Apparently responding to public outrage against the invasion, by the Department of State Services (DSS), of the court of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu at Federal High Court, Lagos last Friday, the federal government has instituted an enquiry into the incident. The Office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), has ordered the State Security Service to hands off the prosecution of Omoyele Sowore in the charge of treasonable felony against him at the Federal High Court, Abuja. The move according to the AGF is to demonstrate government’s commitment to respect of the rule of law and fundamental rights of citizens.
Courtroom No.7, presided over by Justice Ojukwu trying Sowore, was invaded by DSS operatives in their bid to rearrest Sowore, less than 12 hours after his release from detention. Although the security agency has continued to distance itself from the incident, accusing Sowore and his supporters of staging the act, however, lead lawyer to Sowore, Femi Falana (SAN), and others maintained that evidence abound as to claims that the DSS actually carried out the act.
The action of the DSS was widely condemned both within and outside the country as it was seen as a desecration of the temple of justice and flagrant disobedience of court orders and the rule of law. The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BoSAN) has called for a Judicial Commission of Enquiry set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to reveal the identities of those who invaded the court. Chief Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN), who delivered the body’s speech, remarked that the incident with similar ones in the last three years points to the level of disregard to the rule of law and the judiciary; warning that unless the truth is unraveled, Nigeria would lose respect and become an object of ridicule among the comity of nations. BoSAN gave the warning in a speech made at a special valedictory court session to mark the retirement of Justice Kumai Aka’ahs from the Supreme Court.
The Nigerian Senate also ordered its committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to investigate Friday’s invasion of a federal high court and re-arrest Omoyele Sowore by operatives of the State Security Service (SSS). Opeyemi Bamidele representing Ekiti Central and also serves as the chairman of the committee raised the matter during plenary on Thursday. Bamidele said the invasion and the dramatic re-arrest of Sowore have generated widespread controversies.
Few Nigerians will disagree that the human rights record of the Buhari administration is abysmal. The country has gone back to full military dictatorship. All institutions of democracy have been hijacked and intimidated. The secret police of the regime, the DSS, has invaded the National Assembly in the past. It has invaded the houses of judicial officers and humiliated them. It has now invaded the hallowed chambers of the court, while a judicial officer was sitting. People are being kept in custody without trial and courts orders are treated with disdain. The culture of fear is being imposed upon the people, with the threat of social media regulation and capital punishment for hate speech. What obtains now is a full-blown civilian dictatorship that has no regard for the sanctity of our Constitution.
Buhari came to power based on his perceived and pretentious fight for human rights, freedom of the press and respect for the rule of law. Unfortunately, it now seems to be beating the records of previous administrations (including military regimes) in the suppression of the fundamental rights of Nigerians and disobedience of orders of courts. Judges are no longer safe in conducting proceedings in court without fear of invasion of their courts or residences by the security agencies. These are danger signs for this country.
The fundamental rights to life, dignity of the human person, personal liberty, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as guaranteed under Chapter Four of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) have greatly eroded. We have all witnessed how aggrieved sections of the society have been subjected to state-sponsored murder and incarceration. Members of IPOB and IMN have been declared terrorists and killed in the hundreds by security forces without any accountability.
The culture of impunity and reckless appropriation of power is now fully entrenched. Nigerians are still being illegally arrested for civil matters. Extra-judicial killings, extortion and torture by the police have not been addressed in any significant way. Court orders are being disobeyed with impunity. The cases of Sambo Dasuki; Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and wife; and Sowore are just a few of many rights violations. Government agencies like the military, police; DSS no longer observe the rule of law in carrying out their constitutional functions.
The recent re-arrest of Sowore in Gestapo style and the desecration of court by the DSS should be condemned by all men of conscience and appropriate sanctions meted out to the perpetrators. The president should urgently address the nation’s descent to anarchy to avoid civil disobedience.
