• Monday, July 15, 2024
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Dasuki and Sowore’s long walk to freedom

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On December 24, 2019, families, friends, associates, activists and some international bodies were celebrating the release of Omoyele Sowore, convener of #RevolutionNow, as well as, Sambo Dasuki, a retired Army Colonel, from the custody of the Department of State Security (DSS).

The DSS operatives arrested Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare on Saturday, August 3 after calling for a nationwide protest tagged #RevolutionNow.

The protest was intended to protest against perceived misrule by the Buhari’s led administration. But after initially ignoring several Court orders for their released, the duo were released on December 5 on the order of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and rearrested barely 24 hours later without any Court order to that effect.

He was charged with “conspiracy to commit treason and insulting President Muhammadu Buhari.

Dasuki was arrested for alleged diversion of $2.1billion arms funds while serving as the National Security Adviser during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Looking beyond the celebration, the overdue release came after over four months and four years in the custody by both men. While Sowore was arrested on August 3, 2019, ahead of a planned nationwide #RevolutionNow protest, Dasuki was arrested on December 29, 2015.

But the intrigue is that the detention lasted so long because of the refusal of the Nigerian government to obey court orders that bailed and ruled for release of the detained, signaling autocratic tendencies in a democratic setting; a development, which many described as impunity of the part of the government and denial of the detainees’ right to justice and redress.

Trailing Dasuki’s release, the former National Security Adviser was granted bail severally with certain conditions, but the Federal Government refused to release him in disobedience to the court orders.

On July 14, 2019, the Court of Appeal in Abuja declared the continued detention of the former NSA since December 29, 2015, by the DSS as illegal, unlawful, and unconstitutional.

The appellate court held that the DSS and its Director-General acted outside their constitutional powers on the long period of the detention of a Nigerian citizen and imposed a fine of N5 million on them to be paid to Dasuki as compensation for breach of his fundamental right.

In view of his continued detention, in November, the Court of Appeal varied the terms attached to the bail earlier granted the former NSA, expunging the requirement that Dasuki should produce a Level 16 civil servant who must own a property worth N100million within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as surety. Yet, the DSS refused to release him until December 24th.

On the other hand, Sowore’s release has been very dramatic for the over four months he was in detention.  Three weeks after his arrest by the DSS on August 3, 2019, he was granted bail by the Federal High Court Abuja on September 24, 2019. But as expected, the DSS refused to release him claiming ignorance of the court order, a development, which led to protests at the UN Plaza in New York led by Sowore’s wife that sparked a global decry.

The drama continued on December 5, 2019 when the court again granted him bail on the ground that he had fulfilled his bail condition, but the DSS did the unimaginable when its operatives evaded the court to re-arrest him.

However, some people were commending the presidency for the release of the duo, saying that it was magnanimous of Mr. President. Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, said the decision by the Nigerian government to release the affected persons on bail was informed by the need to observe the rules of the law.

But most human rights observers think that the release was informed by the sustained outcry, especially outside the country and recent pressure on the Nigerian government by some media outfits that tagged the present administration autocratic.

Paul Aliche, a human right activist, explained that the media pulled off the release magic. “Presidency acted shortly after Punch published a hard-hitting editorial, which criticised the human rights record of the President, and refereeing to him as Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.). If you read that editorial and a few ones from about two more newspapers, you will commend the media for a good job in a long while”, Aliche said.

Aliche noted that the Presidency discovered that it was going to be a media war, and the evidence are glaring, hence the media handlers and the inner caucus advised that the Sowore should be released to avert an impending wider criticism.

Monday Ogala, a lawyer, also commended the media for a job well-done, and standing truly as the ‘fourth estate of the realm’.

“We have a government that was once an opposition, now it does not want opposition, we have a government that won election through social media and now wants restrict internet, these are already signs of autocracy”, Ogala said.

For him, the release of Sowore and Dasuki was possible by the commendable media that reminded the presidency how it is drifting to autocracy.

“It takes guts for the media to prefix the president’s name with his army rank as a military dictator in the 80s and referred to his administration as a regime pending the time that the President and the regime would purge themselves of their contempt for the rule of law. That combined with other pressures to force the presidency to release Sowore. The media should do more and also be strong for tough time ahead”, he stressed.

Part of the pressure, though subtle on the presidency, was a call by Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and president-general, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, for compliance to court orders.

