The police are still holding former Director-General of the State Security Service Lawal Daura without charges 37 days after he was first taken into custody following his dismissal by then-Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.
Human rights advocates who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on the plight of the former top spy chief decried his prolonged detention and criticised the police for yet again flouting the Nigerian Constitution.
Mr Daura was fired hours after SSS operatives laid a siege to the Nigerian parliament, a widely condemned act he reportedly ordered without prior clearance from the Nigerian presidency or other higher offices. The SSS is an agency under the Office of the National Security Adviser, which is controlled by the president
Mr Osinbajo ordered Mr Daura’s detention to pave way for an easy probe of his possible transgressions. The police initially moved him to a property for interrogation, but PREMIUM TIMES later learnt that the former spy chief was tentatively released two days later, amidst heavy surveillance on his movement.
His freedom was, however, short-lived, as the police after a day returned him into custody, where has has remained ever since without trial.
Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris disclosed in a preliminary report about the National Assembly siege to Mr Osinbajo that Mr Daura was being kept at a facility in Garki, Abuja. But it remained unclear where he remained at the same location, or he had been moved after the report was made public.
A top security source who has met Mr Daura since his ordeal began, however, says he is being held at a security guest house in Abuja but is allowed to entertain guests including family members.
Police spokesperson Jimoh Moshood did not return PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments about why Mr Daura has not been charged to court or whether there is a court order that allowed police to keep him without arraignment.
“There is no doubt that any detention of a Nigerian beyond 48 hours is wrong, especially if the person has not been taken him to court,” rights lawyer Mark Jacobs told PREMIUM TIMES, Thursday morning. “There is no basis on which he should be kept in detention beyond 48 hours.”
The Nigerian constitution forbids keeping citizens in custody without trial. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act allows a judge to order remand for a maximum fourteen days, but it must be renewed by prosecuting authorities if a suspect must be kept beyond that window.
But the Nigerian law enforcement agencies have continued to flout these provisions, a culture that has worsened perception of Nigeria’s respect for rule of law, said another lawyer Nana Nwachukwu.
“The Nigerian state cannot go rogue,” Ms Nwachukwu told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone, Thursday morning. “Everything they have done so far is illegal.”
The lawyer said President Muhammadu Buhari must be held responsible for the gross violations of rights by security agencies, all of whom he has absolute control over.
She further expressed suspicion about the prolonged detention of Mr Daura, saying it points to the possibility of a serious ‘conspiracy’ by the Buhari administration.
“There is a deeper conspiracy as to why he has been kept out of sight and quiet,” Ms Nwachukwu said. “He was not even allowed to say anything to defend himself and we are not sure he has a lawyer because we do not know who is representing him in this matter.”
“We also cannot say he could be facing court martial since he is a civilian and not in the military,” she added. “Clearly, his full fundamental rights, which he is entitled to, are being violated.”
Mr Daura, 65, was appointed to lead the SSS by Mr Buhari in July 2015. His appointment was widely criticised because he had been retired from service only a few years earlier, concerns the president ignored at the time.
His tenure was marred by regular acts of impunity, including prolonged detention of citizens without trial, frequent clampdowns on public institutions and disregard for accountability and the rule of law.
His exit was widely celebrated by rights activists and pro-democracy campaigners who accused him of leaving a dreaded legacy, one which even his successor subtly distanced himself and promised to correct.
Hunter Becomes Hunted
Jones Abiri, a Nigerian journalist in Bayelsa State, was detained for two years by Mr Daura without trial. He regained freedom mid-August, about a week after Mr Daura was disgraced out of office.
The first repudiation of Mr Buhari’s recent claim that national security trumps the rule of law came on Thursday morning when a federal court in Abuja awarded Mr Abiri N10 million in damages against the Nigerian government.
The court ruled that the SSS had no powers to keep the journalist in custody after taking his statement, saying detention of any citizen on national security bases must first be sanctioned by a court and not by executive fiat.
The SSS claimed since Mr Abiri was detained in July 2016 that its action was to protect national security, although the journalist was later charged with threats to blow up an oil facility unless they paid a ransom.
“We know Lawal Daura was brutal and he implemented enforced disappearances,” Ms Nwachukwu said. “But holding him without trial would only worsen the case of enforced disappearances.”
Mr Jacobs take on Mr Daura’s reign at the SSS also mirrored Ms Nwachukwu’s.
“You see, we are in a regime that says the rule of law should give way to national security and he belonged to that regime,” Mr Jacobs said, referring to Mr Buhari’s recent controversial comment.
“Now, the hunter has become the hunted. As wrong as it is, one is tempted to say let him have a taste of his own coffee.
“Personally, if I were in the position, I would have asked that he should be detained with the former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki. Let them be exchanges notes,” Mr Jacobs said.
Mr Daura held Mr Dasuki and Shi’ite leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky in detention since 2015. Although he arraigned them in court on criminal charges, several court orders admitting them bail were disregarded by the SSS.
Attorney-General Abubakar Malami recently justified Mr Daura’s action, saying Mr Dasuki will remain perpetually in custody notwithstanding the number of times federal courts order his release.
“But in the end, impunity must not be allowed to continue in a democratic society,” the lawyer said. “Lawal Daura should either be charged or be released immediately.”