Timeline of Buhari’s disobedience of Court orders since 2015
Omoyele Sowore: A former presidential candidate and publisher of SaharaReporters, an online news platform, Sowore was on August 3, 2019 arrested by the DSS in Lagos and transferred to Abuja. The DSS obtained an ex parte order to keep Sowore for 45 days. Barely 24 hours to the expiration of that order, the Attorney General of the Federation’s office filed charges of treasonable felony, cybercrime offences and money laundering against him before the Federal High Court in Abuja. Sowore’s lawyer, Femi Falana, requested his bail, pending arraignment. Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, granted the prayer. Sowore has since filed a case of contempt against DSS boss Yusuf Bichi for failing to comply with the court order granting him bail.
Ibraheem El-Zakzaky: On December 2, 2016, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the release of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and his wife, Zeenat, from DSS custody. As at the time of that ruling, El-Zakzaky and his wife had been in the agency’s custody since December 2015, following an altercation between the Nigerian Army and Shiites in Zaria, Kaduna State. Besides the order to release them, the court also ordered that the DSS should pay the couple N50 million as compensation. This was not obeyed. On August 5, Justice Darius Khobo of Kaduna State High Court granted El-Zakzaky leave to seek medical attention in New Delhi, India. The couple made the journey but returned within a week without achieving the purpose. El-Zakzaky and his wife are currently in DSS custody.
Sambo Dasuki: Former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki is still in custody, despite several courts ordering his release. On Monday, July 2, 2018, the Federal High Court in Abuja granted him bail after the DSS had detained him for two and a half years. Delivering judgment in the suit filed by the ex-NSA in March 2019, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu ruled that his detention since December 29, 2015 amounted to a violation of his right to liberty. The judge also said that should the DSS have any further reason to interrogate him, the security agency could only invite and interview him between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on working days. The Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice on October 4, 2016 also ordered his release, a judgment the DSS has not complied with.
Nnamdi Kanu: On October 18, 2015, it was reported that the DSS had arrested the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, in Lagos State. On October 19, 2015, it was reported that Kanu had been granted bail after a secret arraignment at the Magistrate’s Court II, Wuse. The bail however seemed “controversial” and there were claims the DSS announced the bail only “to calm the angry people of Biafra”. The Magistrate’s Court I on November 18, 2015 ordered the DSS to produce Kanu on November 23, 2015. But it was said that the DSS obtained a “secret” court order to detain him.
Court order on debt limit: The Federal High Court in Abuja directed the Federal Government to set the overall limit for the “amounts of consolidated debts”. Justice Kolawole gave the judgment on February 20, 2018 in a suit filed by the Centre for Social Justice. Justice Kolawole said it was mandatory for the government to set the limits as provided by section 42(1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007. He specifically ordered the Federal Government to take the action, which should be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives within 90 days of the judgment. The judgment has not been obeyed.
Navy Captain Dada Labinjo: Navy Captain Dada Labinjo is allegedly being detained by the Defence Intelligence Agency in Abuja since September 12, 2018. His lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, said though he obtained an order of the Federal High Court for his release, Labinjo has not been set free. Falana, who said this in an August 15, 2019 letter to the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, said Labinjo was just one of 67 persons, including foreigners, being illegally detained without trial by the Nigerian Navy.
Recovered loot:Other high-profile judgments the Buhari government is refusing to obey include at least four rulings obtained by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). The first is the judgment by Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari ordering the government to disclose the stolen assets it recovered. The second, by Justice Mohammed Idris, ordered the government to publish details on the spending of stolen funds recovered by successive governments since 1999. The third, by Justice Chuka Austine Obiozor, ordered the immediate release of details of payments worth billions of naira to all defaulting and allegedly corrupt electricity contractors and companies since 1999. The fourth, by Justice Mohammed Idris ordered Buhari to prosecute senior lawmakers suspected of stealing N481 billion from the 2016 budget. The court also ordered Buhari to “direct the publication of the report of investigations by security and anti-corruption bodies into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget.”