Shortly after assuming office, President Muhammadu Buhari reiterated his commitment to ensure compliance to the rule of law by all agencies of government under his administration.
Four months after he was sworn in as president, in reaction to cases of human right abuses by security operatives, Mr. Buhari noted that his administration would not tolerate the situation where any arm of government undermines the rule of law.
“Let me reiterate this administration’s commitment to due process, merit and total observance of the rule of law as central pillars of a prosperous and democratic society,” the president said.
Also during an address delivered at the Commonwealth meeting in May, 2016, Mr. Buhari again restated his government’s commitment to comply with the rule of law and respect for human rights.
“I am committed to applying the rule of law and to respecting human rights,” the President had said.
Similarly, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in an interview with journalists in April restated the administration’s commitment to the rule of law including obedience of court orders.
“I very strongly believe that we must obey the law. It is our duty as government to respect the orders of the court.”
Despite the verbal statements of the president and his deputy, however, three cases highlight how the Buhari administration has serially violated court orders, going against the rule of law it has repeatedly touted.
As part of the Buhari administration’s commitment to tacking corruption, several officials of the previous administration, accused of mismanaging public funds, were charged to court.
Prominent among such persons was the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki.
Mr. Dasuki is facing multiple charges for alleged diversion of $2.1 billion and illegal possession of fire arms.
Although Mr. Dasuki has been granted bail on at least six different occasions by various courts, the Nigerian government has persistently refused to comply with the court orders.
In the wake of his trial, a Federal High Court in Abuja, presided over by Justice Adeniyi Ademola in 2015 ordered the release of Mr. Dasuki’s passport and granted him permission to travel abroad for three weeks on medical grounds.
Despite the order made on November 3, the SSS refused to release Mr. Dasuki.
Again, the former NSA and four others were allowed bail on December 18, 2015 with a similar condition to provide a bond of N250 million by Justice Hussein-Baba Yusuf.
Although that condition was fulfilled, the court order has yet to be obeyed by the Nigerian government.
Similarly, the former NSA; a former Minister of State for Finance, Bashir Yuguda; former Sokoto governor, Attahiru Bafarawa; and three others were granted bail on December 21, 2015 by the Federal Capital Territory High Court in the sum of N250 million each and two sureties in like sum.
They were charged to court on a 22-count charge for alleged diversion of funds, misappropriation and breach of trust to the tune of N19.4 billion by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Despite fulfilling the conditions for his bail set by Justice Peter Affen, the SSS refused to release Mr. Dasuki.
Following the refusal of the administration to obey Nigerian courts, Mr. Dasuki approached a Court of the Economic Community of West Africa, ECOWAS, for international mediation on the matter.
The ECOWAS court on October 4, 2016 granted the former NSA bail and ordered the Nigerian government to pay N15 million to the defendant as damages for his ‘illegal and arbitrary detention’.
Reacting to the order by the ECOWAS court, however, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said government was not under compulsion to respect that court order.
A few months later, on January 17 this year, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court reaffirmed previous court orders granting Mr. Dasuki bail, and stressed that the fact of the said orders were undisputable.
Also on April 6, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court affirmed, for the umpteenth time, its decision for the release of Mr. Dasuki.
Despite all these court orders, Mr. Dasuki is still held at the Kuje Maximum Prisons, while his trials continue.
Perhaps the most absurd of violation of human rights by the Buhari administration is its treatment of Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, a leader of a Shiite group, IMN.
Mr. El-Zakzaky has been in detention without any trial for over 17 months.
On December 2, 2016 the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court ordered his release with the judge berating the Nigerian government for violating his rights.
Mr. El-Zakzaky was arrested by the military on December 14, 2015 after a clash between his IMN and officers of the Nigerian Army.
At least 347 members of the group were killed during the clash. Nobody is being prosecuted for the killings.
Delivering the court order for the release of Mr. El-Zakzaky and his wife, the presiding judge, Gabriel Kolawole, also asked that a fine of N50 million be paid to the detainees, while an accommodation be provided for them and their family.
Despite warnings by the court that the Nigerian government would face further sanctions if it refused to abide by the order for the release of Mr. El-Zakzaky and his wife, that decision has not been complied with long after the 45 days ultimatum given by the court of law.
Mr. Kolawole had in that ruling described the Shiite’s relationship with the Nigerian government as “delicate and slippery”, stressing that the Nigerian Government must not demonise the IMN.
Not interested in obeying the December 2, 2016 court order, the federal government filed an appeal against the ruling, 10 days after the expiration of the deadline for Mr. El-Zakzaky’s release.
Several rallies have been held by members of the Shiite group demanding the release of their leader and his wife. Also, the government is yet to accuse him of any crime or file any charges against him.
In July 2016, the Supreme Court gave an order reaffirming the nullification of the 2006 controversial transfer of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria, ALSCON, to a Russian firm, the United Company RUSAL.
The violation of the ruling of Nigeria’s apex court on the matter did not however, start with the Buhari administration. The 2016 ruling was the third by the Supreme Court since the questionable sale of the aluminium plant to the Russians by the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE in 2004.
In June 2004, the Nigerian-American consortium, Bancorp Financial Investment Group Divino Corporation BFIG, led by Reuben Jaja, was declared winner of the bid for the plant organised by the National Council for Privatization, NCP.
