Return to Reign of Impunity

Alex Enumah writes that the increasing propensity of the Federal Government to disregard court order has enthroned a reign of impunity

It was the beginning of another legal year at the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad without mincing words hammered home the message that it was time for government and their agencies in the country to observe the rule of law and obey judgment delivered by courts in the country. He warned that the court would no longer tolerate such untoward actions which has ridiculed the nation in the comity of nations.

“The judiciary under my watch will strongly uphold the tenets of the constitution as the supreme law of the land.

“The rule of law which is the bastion of democracy across the world will be strictly observed in our dealings and we must impress it on governments at all levels to actively toe that path,” he said.

The CJN in assuring that the right of every citizen against any form of oppression and impunity would be jealously protected with the legal tools at their disposal, stressed that, “All binding court orders must be obeyed; nobody, irrespective of his or her position, will be allowed to toy with court judgments,” adding that everyone must collectively show the desired commitment to the full enthronement of the rule of law in the land.

His reason was simple: flagrant disobedience of court orders or non-compliance with judicial orders is a direct invitation to anarchy in the society.

Reading the mind of the CJN, one can readily come to the conclusion that the leadership of the judiciary, the third arm of government is gradually waking up to its responsibility of guaranteeing the rights of citizens in the country.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has an unenviable human rights record reminiscent of the dark days of the military in Nigeria. According to an Amnesty International report released last year, a lot of people are said to be held in secret detention facilities, without an order of court, while few others are been kept in flagrant disobedience of court orders.

Besides the incarceration of Nigerians, businesses and properties of citizens have been seized or locked down by the Buhari administration without recourse to the law or disregard to valid court order. A case that readily comes to mind is the refusal of the Nigeria Police to unseal the head office of the Peace Corps of Nigeria (PCN) as ordered by the Abuja division of the Federal High Court last year.

Notable Nigerians that are being held by the federal government in total disregard to the rule of law or disobedience to orders of court, include former National security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.), leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore, just to mention a few.

Sowore, Convener of #RevolutionNow Protest, was picked up in a Lagos hotel by men of the security services on Saturday, August 3 for what the DSS described as ‘crossing the line’.

Before his arrest, the activist and publisher of SaharaReporters, an online news portal had threatened to call out Nigerians to join him and his group to push out the Buhari administration over alleged corruption and ineptitude.

Sowore was also of the view that the election that brought Buhari to power for a second term was not credible.

Though he had slated Monday, August 5, 2019 for the mass protest nationwide, but before he could do anything he was whisked away by security agencies. Within few days of his arrest, the state security service secured an order of court to keep him for 40 days pending the conclusion of investigation bordering on treasonable felony and terrorism, as he was accused of planning to remove President Buhari through unconstitutional means.

The court in granting the order to the SSS to keep Sowore for the said number of days, held that 45 days would be sufficient for the agency to conclude its investigation.

While Justice Taiwo Taiwo, who granted the order, was magnanimous to assure that the detention order, could be extended at request, he warned that Sowore must not be kept beyond the first 45 days approved without the order of the court.

The order made on August 8, 2019 expired on September 21, 2019 and without a fresh request for its extension, Justice Taiwo on September 24, accordingly ordered the immediate release of Sowore from detention. He said Sowore should be handed to his lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), after Sowore must have deposited his international passport with the registrar of the court.

However, days after the condition as stipulated by the court was met, the government has refused to obey the valid order of the court. Worse is the fact that the agency is denying being aware of the order of court, as well as, denying that it has been served with such order.

The government’s action on September 26 prompted the issuance of Form 48, a process seeking the committal to prison of the Director General of the SSS for refusing to obey the valid order of court.

It is not yet clear what the court will do to the SSS DG if Sowore was not released as ordered by the court.

Over the years, no punishment including imprisonment has been meted out to government officials who have disobeyed valid court orders.

For example, in spite of numerous court orders for the release of Sambo Dasuki, the former NSA has remained in custody of the federal government.

Since 2015, when he was arraigned before different high courts, he has been granted bail, first by Justice Adeniyi Ademola and Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed, both of the Federal High Court, Abuja, as well as Justice Peter Affen and Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court.

The ECOWAS Court had also in a judgment in 2017 ordered the Federal Government to release him immediately from the unlawful custody and imposed a fine of N15 million on the government but up till now all the bail orders have not been obeyed.

The development forced the former NSA to boycott his further trial by the Federal Government until the government obeys the orders of the various courts regarding his bail.

In a letter to the court registrar dated November 12, 2018 and titled, ‘Unabated Persecution of Mohammed Sambo (rtd) by the Federal Government of Nigeria’, Dasuki asked the court to: “absolve him of any obligation of appearing at his trial, since the office of the State Security Service, an agent of government detaining him has also refused to respect the various court order for his bail.”

The former NSA stated that he was granted bail on different occasions by various courts in all the charges he is standing trial but the Federal Government had refused to obey the orders.

