Buhari under fire over comment justifying disobedience of court orders

Nigerian activists and lawyers have berated President Muhammadu Buhari for saying the government will continue to detain two prominent detainees – former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki and the leader of the separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) – despite several court orders that they should be released from detention.

During Wednesday’s presidential media chat, Mr Buhari, while responding to a question by PREMIUM TIMES’ Ibanga Isine on the State Security Service’s has continued disregard for court orders on the release of Mr. Dasuki and Mr. Kanu, said the magnitude of their alleged crimes was too grievous that government cannot afford to release them on bail.

Mr Dasuki is facing corruption charges over alleged diversion of $2.1 billion meant for the procurement of arms while Mr. Kanu was charged for treasonable felony.

“If you see the atrocities these people committed against this country, we can’t allow them to jump bail. What of the over two million people displaced, most of them orphans whose fathers have been killed? We cannot allow that,” he said justifying while the SSS re-arrested Mr. Dasuki despite meeting bail conditions fixed by a Federal High Court.

On why Mr. Kanu was still being held, Mr Buhari said: “And the one you are calling Kanu, do you know he has two passports – one Nigerian, one British – and he came into this country without any passport? Do you know he came into this country with sophisticated equipment and was broadcasting for Radio Biafra?”

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Most of those interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES believe Mr Buhari overstepped his power by openly defying the judiciary on national television.

Describing the comment as a “national embarrassment”, human rights lawyer, Ebun Adegboruwa, said Mr. Buhari, a former head of a military junta, which ruled the country in the 1980s with an iron fist, proved by his open defiance of the judiciary that he remained a dictator at heart.

“We appreciate the President because he has spoken from his heart and gave us the correct impression of who he is,” he said.

“Under Section 287 of the 1999 constitution, all persons exercising judicial, executive or legislative power must have respect for the order of the court. It is not proper for the president to choose which order to respect or to obey. Given that the president assumed office through the rule of law, it is totally uncharitable to be humiliating the judiciary openly in a presidential chat,” he added.

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He said the President’s comment was capable of undermining the judiciary and causing anarchy.

“The reason why this is very difficult is that once we resort to self-rule, once we resort to a situation where the leadership is breathing down lawlessness, then anarchy will come because if a president will not obey a court order, a business man will not obey it, policemen will not obey it.

“It would be promoting anarchy. I am sure in some quarters the SSS people are rejoicing. Overzealous security officials and rejoicing, and perhaps using the President’s comment as reason to put people in custody and breed impunity.”

While asking the President to apologise to Nigeria for making such a comment, Mr. Adegboruwa advised judges not to be intimidated by Mr. Buhari’s comment and to carry on with their job without fear.

Similarly, Lanre Suraju, Chairman of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption, (CSNAC), said the President’s comment was “unfortunate”, adding that his utterance was capable of undermining security agencies in their jobs.

“The utterance of the president yesterday (Wednesday) only shows that there is a government agenda specifically and deliberately skewed to perpetually keep the guy in detention. And that is most unfortunate. That is also not only pitching the judiciary against the executive, it is also showing that there would be a measure of arbitrariness on the part of the executive.

“The case of Nnamdi Kanu is also unfortunate. It is an extra-judicial action. Basically, if he is being charged for treason, there is also certain conditions that needs to be met before bail can be granted. If the lawyers of the government have failed to establish the magnitude of his offence, and the court in its own wisdom has granted that bail, the SSS has no basis and no reason under the rule of law to perpetually keep him in detention,” he said.

Lagos-based lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said the President’s argument about the severity of the detainees’ alleged crimes is not a justification to disobey court order.

According to him Mr Buhari will be violating Section 287 of the constitution if he refuses to obey court orders.

“I have my gaze fixed on section 287 of the constitution which says that decisions of our courts are bidding on authorities and persons including the presidents,” Mr. Ogunye said.

He, however, added that there was no law stopping security agencies from rearresting a person released on bail if there are facts suggesting that he was involved in another crime.

“Do you know how many offences Dasuki has committed? Do you know whether another charge is being prepared against him now? So would you begrudge the state the right to charge him in as many offences as he has committed in his life time?” he asked.

“There is what is call prosecutorial discretion. It is in the interest of the public that they be charged for every corruption related offence.”

He also berated judges for being soft on politicians facing charges while applying the full weight of the law on other suspects.

“I’ve said fighting corruption is not a theatre. It is not a circus. I’m familiar with the disposition of our court when it comes to granting bails to few cases of people who are alleged to have been involved in bank fraud and for instance have stolen N20 million or whatever, they are remanded in prison custody. The judges would say they are not going to exercise their discretion.

“But in the case of politicians, they would saunter to the court, assured that they are going to be released and then the court will grant them bail. Do you know that Dasuki was first granted bail on self-recognition?”

Similarly, a former Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Monday Ubani, said although the president must ensure that the independence of the judiciary should not be undermined, he has a right to express his opinion on certain national issues like every Nigerian.

According to him, what the president was trying to say by his comment was that the judiciary should desist from giving frivolous orders.

“The president has a right to say certain things because he lives in Nigeria and he knows that there some criminal trial since 2007 and up till now we have not gone beyond the preliminary stages. What I’m saying is that our system has an issue. We have not been able to handle our cases in manner that engenders confidence. A lot of cases are muddled up here where as if those cases are taken abroad they are handled within a timeline. So anyone has a right to be angry with what is going on in this country. There is problem with our administration of criminal justice in Nigeria.

“But having said that, the President cannot in anyway interfere with the judicial process. He must allow judicial process to run through,” he said.

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