Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to put an end to continued “indiscriminate illegal arrests and detention” of some Nigerian citizens as well as foreigners by the State Security Service.
In a letter to Mr. Buhari on Tuesday, Mr. Falana said the development has left unfulfilled, the president’s pledge to run a responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government.
“Owing to the failure of the federal government to call the leadership of the security agency to order, the misleading impression has been created that Your Excellency’s administration does not have respect for the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people,” said Mr. Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria.
“The incessant disobedience of court orders by the DSS has questioned the commitment of the administration to operate under the Rule of Law. At the recently concluded annual conference of Nigerian Judges which held in Abuja, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen was compelled to condemn official disregard for court rulings and orders.”
Since Mr. Buhari’s assumption of office in 2015, at least four notable persons have remained in SSS detention despite repeated court rulings granting them bail.
Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel and former National Security Adviser, NSA was arrested and charged with money laundering at the Federal High Court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC in 2015.
He was also charged with illegal possession of firearms at the Federal Capital Territory High Court by the SSS.
Although both courts had admitted the defendant to bail and he had met the conditions, the SSS continues to keep Mr. Dasuki in custody. The order of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States directing the federal government of Nigeria to release the defendant from further custody has also been ignored by the SSS.
Ibraheem Elzakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN and his wife, Zainab, were also arrested in December 2015 after the military invasion and destruction of their home in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The invasion followed a deadly clash between Mr. Elzakzaky’s Shi’ite group and Nigerian soldiers, which left over 300 members of the group, including the leader’s three children, dead.
In December last year, an Abuja judicial division of the Federal High Court declared the arrest and detention of both Mr. Elzakzaky and his wife illegal and unconstitutional and ordered their release from custody.
The court awarded N50 million damages to both detainees and directed the federal government to provide them with a temporary accommodation since their residence was burnt down by soldiers. However, the federal government ignored the order while the SSS continues to hold the couple in custody.
The authorities have said they are keeping the duo for their safety.
In October this year, Nitin Verma and Umesh Asudani, two Kano-based Indian businessmen, were arrested by the SSS over allegations of money laundering. An order by Justice Usman Mallam Na’abba of the Kano State High Court for the production of both detainees in court has also been ignored by the SSS.
Mr. Falana said the continued detention of the suspects by the SSS had caused embarrassment to Mr. Buhari’s government as the operatives now use the agency to settle personal scores with political opponents.
The lawyer also preempted a possible defence by the SSS to his request.
“The DSS may claim that some of the political detainees mentioned in this letter are our clients,” Mr. Falana said.
“While that is correct, we have always kicked against the illegal arrest and detention of law abiding citizens even during the military era. Hence, we did not hesitate to condemn your Excellency’s detention by the Ibrahim Babangida junta even though your military regime had detained some of us.
“In the light of the foregoing, we urge your Excellency to use your good offices to direct the DSS to either release all the citizens and foreigners being held in illegal custody or arraign them in the appropriate courts in line with the avowed commitment of your administration to respect the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people under the Rule of Law.
“Furthermore, the DSS should be directed to desist from further arresting and detaining innocent people and criminal suspects without court orders contrary to the provisions of section 293 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.”
The reaction of the presidency to the letter could not be immediately sought as at the time of filing the report. Also, the SSS also has no spokesperson to interface with the media currently.