PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari loves the rule of law. He misses no opportunity to preach to audiences the importance of rule of law to an orderly society.
HIS most recent listeners were 25 Presidents and Heads of Governments at a joint meeting of West and Central African countries in Lome, Togo. The meeting dealt with security, herders-farmers clashes, terrorism, migration and the proliferation of small arms in the regions.
BUHARI waxed strong about the rule of law and obedience to court orders as imperatives for the sustenance of democratic governance. The audience, as courtesy, diplomacy, and etiquette demanded, applauded.
SOME were however shocked to hear Buhari utter those words, considering one of the most celebrated legal tangles in Nigeria that has run contrary to his offering in Lome.
Sambo Dasuki, 64, a retired Nigerian Army Colonel was National Security Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan
On 1 December 2015, State Security Service operatives arrested Dasuki for allegedly stealing $2b, awarding phantom contracts to buy 12 helicopters, four fighter jets, and ammunition for Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram in the North East.
TWO years into Dasuki’s detention, in December 2017, President Buhari’s government had ignored four different High Court bails that judges in Nigeria and ECOWAS Court granted Dasuki. He is still in detention.
PRESIDENTS of ECOWAS countries, whose court issued one of the bails that the Nigerian President disobeyed, were among those who listened to the message on the importance of obedience of court orders. They would keep their feelings to themselves.
THE court orders were mostly for Dasuki to travel abroad for medical attention. Others were granted on the legal point that the offence he allegedly committed was bailable. The Nigerian government was unimpressed.
ONLY weeks to the gathering in Lome, another court order for a bail for Dasuki had been given. Nigeria, under Buhari showed its determination to disobey the order.
That order was the sixth ruling, granting Dasuki bail.
UNLIKE in other instances, the government was not quite about its decision to disobey the court order. It alleged that Dasuki’s offence (he is still a suspect, until convicted, according to Nigeria laws, was of such gravity that the bail order would not be obeyed.
JUSTICE Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Abuja Federal High Court ruled: “The respondents (DG, DSS, DSS, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation) have not successfully justified the long and continued detention of the defendant.
Based on the circumstances of this case and the established facts, the honourable court is of the humble but firm opinion and as affirmed by superior authorities that the applicant (Dasuki) has made out a case to warrant the intervention of this court.
“The period of detention has become unreasonable in the circumstance.
“What this court is saying, in essence, is that the respondents should focus on prosecuting the applicant and not on the pyrrhic victory of holding him in an unlawful detention.
“When it comes to the rule of law and the Constitution, if the applicant is found culpable for the alleged offences, he should be visited with the full wrath of the law if he so deserves.
“Respondents also averred that the applicant was being held because of his failure to honour an invitation by an investigative agency.
“It is clear that the applicant has been in detention under the custody of the 1st and 2nd defendants (DSS and its DG) since 29 December 2015.
“Since the applicant has been made to honour the said invitation, why is he still in custody of the 1st and 2nd respondents for about two and a half years?
“This query is also in view of the fact that the respondents have averred that they are not standing on the way of the applicant to actualise the bail granted him.
“The continued detention of the applicant by the respondents despite the bail granted to him by the courts in other matter is an aberration of the rule of law.” The ECOWAS Court of Justice had unconditionally released Dasuki on 4 October 2016. The government ignored the order.
“The continued detention of the applicant, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) by the operatives of the 1st respondent (DSS) under the instructions of the 2nd respondent (the DG) since 29 December 2015, till date without granting him an administrative bail is a violation of his fundamental right to liberty under section 35 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.”
Justice Ojukwu granted Dasuki bail under these conditions:
.N200m with two sureties in like sum.
.Civil servants not less than Grade Level 16 in the employment of the Federal Government or non-government employees.
.If the sureties are Federal Government employees, they would deposit the certified copies of their letters of appointment and last promotion letters with the court
.If private citizens not employees of the Federal Government, they must own properties in the Abuja metropolis and must submit the original title documents to the registry of the court.
.Sureties are to submit to the court, their evidence of tax payments for 2015, 2016, 2017.
AFTER he met the bail conditions, the government again refused to release him. Government has spent a lot of time justifying his continued detention.
MANY would remember a furious President Buhari, in December 2015, telling Nigerians, in his only televised presidential chat that the allegations against Dasuki were so weighty that if he was granted bail, he would escape. Government subsequently greeted court orders on Dasuki with silence.
ABUBAKAR Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, went public with government’s decision not to release Dasuki after last July’s bail. The public’s right, which he claimed releasing Dasuki would infringe, was more important than Dasuki’s right, no matter the court decision on it.
THE legal profession was aghast over Malami’s position since he is the “Chief Law Officer of the Federation”. There is at least one petition asking that he should be de-robed.
A NEW meaning for the rule of law is not only Dasuki being detained, after six court orders for his release, but government defying court orders and boasting about its decision.
MORE confounding, however, is the President’s call to his colleagues that sustenance of democracy would depend on obedience to court orders, when he proudly parades a bag of ignored court orders.
FROM the President’s Lome speech, he knows the import of obeying court orders for democracy’s well-being. Does the Lome speech exclude democracy in Nigeria? Or is the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria unimportant?