The Sultan, who was speaking at the 2019 fourth-quarter meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council in Abuja on December 12, said, “If you are served a court order and you deliberately refuse to obey it because you are a governor, President or any influential person, then you are setting a dangerous precedent.”

Some observers think that the fear that many other influential Nigerians may join the religious leader in the charge will discredit the government warranted the handlers in the presidency to bow to pressure in releasing the detained.

“The likes of Sultan of Sokoto hardly speak, but when they do many will listen. So, any government cannot ignore comments from such eminent personality”, Jade Jimoh, a religious leader, said.

As well, on December 20, 2019 six United States of America’s senators wrote the Attorney General of the Federation over detention of Sowore despite court orders.

Again, four days before Sowore’s release on bail, Josh Gottheimer, a United States of America Congressman, sponsored his nomination as Prisoner of Conscience at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the United States House of Representatives.

The international pressure, especially from the US also played a part, as the Nigerian government is beginning to be seen as being autocratic in a democratic entity.

In the last few weeks, there have been increased agitations and protest for the release of all political prisoners and against government moves to silent the media, with the introduction of the hate speech and social media bill.

About a fortnight ago, the Punch newspaper, wrote a damming editorial, titled ‘Buhari’s lawlessness: Our stand’, in which the paper bluntly criticised the administration’s frequent violation of court orders and lack of respect for the rule of law.

The paper said it would henceforth refer to the president by his last military title, when he ruled Nigeria as a military dictator, the newspaper had since kept faith to the policy.

Several other national newspapers and tabloids including have on several occasions written and criticised the administration’s poor human right record and flagrant disregard for court orders.

The international community also added its pressure on the government. Last week, six United States of American lawmakers also reportedly wrote Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), requesting the release of Sowore and adherence to rule of law by the government.

Yinka Odumakin, publicity secretary of Yoruba pan-Yoruba socio cultural group, said the sustained local and international pressure touched the administration to change its mind, while urging Nigerians not to relent in fighting for what is right.

“Personally, I think their released was because of the pressure within and outside of the country no matter what anybody say, it was because of the sustained pressure that make them bulge.

“They don’t want to run and imperial state and know this. My advice to Nigerians is that they should not give up asking for what is right and due to them.

“If masquerade is chasing you should not stop, keep running,” Odumakin said.

But the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), Malami said the decision to release them was in compliance with the bail granted to Dasuki and Sowore by the different courts and on compassion ground.

According to him, “The only reasons for the release of Omoyele Sowore and Sambo Dasuki revolved around our commitment to the rule of law, obedience to court orders and compassionate grounds.

“It is important to understand the fact that as far as the law is concerned and in relation to the Nigerian justice system, one has multiple options after a court has ruled on a matter.”

“Even if we received any communication from them that will never be the basis on the part of the Federal Government to obey or disobey court orders emanating from Nigeria.

Malami said each of the cases of Dasuki and Sowore were treated on their individual merit and not in relation to one another or any other factors while describing as blatant falsehood the claims that Dasuki was detained for scoring certain primordial sentiments.

“The critical question that you may ask should be whether there is a strong suspicion of committing an offence or not. If there is a strong suspicion of committing an offence which deserved, as a matter of necessity, to be investigated through legal steps then there was no room for thinking of witch-hunting an individual, scoring acrimonies or personal vendetta against anyone.

“The time has now come for Sambo Dasuki and Omoyele Sowore to also enjoy bail based on the merit of their individual cases. They were charged based on their individual cases, taken to court, granted bail and now have been released. All the individuals involved were treated fairly and justly; they were taken to court, enjoyed the court’s favourable discretion and they were all released,” he said.

But the national vice chairman (Southwest) of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Eddy Olafeso in an interview with BDSUNDAY said the government did what it ought to do for a long time, noting that there was nothing to celebrate about their release from detention.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, the rule of law is supreme and government action was vicious and undemocratic. It was injury to democracy a rape on the judiciary, there is nothing to celebrate about their release from detention.

“We should all be ashamed of ourselves for celebrating this. This government is shameless,” Olafeso said.

Though, Dasuki and Sowore have been released, the case is still on as Garba Shehu, senior special assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, noted that the Federal Government may appeal against the court judgments that granted bail to the retired colonel and Sahara Reporters publisher.

Moreover, Ibrahim el-Zakzakky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, and Zeenah, his wife, among others, are still in detention in security facilities across the country. They also need to be released or face trial as the case may be, the observers unanimously said.

Obinna Emelike and Iniobong Iwok