A country without a healthy value system and an enabling national culture will most likely stagnant or regress. One of the fundamental values nation states hold dear includes speedy and fair trial, and not holding criminals or terrorism suspects indefinitely.
Indefinite imprisonment is simply against ethics and morality; and it violates some of the cardinal principles of domestic and international law. Suspects, no matter how contemptible and reprehensible they may be, must be accorded a speedy and fair trial in properly constituted courts of law. In Britain, for instance, “the indefinite detention of foreign terrorism suspects is incompatible with the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).”
And even in the United States of America, where some terror suspects are being held (in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba), many Americans have complained against such actions by their government. In the estimation of many American liberals and progressives, such incarceration is totally against what America stands for. To make up for this abnormality, the US government readily grants detainees access to lawyers, and are treated in humane fashion. It’s been said that Guantanamo is about the best holding centers in the world. Even so, it has become a blemish on America’s fabric. You do not violate principles you hold dear simply because you want to avenge wrongs that were done, or because you’ve prejudge the accused to be guilty. But in Nigeria, it is customary to hold suspects indefinitely. Two cases come to mind: Al-Mustapha Jokolo, and Henry Okah.
Retired Major Hamza Al-Mustapha was accused, amongst other crimes, of “planning or helping to plan the murder of Mr. Alex Ibru, publisher of The Guardian newspaper.” More than a decade after these allegations were made, he and his co-defenders are still being held. What is happening to him and others are frankly, a travesty, a truncation of domestic and international laws. Whether one like the accused or not, is not the point. As Lillian Hellman once asked, “Since when do we have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?” And frankly, since when do we have to like, love, respect and or adore someone before we fight for their fundamental human right? The law is the law and no government or judicial system should personalize the rule of law.
What manner of law allows the government to incarcerate a man indefinitely; and what manner of people turns blind eye to the illegal dealings of its government? The continuing detention of Hamza Al-Mustapha, and others, should be denounced by all peace and democracy loving Nigerians. Uunfortunately, the Nigerian Bar Association and members of the Civil Society in Nigeria have not deemed it fit to protest this brazen illegality. If government can arbitrarily detain fellow Nigerians, then, none of us must feel safe and secured. At a time when we should be reaping the benefits of democratic rule -- our government is “kidnapping” fellow Nigerians. If after a decade they cannot secure a conviction, how many more years do they need? Two more decades?
As responsible and civic-minded Nigerians, therefore, it is up to us to faithfully protest and vigorously condemn his continuing detention. It is our duty to help protect Hamza Al-Mustapha’s civil liberties. By doing so, we help to strengthen our position and our freedom before this and future governments. We safeguard our own constitutional rights if we help guarantee the constitutional rights of fellow Nigerians. We cannot and must leave this or future governments to its own devices. No. We’ll be courting disaster if we do so. Therefore, we must demand that government conclude this case within 45 days, or set the accused free. Let’s demand justice, not just for ourselves and for our friends, but also for our enemies and our critics.
And then we have the case of Mr. Henry Emomotimi Okah. In Nigeria and in South Africa, Henry has been detained for a combined 30 months or so. Whether he was a member of the justice-seeking group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), I do not know. All I know is that he has devoted his time and resources to seeking political inclusion, fair resource allocation, clean and healthy environment, full employment for the youths, availability of basic human needs, and the infrastructural development of the Niger Delta region. Okah’s case was compounded by the dastardly event of October 1, 2010 which injured, and which also claimed the lives of some innocent Nigerians.
The current charge against him is that he masterminded the Independence Day Bombing in Abuja. So far, government has not provided prosecutable evidence. What the government seem to have are loose evidences – evidences that does not amount anything. The Goodluck Jonathan’s government does not have a mountain of evidence or even a molehill of irrefutable evidence. In other words, there is no smoking gun, or smoldering arsenal of evidence to show that Okah committed the crime. Yes, it is true that under some situations, government may not need a mountain of evidence to make its case. In this particular case, the government does not even have a single thread or a single bean of evidence: it relies primarily on naughty hearsays, beer parlor gossips, and midnight innuendoes. At other times, she hides behind “national security” argument.
A truckload of gossips, suppositions and fables cannot and must not be accepted in well constituted court of law. What kind of a government is Dr. Goodluck Jonathan running? Eight months after the bombing, he cannot tell us anything substantial about the bombings. Eight months after the dastardly act, the Nigerian security outfit has not been able to give incontestable answers as to whom or what group was responsible for the bombing. The Nigerian Media can’t tell us. Foreign intelligence agencies operating in the country can’t tell us. Informants within the country can’t tell us. Instead, all we have is a government that has arm-twisted the South African government into indefinitely incarcerating Henry Okah. According to dependable sources, this is not the first time the Nigerian government has attempted to or actually arm-twisted the South African government.
Essentially, what we have here is a political arrangement between both governments to hold Okah until the “coast is clear.” In 2007, for instance, it was alleged that the Obasanjo government strongly encouraged the Thabo Mbeki’s government to abridge Okah’s human rights. President Mbeki, it was said, bravely refused. This time around, sources tell us that the Jacob Zuma’s administration willingly went along with Goodluck Jonathon’s game plan. If the Nigerian government can collude with the South African government to hold Henry Okah, then none of us is safe from government’s arbitrariness. None of us! None of us will ever be safe from the whimsicality of this or future government. If you don’t speak up today, who will speak up for you if you are arrested and held indefinitely? You need not like, trust or respect Henry Okah or Hamza Al-Mustapha, but I urge you to champion the rule of law.
There are persons within the current government who thinks it is in their best interest to have Hamza Al-Mustapha locked up indefinitely. But is that justice? There are persons in and outside of the corridor of power, in Jonathan’s administration, who have been spreading lies against Henry Okah, and who thinks it is in their best interest for the South African government to hold him. But is that justice? On both counts, the government is wrong. To continue to hold both men is a violation of domestic and international law. This illegality ought to offend the sensibility of all law abiding citizens everywhere.
• Sabella Abidde is on Facebook. He can be reached at: [email protected]