The Department of State Services (DSS) has had a fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by Nnamdi Kanu, the detained leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), dismissed by the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Kanu, represented by his lawyer, initiated the suit (FHC/ABJ/CS/482/2022) against the DSS, its Director General, and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) as the 1st to 3rd respondents, respectively.
The IPOB leader alleged various inhuman treatments by the DSS, including the denial of his right to wear traditional Igbo attire known as “Isi-Agu” while in their facility or during court appearances.
According to Kanu, while other inmates were allowed the freedom to choose and wear any clothes they desired, he was restricted to wearing only one outfit.
Additionally, Kanu accused the DSS of subjecting him to torture and violating his right to dignity, among other grievances. He sought an order from the court directing the respondents to permit him to wear clothing of his choice while in the facility or in public.
In response, the DSS and its Director General filed a counter affidavit urging the court to dismiss Kanu’s claims.
According to the DSS, the applicant (Kanu) is kept in their facility where every other suspect is kept. They said it was untrue that other suspects were allowed to put on any clothes of their choice, including Hausa and Yoruba traditional clothing.
The DSS further argued that its facility was not a recreational centre or traditional festival where Kanu and other suspects would be allowed to adore themselves in their respective traditional attires. It added that there is a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) on dress code by detainees in its facility.
“That in line with global best practices, persons in the 1st and 2nd respondents’ facility are allowed to wear only plain clothes, which do not bear symbols, writings, colours and insignias that are offensive to any religion, ethnic group or even the Nigeria state in general,” it said.
The respondents accused Kanu’s family of bringing traditional attires and other clothing with Biafra insignias and a pair of red shoes decorated with shining beads for him to wear in custody and also to attend court for his trial.
According to DSS, the clothes have colours of the non-existing Biafra Republic, which is the subject matter of the applicant’s criminal trial.
They said the Isi-Agu attire, popularly called chieftaincy attire, was not a suitable dress for persons in detention facilities and was against its SOP.
The respondents also argued that Justice Binta Nyako, where Kanu is currently standing trial, had directed that he be allowed to wear any plain clothe of his choice and that anything contrary would contravene the court’s directive.
Delivering the judgment on Thursday, Justice Omotosho held that the right to human dignity is contained in Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution.
According to the court, a right to human dignity relates to the right against torture, inhuman treatment, among others.
Consequently, Justice Omotosho held that Kanu’s case did not relate to torture or forced labour, adding that a right to dignity was not a right to change clothes as an inmate in a prison.
“The applicant cannot come to court to seek for rights which are not in the constitution,’ he said.
Besides, Justice Omotosho held that Kanu failed to provide the photographs and names of inmates, who were allowed to wear different attires while in custody. He described the IPOB leader’s allegations as “a hypothesis without concrete evidence.”
The judge, consequently, dismissed the case for lacking merit.