According to Dasuki, he was re-arrested at Kuje Prison in Abuja on December 29, 2015, shortly after he perfected his bail in respect of the three sets of charges filed against him before different judges and since then he remains in custody of the SSS from where he attends his trial.

Closely related to the case of the former NSA is that of the Shiite leader, Ibrahim El-Zazzaky. Like Dasuki, the Shiite leader along with his wife have been in custody of the Federal Government since 2015 when they were arrested over the clash between the sect and a convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Major General Tukur Yusuf Buraitai in Zaria, Kaduna State.

While hundreds of followers of the IMN lost their lives during the clash in 2015, double of that figure if not more have died within the last one year following escalation of crisis occasioned by the refusal of the government to obey an order of court which had ordered the release of El-Zakzaky and his wife.

It should be noted that the continued protests by the Shiites daily on the streets of Abuja resulted in several clashes between the sect and security agents wherein several persons lost their lives including a serving youth corp member and a police commissioner. The clashes eventually led to the ban of the Shiites few months ago.

Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court had on December 2, 2016 in a judgment on fundamental human right ordered the unconditional release of El Zakzaky who has been in custody since December 14, 2015. The judge apart from ordering the federal government to release El-Zakzaky within 45 days of the judgment also awarded N25 million damages each in favour of El-Zakzaky and his wife.

The judge also ordered the government to build a decent accommodation that the applicant and his family would settle into at the expiration of the 45 days to their release. The accommodation, the court held, should be anywhere in Kaduna or within the North where the IMN has their abode.

Outside the judgment, Justice Kolawole warned that the continued detention of Elzakzaky if not properly managed, would further harm the battered image of the country in the international community.

He also warned that the government is running a greater risk in keeping the Islamic leader in custody against his will, adding that if anything should happen to him in detention the effect would be catastrophic, just like the result of the death of late leader of the Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf.

The court in its judgment held that the government acted in gross violation of the constitution by detaining the Shiite leader and his wife without approval of court, adding that the excuse that they are being held under protective custody is untenable.

Similarly, critical stakeholders in the judiciary as well as the polity came very hard on the government when it later came out to say both Dasuki and El-zakzaky were being held in the interest of the country.

President Buhari had last year, while declaring open the 58 Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said that, “Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest,” adding that, “where national security and public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place, in favour of the greater good of society.”

Reacting to Buhari’s submission then, some eminent lawyers among whom are Olisa Agbakoba, A.C. Okocha both former President of the NBA and Chief Mike Ozekhome all Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) did not spare the president in their individual responses.

They argued that there cannot be national interest or security in a place where there is no rule of law, as the rule of law is the mother of national interest and security.

Agbakoba, who said President Buhari’s statement, “Fundamentally ends democracy”, noted that the President can declare a state of emergency or even postpone elections in the country if and when he feels the security of the country has been threatened.

“It is one of the most dangerous statements that has been made since the return of democracy in 1999,” he said and called on the media, NBA and other civil society organizations to challenge the president.

On his part, Okocha, insisted that the executive cannot hide under the disguise of fighting corruption or national security and subsume the rule of law.

“All battles against corruption, national security must be fought within the ambit of the rule of law,” he said stressing that no individual can be so powerful to stand up against the state and the security agencies.

Referring to detained former National Security Adviser Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) and Shiite leader, Ibrahim Elzakzaki, the former NBA President submitted that the executive cannot continue to disobey a court order for their release on bail. He said if the government must keep them for any reason; it must be by the order of court of competent jurisdiction.

Similarly, senior lawyer and rights activist, Mike Ozekhome, insisted that any attempt to subject rule of law to national interest or security is an invitation to anarchy.

“Once you subvert the rule of law, then the rule of thumb takes place,” he said.

Ozekhome said the President’s position was wrong as it was aimed at justifying his administration’s blatant refusal to obey orders of court particularly on Dasuki and Elzakzaki.

While he noted that Dasuki is being tried in relation to alleged diversion of government funds to the tune of N2.1billion, Ozekhome, however, submitted that one of the heights of corruption is the disregard and disobedience of the rule of law and the constitution by those who swore on oath to uphold it.

“It is the height of corruption for the President who has taken the oath of office to willfully violate his oath of office and the provision of the constitution when the constitution provides that any law that is at variance with the constitution shall be null and void,” he said.

In his reaction to the government’s refusal to obey valid court orders, Justice John Tsoho had last year discharged the National Commandant of the Peace Corps, Dickson Akoh, of all 13-count charges bordering on extortion and money laundering filed against him by the government

The Nigeria Police had, in March 2017, slammed Akoh with a 90-count charge but later amended it to 13-count charge, after it was observed that most of the charges were repetitive.

But in reaction to the suit, counsel to the defendant, John Ochogwu had argued that the Police authorities lacked moral justification to prosecute Akoh in the criminal matter, until the Police Boss obeys subsisting court orders emanating from the suit.

