The Nigerian Government’s Dubious Detention of Rev. Ugolor

The violence across northern Nigeria during the last several years has highlighted the deep frustrations over broken promises for development, the potential for homegrown militancy to spread, and the role of impunity in cultivating widespread cynicism toward the security forces.  With all the attention the radical Islamist group Boko Haram has received recently, it has become hard to keep the spotlight on the Niger Delta, where activists have been agitating on those same three issues for many years.  Thus the suspicious and arbitrary detention of Rev. David Ugolor, a prominent civil society leader in the Niger Delta, deserves more attention as it has already sent chills throughout grassroots organizations  in Nigeria’s oil producing region.


Last month, Olaitan Oyerinde, a top official for Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole (the former labor leader), was murdered during a robbery of his home.  When the police then arrested several men, one of them described his sponsor and said his name was “David.”  Six suspects who confessed to the crime have since been paraded on national television.  But this has done little to establish some semblance of due process for Rev. David Ugolor, who was arrested on July 27 in the offices of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ).

According to an August 4 statement from ANEEJ, at least ten police officers ransacked Ugolor’s home and the organization’s offices, preventing staff from making any phone calls while officials seized materials over the course of three hours.  His mistreatment and ongoing arbitrary detention has precipitated an outcry from civil society organizations, and demands from Governor Oshiomhole for a federal probe into police mishandling of the case.  As the governor explained to The Nation newspaper on August 18, confessions to the same crime by other suspects, and conflicting information by the security services, cast doubt on the entire process.  He further described Ugolor as “unarguably the most prominent civil society activist in Edo State and a well-known friend of Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde.”  In other words, Ugolor had no motive.

Ugolor founded ANEEJ in 1995 and went on to campaign for debt cancellation, helping to set up the Jubilee South Forum that included members from 35 poor countries around the world.  According to a biography prepared by Benin City journalist Michael Odigbe, he received funding from the Heinrich Boell Foundation, the British High Commission, and the Norwegian government for his work on monitoring oil revenue transfers and spending in the Niger Delta, which in part led to the creation of the Niger Delta Budget Monitoring and Transparency Network.  With ANEEJ, he has also been at the forefront of the debate over the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) – which I have analyzed previously on the Development4Security blog – arguing for institutionalizing a role for civil society participation.  Most recently, and perhaps most sensitively, he also led civil society calls for implementation of the recommendations of Lawan probe into s fuel subsidy corruption.

It is worth recalling that the head of that House of Representatives sanctioned investigation, Hon. Farouk Lawan from Kano State, faced allegations that his committee had accepted bribes (after disclosing that he had inappropriately been offered bribes) in exchange for watering down their report.  Will other proponents of oil revenue transparency and accountability suffer similar fates?  An excellent editorial in yesterday’s issue of Leadership asked why neither the House Ethics Committee nor the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has made progress on answering whether bribes were offered, solicited, or received.

Either Charge Rev. Ugolor — or Release Him

Publish What You Pay Nigeria called for Ugolor’s “immediate and unconditional release,” arguing in a recent press release that he “is being framed for his activism in revenue transparency and brining reforms to bear on the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry.”  On August 9, 23 civil society organizations, including the Ijaw Youth Council, the Women Environmental Programme, and numerous Edo-state based youth organizations praised Ugolor’s leadership on the PIB, election monitoring in the recent gubernatorial elections.  From 1999 to 2005 Ugolor was also a tireless advocate for the Recovery of Stolen Assets legislation (from 1999-2005), which helped the Nigerian government retrieve millions of dollars stolen by the family of the late dictator Sani Abacha – but which earned Ugolor numerous enemies.  The groups are now calling on President Goodluck Jonathan to create a commission to investigate the mishandling of the case, and to determine who Oyerinde’s killers really are.

An even longer list of 150 civil society organizations and leaders, from all six of the country’s geopolitical zones, signed an open letter on August 15, asking the police to either formally charge Ugolor – or release him in accordance with his constitutional rights.  (Editor’s Note: some organizations are accidentally listed twice in the original letter.)  Expressing concern about the chilling effect his detention is having on political rights, the signatories call “on governments at all levels in Nigeria to protect the space for those advancing progressive, liberal ideas by strengthening the civil society space.”

So far, the international community unfortunately hasn’t taken much notice.  ANEEJ wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just a few days before her August 10 meeting with President Jonathan.  But Boko Haram, cooperation on the US-Nigeria Bilateral Commission, and other issues appear to have dominated the discussion.  Ugolor’s colleagues at

A State Department photo of the Clinton and Jonathan meeting on August 9.

