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NATCOM DG Still in SWAT Custody for more than 3 weeks Without Charge

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NATCOM DG Still in SWAT Custody for more than 3 weeks Without Charge

On April 26, Adejare Adegbenro, the Director-General of the National Commission for the Co-ordination and Control of the Proliferation of Small Arms, Ammunitions and Light Weapons (NATCOM), was arrested and detained by the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) after honouring an invitation from the agency.

Chibuzor Ezike, Adegbenro’s legal counsel, told FIJ that the agency had invited his client, who was elected NATCOM’s DG on June 3, 2023, as part of an investigation into impersonation and gunrunning, among others.

He said that while SWAT has not written a petition stating the exact reason for Adegbenro’s detention, it has also failed to present him before a court or grant him any conditions for bail.

He also stated that Adegbenro’s detention might not be unrelated to the tussle for leadership among members of NATCOM, which was formerly referred to as the National Task Force on the Prohibition of Illegal Importation/Smuggling of Arms, Ammunition, Light Weapons, Chemical Weapons, and Pipeline Vandalism (NATFORCE) but disbanded by the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) in 2022.

“There is an ongoing tussle for power in NATCOM, a private agency that is an offshoot of the association of importers in Nigeria. This agency is in partnership with the federal government to fight against the importation and smuggling of arms into the country,” he told FIJ.

“However, they are currently dealing with internal crises and power placement, which makes it possible that somebody within the agency is using the government as a tool to oppress Adegbenro.”

“Different factions within the agency are jostling for power, and it is suspected that somebody within the agency is using the government to make sure that he is subjected to detention.”

Ezike said while SWAT may also be accusing Adegbenro of impersonation due to NATFORCE’s disbandment in 2022 by the NSA, it has failed to make the accusations formal.

“I have not seen the petition written against Adegbenro, but what I know is that they have informed him that the reason for his arrest is impersonation,” he said.

“They said he is impersonating the office of the DG as the agency he claimed to be heading is non-existent and was disbanded two years ago.

“He has not been charged to court or presented with a bail option. This is despite the constitution’s clear stance that anyone who has been suspected of committing a crime should be made to appear before a court in less than 48 hours if there is a court within 40 km radius.”

Ezike said that the disputed agency is currently undergoing legislative process to be identified as a government-owned agency.

When FIJ called Shagari, one of the investigating police officers on Adegbenro’s case, to ask why he was being held and why there had been no charge against him, he asked that our reporter come to the SWAT office in Abuja.

“Can you come to our office? This is not a conversation to be held over the phone. You’ll come to our office and my commissioner will talk to you about it. It is not a conversation to be held over the phone,” he said.

Adegbenro’s continued detention is among the recent cases of human rights abuses by the police.

Acting on the orders of the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, five officers from the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) of the police abducted Ojukwu in Yaba, Lagos, on May 1, denying him access to his family, employers and lawyers for days.

FIJ later gathered that Ojukwu was abducted and detained for a purported violation of the 2015 Cybercrime Act in his investigative report on how Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, Senior Special Assistant on Sustainable Development Goals (SSAP-SDGs) to former President Muhammadu Buhari, allocated N147.1 million to an account linked to Enseno Global Ventures (Enseno GV), an Abuja-based restaurant, supposedly for the construction of a classroom.

Ojukwu’s arrest and eventual detention came in the month dedicated to commemorating the World Press Freedom Day.

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