The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) has said the release of a former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki and Sahara Reporters publisher Omoyele Sowore from detention was informed by the magnanimity and compassion of the federal government.
“The only reasons for the release of Omoyele Sowore and Sambo Dasuki revolved around our commitment to the rule of law, obedience to court orders and compassionate grounds,” Malami said in an interview with the BBC Hausa and the Hausa Service of the Voice of America. “It is important to understand the fact that as far as the law is concerned and in relation to the Nigerian justice system, one has multiple options after a court has ruled on a matter.”
Amidst calls and protest for their release and others in continued detention by Nigerians and the international community, Malami on Tuesday ordered their release on Tuesday, December 24. Prior to his release, Dasuki was detained for over four years in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS) despite four court orders that granted him bail. Dasuki was tried for alleged misappropriation of N19.4 billion arms funds while in government.
Sowore, on the other hand, was arrested on Saturday, August 3 for calling for protests tagged #RevolutionNow which the Nigerian government said was a plot to overthrow President Muhammadu Buhari. Two courts had granted Sowore bail months before his release on Christmas Eve. While Dasuki had been in custody since 2015 when he was arrested by the DSS at the Kuje Correctional Centre, after he was released on bail, Sowore has been in custody of the DSS since August this year, though he was released on December 5, following an ultimatum of a Federal High Court that he and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, be released within 24 hours having met conditions attached to their bail. Sowore was however rearrested the following day December 6 by the DSS.
But Malami said the decision to keep Sowore and Dasuki in detention despite the court orders for their bail was based on government’s suspicion that the duo were a flight risk. “There was no room for thinking of witch-hunting an individual, scoring acrimonies or personal vendetta against anyone,” Malami noted.
Three days before their release, six United States lawmakers- Bob Menendez, Chuck Schumer, Chris Coons, Cory Booker, Bill Pascrell and Josh Gottheimer wrote Malami a letter of concern over Nigeria’s disregard for court orders. The US lawmakers warned that Nigeria risks tarnishing its international reputation over Sowore’s indefinite detention and that “it will best serve Nigeria’s interests to protect and uphold the very legal systems that provide for stability and open dialogue.”
Malami denied receiving the letter from the lawmakers and dismissed claims that the government bowed to pressure from the United States lawmakers who had threatened to review America’s relationship with Nigeria. “(Even) if we received any communication from them that will never be the basis on the part of the Federal Government to obey or disobey court orders emanating from Nigeria,” Malami said. He insisted that the FG has the right to keep detaining the suspects while challenging the order admitting them to bail up to the apex court.
Malami also explained why the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky, and his wife, who had been in DSS custody since 2016 was not released alongside Dasuki and Sowore, despite several court orders demanding that he be released. Justice Gabriel Kolawole, a former judge at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court had in a judgment in a fundamental rights suit ordered the release of El-Zakyzaky and his wife after declaring that their detention by the DSS was illegal. However, explaining why El-Zakyzaky and wife are still in custody of the DSS against the judgment of the court, Malami disclosed that the case against the Islamic leader was a matter for the state government.
The AGF’s position was contained in a statement made available to journalists by his Media aide, Dr Umar Gwandu. “On Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the Minister said that the Federal Government does not interfere with the cases that are being prosecuted by a State Government” Gwandu said in a statement. El-Zakyzaky and wife are currently being prosecuted by the Kaduna State Government on charges bordering on murder and disturbance of public peace.
They were recently released to go on medical attention in India but were immediately taken into custody on their return to the country. In the statement, the AGF in explaining why the federal government decided to release Dasuki and Sowore, denied been under any kind of pressure particularly from the international community.
He explained that the decision was in line with the bail granted the defendants by the court, adding that the administration has high regard for the rule of law at all times. “The only reasons for the release of Omoyele Sowore and Sambo Dasuki revolved around our commitment to the rule of law, obedience to court orders and compassionate grounds. It is important to understand the fact that as far as the law is concerned and in relation to the Nigerian justice system, one has multiple options after a court has ruled on a matter”, the statement explained.
While the statement further noted that Dasuki and Sowore were released out of compassion and mercy as well as obedience to the rule of law, it emphasized that their release had no extraneous consideration as the federal government had the right to keep detaining the suspects while challenging the order admitting them to bail up to the apex court.
Malami said each of the cases of Dasuki and Sowore were treated on their individual merit and not in relation to one another or any other factors while describing as blatant falsehood the claims that Dasuki was detained on sentiments. He recalled that all individuals that were suspected of committing offences at various levels and at various times were charged to court with some granted bail based on the merits of their cases.
“The time has now come for Sambo Dasuki and Omoyele Sowore to also enjoy bail based on the merit of their individual cases. They were charged based on their individual cases, taken to court, granted bail and now have been released. All the individuals involved were treated fairly and justly; they were taken to court, enjoyed the court’s favourable discretion and they were all released,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dasuki has said he has no feud with President Muhammadu Buhari. Dasuki, who was the country’s NSA until May 2015, was detained for more than four years by the Nigerian government over allegations of illegal possession of arms and misappropriation of $68 million arms fund. He denied any wrongdoing. The government refused him to release despite multiple court orders to that effect, fueling rumors that Buhari was using security agencies to settle old scores with Dasuki.
But the former NSA insisted that he had no feud whatsoever with the president. “I have no feud with anybody,” Dasuki told the Hausa Service of Voice of America on Wednesday. “I am more than that. I can’t engage in a feud with anyone.” Dasuki said he stopped appearing in court as a protest against the government’s disregard for the court orders about his bail. “I stopped going to the court because I was granted bail but the government refused to release me and I said whenever the bail order is complied with I will appear before the court and defend myself,” he said.
“The two defendants are enjoined to observe the terms of their bail and refrain from engaging in any act that is inimical to public peace and national security as well as their ongoing trial which will run its course in accordance with the laws of the land,” Malami said.