Human rights abuses: DSS putting rule of law on trial?

In recent times, government and its agencies have been accused of abusing the rights of Nigerians, especially those standing trial, notwithstanding constitutional provision of being innocent until proven found guilty. Against the background of the Department of the State Services (DSS) serial disrespect for court orders TOPE SUNDAY asks: is DSS putting the rule of law on trial?

On assumption of office in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to uphold the rule of law but almost four and half years into his government, the his promise seems to be empty and his government and its security agencies are now reputed for total disregard for the judicial pronouncements.

As at the last count, about three prominent Nigerians who court of competent jurisdictions had been granted them bails are still being detained in total disobedience to the court order, which suggests that the rule of law is literally suspended or jettisoned in the country.

From 2015 till day, National Security Adviser (NSA) to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, known as Shiite sect Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and the Publisher of Saharareporters, Omoyele Sowore, are victims of being behind the bars despite various court orders. 

The Dasuki saga

Former National Security Adviser (NSA) to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), who was accused of embezzling $2.1 billion meant for the procurement of arms and illegal possession of arms, is still in detention despite several court orders.

First, Justice Adeniji Ademola of the Federal High Court Abuja had ordered for his release to travel abroad for medical check-up. In spite of this order, the Department of State Services (DSS) under whose custody Dasuki is being kept failed to obey the order.

On December 18, 2015, Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf also of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had also granted Dasuki and others a bail condition and a bond of N250m.  Though they met the laid down conditions, government again refused to obey the order.

On December 21, 2015, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, also granted bail to Dasuki, alongside the former Minister of State for Finance, Alhaji Bashir Yuguda, former Sokoto state governor, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa and three others. Specifically, they were granted bail by Justice Peter Affen over a suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), bothering on 22-count charges of alleged diversion of funds, misappropriation and breach of trust to the tune of 19.4 billion naira. Despite the order, the DSS refused to comply with the bail condition for the former NSA.

On October 4, 2016, following the refusal of the government to obey several court orders, the former NSA appealed to the ECOWAS community court which also granted him bail.

The court also ordered the government to pay reparation in the sum of N15 million to him over arbitrary arrest, but the government still failed to obey the order.

In this case, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Alhaji Abubakar Malami, said the government was not under any compulsion to respect the order of ECOWAS court.

Twice in 2018, precisely on January 17 and April 6, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court again affirmed its earlier judgments for the release of the ex-NSA but all these fell on deaf ears as he is still in detention four years after. Significantly, the government had never appealed any of these judgments but Dazuki is still being held behind the bar.

El-Zakzaky too

The leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, was arrested in December 2015 following the clash between his members and the Nigerian Army but was charged to court by the Kaduna state government in April 2018, barely two and half years after he was arrested.

He was charged alongside his wife, Zeenah, and two others with various offences including murder of a soldier, Corporal Yakuku Dankaduna, who was said to be in the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, during the December 2015 bloody clash between Shi’ites and the soldiers in the convoy in Zaria, Kaduna state.

El-Zakzaky, his wife, Yakub Katsina and Sanusi Koki, were named in the charges marked KDH/KAD/60C/2018 and dated April 18, 2018.

For close to three years, the duo have been in what the government described as ‘protective custody’ against their will.

In 2016, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of Federal High Court had ordered the release of El-zakzaky and his wife from detention and also berated the military for violating his fundamental human rights.

In spite of this judgment and several solidarity rallies agitating for his release by his supporters, government refused to comply with the court order and also failed to appeal against the judgment.

The government’s action led to the tensed protests by the members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) to press home for the release of their leader. Justice Gabriel had ordered the unconditional release of El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Malama Zeatudden, from detention within 45 days.

The court was also clear enough when it ordered that the police shall within 24 hours after their release; take them to a safe place under the security of an escort.

The Federal Government was also directed to provide a new accommodation for El-Zakzaky and his family in Zaria, Kaduna State or in any other northern town of his choice and awarded the sect leader and his wife N25m each as damages.