ANEEJ are waiting to hear back from the American diplomats.  The story has been all over the Nigerian press, with reports in Vanguard and other outlets covering the activists’ frustration with the police.  In contravention of constitutional guarantees to a speedy trial, Ugolor has yet to formally be charged with a crime.  This led High Court Judge Esther A. Edigin on August 16 to order his release on medical grounds, rather than on bail.  Another hearing will take place later this week.

I will post updates on the case here, and you can also follow the issues by joining the new Facebook group.  Oyerinde’s family deserves justice, and Nigerians deserve to know the truth about this murky murder, which offers yet another clear test for how committed the Jonathan administration really is to the rule of law.

4 thoughts on “The Nigerian Government’s Dubious Detention of Rev. Ugolor

  1. Innocent

    under the background we can put some things in better light.

    1. The police only got wind of their investigation two months after the death of comrade oliatan oyerinde death,without bringing the chief complianant and chief security officer of Edo state(Governor Oshiomhole) up to speed.

    2.The police force went with the said suspects in their custody to oliatan house on August 2nd, 2012 just a day after the state security services(sss) paraded the real suspects in Abuja.(this raises suspision on their motive for the arrest of Rev. Ugolor.

    3. The six suspects paraded by the state security service in Abuja are the true and actual criminals as they gave graphic description of the murder and also said they did not know rev. david ugolor when they were asked questions by press men present(see Thisday news paper of August 1st 2012)

    5. The six suspects paraded were arrested with personal items like phones, ipads, some cash and the wedding ring of oyerinde oliatans in-law, which they took from the house on the night of the murder.

    6. Governor oshiomhole stand on the issue published by both Nation and vanguard news papers on friday 17th August 2012 showed that there were inconsistencies in the police report.

    7. High court sitting in benin led by justice Edigin, on thursday august 16 2012,gave a ruling on the enforcement of Rev.ugolor fundamental human rights and ordered for his immediate and unconditional release “fortwith” from police detention anywhere in the country.

    8. The Inspector general of police and the Attorney general of the federation were duly served the court order on friday 17th august 2012, and they refused to obey the order.

    9. It is also worthy to note that the said Inspector General of police Mohammed Abubakar has some credibility issues as he was indicted by Justice Niki Tobi on the jos 2001 crisis and recommended his sack. Various interest groups protested his appointment.

    10. President Jonathan has kept sealed lips over the gross violation of David’s fundamental human right

  2. Professor LeVan

    Nigeria: After Ugolor Released on Bail, Court Orders police to pay 5 million naira

    David Ugolor, the Executive Director of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice in Benin City, is out of jail. The Vanguard reported on September 11 that Justice Philip Imodemhe of the Edo State High court ordered the civil society leader’s release on 1 million naira bail (about $6,300 dollars). As chronicled here and throughout the Nigerian media, Ugolor has been a tireless champion for debt cancellation, oil revenue transparency, and most recently – implementation of the Lawan report’s recommendations for ending the corruption tied to Nigeria’s fuel subsidy. Budget openness and economic justice have been the common thread through his two decades of activism and engagement, which have been supported by a host of private foundations and governments, and praised by transparency advocates.

    Ugolor had been held by police since July 27 based on an unsubstantiated allegation from a suspect arrested in connection with the murder of a top official to the Edo State governor. The governor called for an investigation into police mishandling of the case, and judging by the decision today by Justice Esther Edigin of the State High Court, he’s not alone in his sense of frustration with the police. Justice Edigin, who had previously issued court orders for the police to either charge Ugolor or release him, today ordered the police to pay 5 million naira in damages to Ugolor for what she described as his illegal and unjust detention. In a bold statement, she decried the police’s disregard for his constitutional rights. The case has been followed closely by global human rights activists, as well as the U.S. State Department.

    Lessons for the Northeast?
    The case has important implications not only for Nigeria’s anti-corruption struggles – since Ugolor has made many enemies with his agitation for recovery of dictator Abacha’s stolen money and for oil revenue transparency – but also for Nigeria’s broader rule of law struggles. The police and the attorney general have sluggishly pursued investigations and prosecutions into abuses by the security services violently cracking down on radical Islamists commonly referred to as Boko Haram in the north. Impunity for the abuses has buttressed Salafist messaging and alienated the local populations whose sympathy is essential for any comprehensive (and ultimately political) response. Traditional rulers, politicians, and civil society activists in the northeast have called for peace through justice and development. Perhaps the magistrates in Borno and beyond will be inspired by the courageous Judge Edigin too.

  3. Professor LeVan Post author

    Ugolor’s Speech to the Press and Civil Society on September 19, following his release from Custody. (Thank you to AEEJN for the text).

