By - Tobi Idowu
There were understandably palpably misgivings about the ability of the court to deliver a favourable and apparently the most sensible judgement in the case of Mr Omoyele Sowere against the Nigeria’s Department of State Security, which had taken him in custody over a curious charge of treason. It is needless recounting the circumstances that led to the case as they are in the public domain; but what was the general consensus about the matter was the ludicrousness of the action of the DSS in the first instance to arrest Sowere while claiming he was planning to overthrow the government with his verbal charge for revolution in Nigeria! Yet, the Federal High Court in Abuja, especially the judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, deserves some commendation for righting the wrongs of its fellow court in Lagos, which had earlier played to the Nigerian government gallery in remanding the news publisher in prison for 45 days.
“The liberty of all Nigerians high or low, poor or rich is guaranteed by the constitution. It’s for this end that I’m of the view that the defendant ought to be released forthwith,” the Justice had affirmed after being notified that the purported investigation of which Sowere was locked in the DSS gulag had been concluded.
Since the court had done its own part, it was expected that the enforcement of the rulings (of the law) would be seamless, without any fuss. But this is Nigeria! The DSS, apparently waiting for some order from above, has refused to comply with the directives of the court over the matter. Recall that the DSS had arrested Sowere in the first instance before proceeding to the court for some constitutional righting of its action! Now, what is stopping the security agency from complying with the rulings of the court?
There was a foreshadowing of the unwillingness on the part of the DSS – apparently being urged by its principal, the Nigerian government – to release the activist when it got to the news domain that the minister of justice and attorney general of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on behalf of the Federal government had filed seven counts charges, including treasonable felony, money laundering, insulting the president! against Sowere just before the expiration of the initial 45 days of the DSS detention. In fact, it was on the basis of the new charges that the DSS lawyer, G. O Agbadua, had prayed that the court order the continued detention of the activist, but the court would not agree to such wisdom. So why has DSS refused to release Sowore?
It is important to note that the present government is notorious abuser of court orders. It will perhaps rank highest in the annals of disobedience of court orders, even if the military era is admitted into reckoning. Recall that in 2016, the Nigerian government, led by the much vaunted and celebrated converted democrat, Muhammadu Buhari, had flagrantly refused to obey the court order that Ibrahim El Zakzaky and his wife, Malama Zeenat Ibrahim, be freed. The FG’s disobedience in this instance would become famous for its repeatedness: each time the court ordered Zakzaky and his wife’s release, the Federal government would suddenly become inattentive to such directives. The high point of this case was when the president made that infamous remark about the belief of his government in the repression of citizens’ rights if his government feels such rights clash with the state’ right. Incredibly, Buhari made that remark in front of the creamy members of the Nigeria’s third arm of government, the judiciary!
Another instance of the Buhari’s government penchant for disobeying court rulings, and so disregarding the judiciary, has been the case of a former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, whom despite local and West African court orders granting him bail, the government has refused to release him. Dasuki had been picked up by operatives of the State Security Service in December 2015. He was accused of illegal possession of firearms and diversion of $2.1 billion from the arms deal contract. But the Court of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, as far back as 2016, declared the arrest and detention of f Dasuki, unlawful and arbitrary. This is in addition to various local court orders which have at various times effected Sambo’s release. Nigeria’s attorney general, Abubakar Malami premised government’s refusal to obey the courts in this instance on a most curious wisdom which purports that Dasuki’s personal right to regain freedom can be violated for the larger “public good.” Incredible!
Buhari’s presidency would even go on to cap its contempt of the judiciary after it unilaterally removed the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, in the process deploying some incredible sentiments propped by its number one tool, corruption. This case has been predicted will have some future ramifications, in the relationship between the arms of government especially that of the executive and the judiciary. What is definitely clear in the matter is that the Buhari-led executive muscled the judiciary, forced the hands of Nigerian Judicial Commission into some pitiable compliance to the contempt of the judicial procedure in the removal of its head, the CJN.
It is in the light of the foregoing instances that one can situate DSS (read Buhari’s government) recalcitrance in the case of Sowere. Buhari’s government seems unable to process the truth that, there are other arms of government equal to the executive. The executive arm seems to see the other arms, legislative and judiciary, as departments under its own guidance and domination! That is why the DSS could say it was consulting over the directives of the court for it to release Sowere. Consulting with whom? With its principal, the Presidency, who will now decide if it can take directives from an institution of the judiciary which it had shown in the past, over the case of Onnoghen, that it was head and shoulder above!
That is also why, apparently embarrassed by the non-communication of its bosses in the presidency and the public opprobrium it was getting over contempt of the court, the DSS, through its spokesman, could only hazard a most laughable lie for its refusal to effect the release of Sowere. Peter, Afunnaya, DSS spokesman, must have felt uneasy telling the Punch that “we have not received the court order. And his (Sowore) counsel is a very senior member of the bar and he knows the process to follow; this process has not been followed.”
But no sooner had he given such no-truth than Sowere’s lawyer, Femi Falana, busted him. “First of all, their lawyer was in court. And he heard the order when it was made. As a legal practitioner, he had an obligation to inform his client. Secondly, since Sowore was to be released to me, I have been going to the SSS office personally since Tuesday. “We were not directed to serve them. But we did that for the avoidance of doubt. We submitted his passports, got the affidavit of compliance and I personally served them. I also sent the copies to the SSS DG through his phone line, because I have his personal phone line.. We were there for hours. The head of the legal department pleaded with me to return today (Thursday). When I returned, they locked the SSS gates against me,” Falana had said in response.
It is no doubt that there is a method to this needless hide and seek game being deployed by the DSS in this case. The sitting government is uncomfortable with critics and as much as possible tries to shut them up through its agencies; and whenever the court attempts to check this flagrant excess of power deployment, the Presidency contemptuously refuses the court! It is a pity and a travesty of a democratic government Nigeria purports to practise.
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