However, on January 16, 2017, when the court deadline for El-Zakzaky and his wife’s release expired, Amnesty International, a human rights advocacy organisation, noted that failure to release the detainees would amount to contempt for the rule of law.

Up till now, the leader of the sect is still being held by the government and its agencies.

Sowore ordeal

The activist cum journalist, Omoyele Sowore, was arrested on August 3 this year after his call for revolution in Nigeria and was detained for 125 days.

Sowore’s eventual release came hours after Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court in Abuja gave the secret police 24 hours to release him.

The court had granted bail to Sowore on two different occasions but the DSS refused to let him go.

The agency had earlier obtained an ex-parte order allowing it hold Sowore for 45 days while it investigated the charges preferred against him.

Justice Taiwo Taiwo, who granted the ex-parte order, later ordered the DSS to release the pro-democracy activist. He ordered that Sowore be released to his lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN).

However, rather than release him, the DSS hurriedly arraigned him before Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the same

Not comfortable with Sowore’s prolonged detention, his lawyer filed a 19-ground application asking the court to set aside the ex-parte order.

The case was assigned to Justice Nkweonye Maha of the same court.  Maha, however, declined to hear Sowore’s motion on August 28, on the ground that she did not have jurisdiction to review the decision of Justice Taiwo, who granted the ex-parte order.

She declined all applications made by Falana and sent the case back to the administrative judge.

Falana, again filed another motion on September 13, asking the court to grant his client bail on self-recognition or upon any condition the court may reasonably deem appropriate.

On October 21, the trial judge set aside the previous conditions of N50m security deposits by one of the sureties. She also reduced the N50 million bail of the second defendant to N20 million.

Justice Ojukwu, however, refused to vary all other bail conditions.

When the matter came up for trial on November 6, Ojukwu issued a release warrant ordering the release of the activists from DSS detention. Again, the secret police refused to let them go.

The DSS in one of its press statements, asked Sowore’s sureties to come forward for verification. In another statement, the service said that Sowore may be knocked down by a moving vehicle if released by the agency.

At the resumption of hearing on, December 5, Justice Ojukwu lambasted the DSS for flouting orders court orders.

The visibly angry judge awarded N100,000 as damages against DSS for disobeying her order.

She also ordered the release of the activists from DSS custody within 24 hours but security agents suspected to be officers of the DSS invaded the court premises after he was granted bail and whisked him away.

Nigerians react

Reacting to the government’s penchant for disobeying the court order, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) asked the law enforcement officials to respect the law.

Its Executive Secretary, Mr Tony Ojukwu, said the commission had watched with dismay the conduct of law enforcement officers in “facie curie” on Friday December 6 at the Federal High court Abuja.

“Our democracy is founded on the principle of Separation of Powers and all citizens including law enforcement officials must understand the implications of that.

“They are enjoined to respect the law and the constitution in the enforcement of the law,” he said.

The Executive Secretary, NHRC, urged all the relevant agencies of government to arrest and try all law enforcement officers involved in the desecration of the hallowed chambers of the federal high court December 6 for contempt in the face of the court.

Attitude troubling

On his part, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Chris Agbiti, said it is troubling that the court orders are disobeyed. “It is troubling that judgement and order of courts are not being obeyed. The sanctity of court orders and judgment lies in their obedience. The moment the judgement and order of courts are not obeyed, then, it rubbishes the sanctity of the judiciary.

“So, it’s actually worrisome that the orders of courts are not being obeyed by authorities and person they are targeted at. For me, the way out is a systemic thing and not an isolated one. It is the rots that pervade the polity in which the judiciary is having its share. There is the need to revamp the system because if the body is sick, you should not expect the part not to be sick as well.

Also, Barrister Danshitta Shittu Saheed, said what the DSS did while trying to re-arrest Sowore while still standing trial before Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu amounted to the desecration of the temple of justice.

Saheed who is also an Abuja-based lawyer said: “Trying to arrest Omoyele Sowore barely 24 hours after his release in the open court is a condemnable one and a disrespect to the Rule of Law and the court.

“Community reading of section 43 (1) and (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 makes it clear that even warrant of arrest cannot be executed in the open court.”

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