, and taking him handcuffed into custody.
“I was personally there when he was taken away. I tried to ask what was the problem but I was rebuffed with their guns. I was threatened to be shot if I went any closer. Everybody was scared,” Mr Angese recalled.
Two days after his arrest, the SSS on July 23, 2016 released a statement alleging Mr Abiri is a militant named General Akotebe Darikoro, operating under the nom-de-guerre, General Kill and Bury, the leader of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, “which has been furthering separatist tendencies in connivance with other criminal gangs in the Niger Delta region”.
Ziboimo Abiri Jones
The SSS said the detainee “confessed and owned up” to vandalising and bombing oil pipelines belonging to international oil companies Agip and Shell in early July 2016, sending threat messages to management of both oil companies demanding a total of N750 million payment, threatening to launch missile attacks against the Presidential Villa and selected targets in Abuja, and masterminding the rumour in 2016 that the military was planning a coup against President Muhammadu Buhari.
Weekly Source, a local tabloid which operated by mostly sourcing and publishing critical stories of the government culled from online and national newspapers, had in its last edition dated July 10, 2016 published as its lead a story originally published by the online pointblanknews.com titled “Rumble In The Military: Inside The Coup Plot Story… Militants’ Warning Alters Plot.”
The story elaborated an alleged conspiracy that top military officers working with politicians had approached the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (JNDLF) militant group to intensify bombing pipelines as a justification to overthrow President Buhari. The military denied the allegations.
Weekly Source in the same edition published another story sourced from pointblanknews.com