    My Dear Comrades/Gentlemen of the press,

    You would recall that I was unlawfully arrested by officers and men of the Nigerian Police on the 27th of July 2012 over the trumped up allegation of being the sponsor of the murder of my bosom friend, Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde.

    When I was arrested and later told the reason why I was being detained by the police, I thought it was a mere joke because the officers and men that arrested me I had gone to see six times because my conscience is clear and I am interested in the apprehension of all those who cut the life of Olaitan short. When I was arrested, I was laughing and it also interests you to know that when I was released, I was also laughing because I know my conscience is clear. My arrest and detention was a heinous frame up by the Nigeria Police who brought one Garuba Usman Maisamari, a man I have never met all my life to level a baseless criminal allegation against my person. I am happy I have you my friends, relations, colleagues and associates and I am glad that you know me too well that I can never have my hands in any man’s life, rather I will do all in my powers to save lives. I am happy that based on this common understanding, you all stood by me. I just cannot thank you enough.

    My arrest and detention became more confounding when you juxtapose it with my fight against injustice and oppression in Nigeria and the outside world, a feat that spans over twenty-five years.
    The plot against me was thick, and I thank God that today, the truth is out that I know nothing about the false accusation leveled against me by the police and their evil collaborators. But my arrest and detention, particularly now that the nation is talking about police reforms further reinforces the need for a genuine reform of the Nigerian police given their complicity in my ordeal. If I, an Environmental and human rights activist can suffer from a frame up by the Nigerian police in the 21st century Nigeria and a globalised world, you could imagine what the innocent, ordinary Nigerian citizens are going through on a daily basis in the hands of the Nigeria police.

    It is shameful and sad that even when a court of competent jurisdiction ordered the Inspector General of Police and the Nigeria Police Force to release me unconditionally from detention, they flagrantly disobeyed the court order. This, is a threat to democracy and an open invitation to anarchy as espoused by the court on Friday 14th September, 2012 which also declared my arrest and detention, illegal and a violation of my fundamental human right. The prison reforms and decongestion in Nigeria will be impossible if the police continue the culture of impunity of arresting, harassing detention, and framing up of innocent citizens Extra-judicial killings and framing of the innocent has continued to fuel insecurity in our country till date. Let no one make mistakes. We must all remain united, focused and determined more than ever to fight oppression and injustice in our dear country.

    My Comrades, gentlemen of the press, what has happened notwithstanding, I make bold to say that Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde was my friend, a true friend in life and in death. I mourn his death till date and I want to re-iterate my call on the Nigerian Police to fish out his killers and submit them to justice. Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde deserves justice whether in life or in death. The Department of State Security Service arrested and paraded six persons who confessed to killing Olaitan on the 4th of May, 2012. I commend the SSS for their gallantry. The six suspects have since been handed over to the police for prosecution. There is no justifiable reason why the police should continue to keep them in detention. I recommend that the police should immediately charge the suspects to court for prosecution because keeping them endlessly in detention violates their rights and could delay justice for my slain friend.

    Let me use this opportunity to thank God Almighty, who used men and women of virtue and goodwill to vindicate me through the various court processes and the campaigns to free me from my oppressors. I thank the Christian community and Muslim Umar for their prayers for my freedom.

    The Judiciary in Edo State has demonstrated that upholding the rule of law remains a significant component of a democratic society, and they have proved beyond doubts with my case that Nigeria cannot be an exception. I salute the Judiciary.
    Let me thank most immensely members of the fourth estate of the realm (the media) and the Civil Society who have worked with me and know my antecedents too well as to discountenance the cock and bull stories the police and the devilish collaborators were propagating against my person. From the bottom of my hearts, I thank you for standing by me during my travails. The media have proved in this case, that they can hold every citizen, no matter how highly placed accountable to their constitutionally assigned roles. The Nigerian media have demonstrated its capacity to nurture Nigeria’s democracy to greatness.

    I want to thank the Civil Society for launching the FREE DAVID UGOLOR campaign in the face of the obvious provocation. Your actions are unprecedented in the annals of Nigeria’s history. I want to thank all Nigerians of goodwill who donated towards the campaigns and legal battle that led to my freedom.
    I wish to appreciate members of the diplomatic community and our international partners for their unalloyed support during our trying period.

    Let me re- assure you that I remain committed to the virtues of a free and open society where all men are equal before the law and where leaders are open and accountable to citizens.
    I cannot end this address without expressing my sincere gratitude to the Edo State Comrade Governor, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole who in the heat of the saga generated by the well orchestrated falsehood cut short his holidays, returned to Benin and issued a statement which in my considered view signposts honesty, truth, courage and patriotism. Oshiomhole remains a role model in our contemporary Nigeria.

    I thank you all and may God Almighty bless you all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.