Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has warned President Muhammadu Buhari to end the illegal arrest of innocent law-abiding Nigerians and foreigners by security agencies, especially the Department of State Security (DSS).
He delivered the warning in a letter addressed to the President, saying the DSS has become an embarrassment to President Buhari’s government. Mr. Falana reminded the President of his promise to abide by the constitution and ensure that government at all levels is responsible and accountable. He quoted President Buhari as having said: “For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch.”
Contrary to the pledge, said Mr. Falana, the DSS has continued to indiscriminately arrest and detain many citizens and foreigners living in Nigeria. He blamed the development of the failure of the Federal Government to call the DSS to order, a situation that has bred the belief that the President has no respect for fundamental rights.
The lawyer also observed that the repeated disobedience of court orders by the DSS has put a huge question mark on the Buhari administration’s claim that it is committed to the rule of law.
“At the recently concluded annual conference of Nigerian Judges, which held in Abuja, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, was compelled to condemn official disregard for court rulings and orders,” Mr. Falana stated. He recalled that during President Buhari’s brief spell as a military head of state in the 80s, there were decrees conceived to detain people.
“One of such legislation was the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 2 of 1984 signed by Your Excellency as a military Head of State. Despite the ouster of the jurisdiction of the courts in the decree, the detention of any person, which could not be justified by the detaining authorities, was declared illegal by the courts. It is on record that political detainees whose detention orders were quashed by the courts were released from illegal custody. At the end of military rule, the preventive detention decree and other obnoxious decrees were repealed to pave way for the restoration of democratic rule in the country,” stated Mr. Falana.
He contended that under the current democratic dispensation, the right of every person to personal liberty is guaranteed by Section 35 of the Constitution and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. He equally argued that under the extant human rights law regime, if anyone will be detained beyond 24 or 48 hours, the detaining authority is required to obtain a remand order from a Magistrate Court in line with Section 293 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
However, he stated that the DSS has continued to violate the constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act by repeatedly arresting and detaining innocent people without legal justification.
“From the information at our disposal, the DSS has detained several Nigerians and foreigners to settle personal scores. Others have been arrested and detained by the DSS on the suspicion that they have committed criminal offenses, a matter that is within the purview of the Police and the anti-graft agencies. To compound the illegality of such arrest and detention, the orders made by competent courts of law directing the DSS to either release or produce detainees in court have been treated with contempt,” said Mr. Falana.
Among those affected by this, he disclosed, are
Colonel Sambo Dasuki, former National Security Adviser; Mr. Ibraheem Elzakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, and wife, Zeinab Elzakzaky; as well as Messrs Nitin Verma and Umesh Asudani, both Indian nationals.
Mr. Falana noted that following the former National Security Adviser’s indictment by the Presidential Panel on Procurement of Arms and Ammunition, he 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 DSS. He added that both courts admitted the defendant to bail pending trial. “Even though he met the bail conditions, the DSS has contemptuously refused to release the defendant from custody. The order of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States directing the Federal Government to release the defendant from further custody has been ignored by the DSS,” noted Mr. Falana.
On Mr. Elzakyzaky and wife, he stated that they were arrested after the military invasion and destruction of their home in Zaria, Kaduna State on December 14, 2015. During the invasion, he added, armed troops killed 347 people, including three of the couple.
But on 2 December 2016, the Abuja judicial division of the Federal High Court presided over by Justice G. O. Kolawole declared their arrest and detention illegal and ordered their release from custody.
“The court proceeded to award N50million damages to both detainees and directed the Federal Government to provide them with a temporary accommodation since their residence was burnt down by the rampaging troops with the connivance of the Kaduna State government. The Federal Government has ignored the orders of the court, while the DSS has continued to hold the couple in illegal custody,” Mr. Falana stated.
In the case of the Indians, both Kano-based businessmen arrested by the DSS on 5 October 2017 for alleged money laundering, Falana said the order made by Justice Usman Mallam Na’abba of the Kano State High Court for the production of both detainees in court has been ignored by the DSS.
“We have highlighted the aforementioned cases to let Your Excellency appreciate the extent to which the DSS leadership has embarrassed your administration by using the security agency to settle personal scores with political opponents. The DSS may claim that some of the political detainees mentioned in this letter are our clients. 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,” he told the President.
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.