A lawyer, Douglas Ogbankwa, who was allegedly beaten and detained by officers of the Department of State Services for refusing to allow them to take his client’s statement in his absence shares his experience with FATTEH HAMID

One of your colleagues made a post on X (formerly Twitter), stating that you were assaulted by operatives of the Department of State Service on September 26. Can you explain what happened that day?

I visited the DSS office on 1, High Court Road, Benin City, Edo State, at about 11:45 am on September 26, 2023, with my client and we were in the waiting room when two ladies at intervals wanted to take my client to go and make a statement without my presence. I protested that I needed to be present by the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act. It was at that moment that one man in a blue native attire and who I knew was the principal staff officer of Operations and Intelligence, came out, told my client to come and shouted at me to go back to the reception. It was at that point that I realised something shady was going on and I informed him that I was not a kindergarten pupil who should be pushed around because he was very uncouth and aggressive in the manner that he approached and spoke to me. After I said that, he told me to leave their office and I told him that the DSS office is an agency of the Federal Government and I was a freeborn who should be able to access the premises at reasonable hours of the day and for the fact, I was a lawyer who came to represent my client’s interest in a case.

After his refusal, I asked my client whether we should leave and when we were leaving, the PSO Operations and Intelligence ordered that the gate be locked and that I was under arrest. I informed him that being assertive was not a crime but a right as we were in a free society. He slapped me repeatedly and told some officers to bundle me into an underground cell. I was dragged on the floor, kicked and received over seven slaps and blows. I stood up and informed them that they were no longer doing the DSS business but their personal business as I did not know that DSS officers could act in that manner. I heard that this PSO Operations and Intelligence was new and lawyers had really suffered in his hand. I told him the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria must hear what he had done and he said they (DSS officers) were the President’s boys and nothing could be done to them. One of them even said they would kill me there and nothing would happen. I am presently scared for my life because one of the officers said if I visited the DSS office again, I would be gunned down.

Why did you and your client go to the DSS office?

It was a case that had to do with the late wife of my client. This was not a national security issue. I believe I was unjustly and unlawfully targeted by that DSS officer.

I didn’t even suspect any foul play at first, I only wanted the right thing to be done. It is important that we follow due process in this country and build strong institutions. I want the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to intervene in this matter. The culprit must be fished out, interdicted, investigated and dismissed from service. Justice must not only be done in this matter but it must be seen to have been done.

Was your client’s statement eventually taken in your presence?

After brutalOising me, the officer and his boys left me in the lurch and told my client to go to the reception. When I was locked up, they took him away into their confines and they did not ask him to call another lawyer nor was he represented by any, so, it was impunity taken too far.

What were your thoughts when the order was given to lock you up?

I was scared for my life because of how the DSS works. To me, I escaped an assassination attempt; that is the way I see it. My life is still threatened and I have written to Mr President also because nothing must happen to me. If I die in an unusual manner, it means the threats to my life were successful.

How did you feel when you were beaten?

I felt utterly humiliated and debased and when I got home, I wept for Nigeria. It is a sign that Nigerian security agencies have imbibed democratic principles. There is no lesson learnt because it’s a gross violation of human rights and the people who did this are still working and walking freely and if care isn’t taken, they’ll go scot-free. There is too much impunity in Nigeria and it is becoming a country where anything goes. Just anything goes in Nigeria and unless we bring the perpetrators to book, these shenanigans will continue and our society will be worse off for it.

You said that the DSS officer ordered that you be bundled into a cell. How long did you stay there and were you willingly released?

I said the PSO asked them to throw me into a cell but I was not thrown into a cell, perhaps because I am a lawyer, but I was detained, and forced to sit on the bare floor for some time in my suit and court bibs as I came straight from court to represent my client before the attack. Can you imagine how they throw the common people into cells if this can happen to a lawyer? What hope do we have for the suspects, for the common people?

After you were detained, did they take your client’s statement the way they wanted to?

Yes, they did. It is a shame and a sham and even sadder that DSS officers who are meant to uphold the law are operating like cavemen of the 21st century.

The Nigerian Bar Association has not been too assertive in the steps taken so far. That is why they will continue to attack and assault lawyers. The Bar must realise our motto is protecting the rule of law and if the rule of law we swore to protect isn’t protecting us, then there’s a problem. The future is bleak. The Nigerian justice system feathers and festers such dastardly attacks. We must be ready to fight for what we are promoting. We do not know who is next. It could be the Director-General of the DSS himself because he cannot be DG forever. Where is (the suspended Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed) Bawa, today? Where is (his predecessor, Ibrahim) Magu?

In a statement issued by the Nigerian Bar Association Security Agencies Relations, it was stated that the NBA was investigating the matter and that the matter would be pursued to the full extent of law. Have you been contacted by the NBA-SARC?

Yes, the NBA-SARC has contacted me. It is working on the matter and I’ll also continue to provide them with all assistance needed to ensure that justice is done.

Do you intend to sue the DSS for the assault, illegal detention and infringement on your freedom?

I will weigh my options, but those who attacked me will and must be brought to justice.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here