By Ikechukwu Nnochiri


*I’ve spent seven months in underground cell, suspect tells court

ABUJA – An alleged link man between the Boko Haram Islamic sect and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, Mallam Mohammed Ashafa, was yesterday docked before a Federal High Court in Abuja.

Ashafa, a 46-year-old man of about 5.4 feet  in height, was accused of facilitating terrorist exchange programmes between the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria and the Al-Qaeda network which specialised on propagating terrorism around the world.
Meanwhile, though the accused person who was brought to court by armed operatives of the State Security Service, SSS, mounted the dock, yesterday, he could not enter his plea to the allegation owing to the absence of his lawyer in court.

Consequently, trial Justice Adamu Bello ordered the SSS to keep him in custody till April 3 when the case was adjourned to.

It would be recalled that the SSS had earlier arrested the same accused person six years ago on allegation that he was the one piloting the affairs of the Al-Qaeda network in Nigeria.

Meantime, before the matter was adjourned, yesterday, the accused person pleaded the court to order his release from SSS custody, lamenting that he has been locked up in an underground cell for the past seven months.

Ashafa who drew the attention of the judge by raising his hand while in the dock, alleged that the reason his lawyer was not in court was because the SSS kept him incommunicado in a dark underground detention facility, saying:  “Please order them to either release or take me to prison.”

His allegation of inhumane treatment prompted the judge to seek explanation from both the prosecuting counsel, Mr Thompson Olatigbe, and a representative of the SSS, Mr M. Idako, even as both of them took turns and explained that he was kept in detention to enable the Federal Government to conduct a holistic investigation into his alleged convivial relationship with the Boko Haram  and the Al-Qaeda network.

Olatigbe told the court that though the accused had been charged over his alleged involvement with Al-Qaeda, he was yet to face trial regarding the middle-man’s role he had allegedly played between the foreign terrorist organisation and the Boko Haram sect.

The prosecution further told the court that contrary to the allegation by the accused person, one Mr. Nwachukwu had ab-initio identified himself as the defence counsel in the matter.

Despite their explanations, Justice Adamu still expressed his displeasure over the alleged maltreatment meted against the accused by the security agency, stressing that he ought to be accorded his fundamental rights pending when his guilt is established by the trial court.

While declining to order his release from SSS custody, Justice Adamu said he should be granted access to his lawyers, just as he tasked the Federal Government to take his prosecution seriously, saying he would not hesitate to strike out the case if there was want of diligent prosecution.


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