But, the BPE cancelled the outcome of the bid and disqualified the consortium in controversial circumstances, accusing it of failure to meet the deadline for the payment of 10 per cent of the bid price it offered in line with stipulated guidelines.
BFIG took the matter to court seeking the enforcement of its right in line with the terms of agreement reached in the pre-bid technical conference by all bid parties.
For over eight years, the matter dragged in various courts in Nigeria, till the Supreme Court, on July 6, 2012, in a unanimous verdict, annulled the handing over of ALSCON to UC RUSAL.
The court, which declared as illegal, null and void, BPE’s decision on the basis of the agreement purportedly reached at their negotiations in 2006, reinstated BFIG as the authentic winner of the bid.
The BPE, defiantly dismissed the ruling as an error, encouraging Dayson Holdings Limited, the Nigerian affiliate of UC RUSAL in Nigeria, to file an appeal.
In its application, Dayson Holding sought a review of the July 6, 2012 judgement annulling the 2006 handing over of ALSCON to UC RUSAL by BPE. The privatisation agency also declared its support for the continued ownership of the multi-billion-dollar plant.
Consequently, BFIG returned to the court with another application in 2014 seeking the interpretation and enforcement of the subsisting order against UC RUSAL.
Despite BPE, which joined UC RUSAL, to oppose the application, the Supreme Court in its September 2014 ruling reaffirmed its previous verdict and directed BPE to “fully enforce and give effect to the meaning and intendment of the judgment of the Supreme Court of July 6, 2012.”
Again, the Russians ignored the directive and proceeded to file an application in November 2015 to demand the Supreme Court to, not only review its July 6, 2012 judgment, but also set it aside altogether, and confirm UC RUSAL as the owner of ALSCON.
But, on July 11, 2016, the Supreme Court again, in a unanimous ruling by a five-member panel led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, dismissed the application as incompetent and without merit.
In flagrant disregard to the Supreme Court ruling, the Minister of Mines & Steel Development, Kayode Fayemi, in April 2017 undertook an inspection visit to ALSCON.
During the visit, Mr. Fayemi was received and shown around the plant by Dimitriy Zaviyalov, the managing director of UC RUSAL, the same firm the Supreme Court repeatedly sacked.
The minister not only promised to work with the Russian firm to reactivate ALSCON, but also assured Mr. Zaviyalov, that government would “encourage the Supreme Court to expedite action on the ruling, to free the complex of any encumbrances.”
Contrary to Mr. Fayemi’s claim, however, the Supreme Court already ruled.
CJN, LAWYERS SPEAK
In a recent address, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, described the failure of government or any party to adhere to court judgments as outright impunity.
“Anyway, disobedience of court order is an act of impunity,” said Mr. Onnoghen who further said the problems created by disobedience of court orders were a matter for the legislature and the executive to address.
Reacting to the trend, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Rotimi Jacobs, said failure of any party to respect court judgements is an abuse of democracy and an invitation to anarchy.
“My reactions to it is that the court, government, parties, Nigerians must comply with court orders. That is a constitutional duty imposed on every one as stipulated in section 287 of the Constitution.
“The section says that judgements of every courts of law must be respected. Judgements by high courts; court of appeal and supreme court; must be respected by all persons and authorities. There are also obligations that are imposed on everyone.
“There is a duty on everyone to obey court orders. And on no account should anyone fail to obey court orders. I think the journalists should also investigate why the judgements have not been obeyed. Secondly, have they appealed those judgements? I don’t think any democratic government that is worth its salt should disobey court orders because it is the basis. If you disobey court judgements, you ridicule the judiciary, the constitution, you ridicule everybody and it is an invitation to anarchy,” he said.
Similarly, a former chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, berated the Buhari administration for selection court orders it wishes to obey.
“It’s as if government is picking and choosing what court judgements to respect and the ones not to respect. There are many problems with that; one of which is that people will begin to feel that courts no longer matter. In that case the only thing that matters is that if you can overcome somebody then you win, but if you can’t, then you will lose. That becomes a circumstance of rule of war, not rule of law,” said Mr. Odinkalu.
He added that the situation will only create the avenue for violence and prevent great economic activities in the country.
“Investors will not invest in the country, because investors want an environment where rules exist and are respected”.
Mr. Odinkalu further said the law courts will also be negatively influenced if the trend continues.
“That is to say if you are on the side that is favoured by the president’s body language then people will respect you because you can muster political force, but if you are not and you are accused, then you are endangered. When things get to that point, then it is dangerous.”
RIGHT OF APPEAL
Reacting to his administration’s serial violation of court orders, Mr. Osinbajo told PREMIUM TIMES and other journalists at an interview that although his government recognises and respects the rule of law, it also acknowledges its (government’s) right of appeal.
“It is our duty as government to respect the orders of the court. But we also reserve the right to appeal”, he said.
However, although the federal government has appealed the judgement mandating Mr. El-Zakzaky’s release, after the deadline, no appeal has been filed against the many rulings mandating the release of Mr. Dasuki.
Also, the Nigerian government has not appealed against the ALSCON ruling and may be unable to do so as the ruling was repeatedly delivered by the apex court.