Justice Tsoho in his ruling berated the Police boss for disobeying “orders of court of competent jurisdiction,” adding that, “The act of the complainant/respondent is a flagrant abuse of the fundamental rights of the defendant/applicant.”

The judge asked Akoh to go home, until when the Police and the IGP are ready to obey court orders and unseal Peace Corps office.

“Justice is not for one party, justice is a multi-edge sword. This court is mindful of Ochogwu’s written address, where he stated that, according to section 36(6b) of the 1999 constitution, that a defendant is entitled to adequate time and facilities to defend himself.

“If the complainant wishes to continue with the matter, he should be ready to obey court orders. No person or institution should be seen to be above the law.

“This case will continue when concrete evidences are shown that the complainant has obeyed subsisting court judgements.

Also, Justice John Tsoho in a separate suit, delivered judgement on 15th January, 2018, that the National Headquarters of Peace Corps be unsealed.

Earlier, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, then of the Federal High Court, had in November 2017, also ordered the Police to unseal the facilities of Peace Corps of Nigeria, while awarding N12.5 million damages against the Police.

However, none of the judgements was obeyed and no valid stay of execution was obtained by the Police.

Another example of blatant disregard for the judiciary was exhibited by the Nigerian Navy. The Centre Against Impunity, a civil society group, brought to knowledge of the larger public, the illegal arrest and unlawful detention of 22 Nigerians by the Nigerian Navy.

Comrade Shina Loremikan, head of the organisation said 22 people were sacked, arrested and detained illegally by the navy.

He said after the dismissal of one Captain Labinjo and Lt Commander Ibe Lambert and the 20 others, the armed forces was ordered by a federal high court and the Supreme Court to reinstate them, but the order has not been obeyed in the instance.

However, the naval authorities have refused to obey the court orders.

“The Nigerian Navy rather than comply with the said order of release surreptitiously removed all the detainees to an unknown location,” Loremikan said.

The names of the detainees are Captain D.O Labinjo, Lt. Commander Sherifat Ibe Lambert, Segun Yusuf, Benjamin Gold, Petter Pulle, Pius Paul, Onoja Reuben, Adeleke Adewale, Labinjo Kehinde, Ogunmoyero Oluwaseun, Emmanuel Oputa, and Innocent Sunday, Lejoro Friday.

Others are Hamza Yakubu, Master Melvin Jack, Chief Mate Adebayo Mayowa, Chief Mate Francis Onyema, Engr Godwill Umoh, Bosin Miebaka Iyala, Edu Fidelis, Richard David, and Daniel Harrison.

QUICK FACTS:

*The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad recently tasked governments at all levels and their agencies as the beginning of another legal year at the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad recently tasked government and their agencies at all levels to observe the rule of law and obey judgment delivered by courts.

President Muhammadu Buhari has an unenviable human rights record reminiscent of the dark days of the military in Nigeria

*According to an Amnesty International report released last year, a lot of people are said to be held in secret detention facilities, without an order of court, while few others are been kept in flagrant disobedience of court orders

*Businesses and properties of citizens have been seized or locked down by the Buhari administration without recourse to the law or disregard to valid court order

*A case that readily comes to mind is the refusal of the Nigeria Police to unseal the head office of the Peace Corps of Nigeria (PCN) as ordered by the Abuja division of the Federal High Court last year

*Another example of blatant disregard for the judiciary was exhibited by the Nigerian Navy, with the illegal arrest and unlawful detention of 22 Nigerians by the Navy

*Notable Nigerians that are being held by the federal government in total disregard to the rule of law or disobedience to orders of court, include former National security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.), leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore, just to mention a few

Within few days of his arrest, the state security service secured an order of court to keep Sowore for 40 days pending the conclusion of investigation bordering on treasonable felony and terrorism, as he was accused of planning to remove President Buhari through unconstitutional means

*The order made on August 8, 2019 expired on September 21, 2019 and without a fresh request for its extension, Justice Taiwo on September 24, accordingly ordered the immediate release of Sowore from detention. He said Sowore should be handed to his lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), after Sowore must have deposited his international passport with the registrar of the court.

*However, days after the condition as stipulated by the court was met, the government has refused to obey the valid order of the court. Worse is the fact that the agency is denying being aware of the order of court, as well as, denying that it has been served with such order

*The government’s action on September 26 prompted the issuance of Form 48, a process seeking the committal to prison of the Director General of the SSS for refusing to obey the valid order of court

*In spite of numerous court orders for the release of Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.), the former NSA has remained in custody of the federal government

*Shiite leader, Ibrahim El-Zazzaky along with his wife have been in custody of the Federal Government since 2015 when they were arrested over the clash between the sect and a convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Major General Tukur Yusuf Buraitai in Zaria, Kaduna State.

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