Time to Respect the Rule of Law

The continued detention of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, and the leader of the Shiite Islamic group, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, is fast impugning on the credibility of the Muhammadu Buhari administration in terms of its respect for the rule of law. Olawale Olaleye writes

President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is fast earning an unsavoury reputation. It is one of utter disrespect for court orders, which is gradually becoming a character trait of the government. On several occasions when orders were given by the courts, it was either the government ignored it completely or appealed the order, while also failing to comply with the order even when a stay of execution had not been secured.

Two major cases provide clear examples of government’s growing disregard for rule of law – the arrest and detention of a former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki, and the incarceration of the leader of the Shiites Muslim group, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. Both men had been held for almost two years.

Dasuki was arrested in November 2015 in connection with $2bn meant for the purchase of arms to aid the fight against Boko Haram. He was accused of awarding phantom contracts to buy 12 helicopters, four fighter jets and ammunition.

Dasuki, who was picked up at his residence by security agents, has since denied the allegations. But he is currently facing trial, dogged by twists and turns. Government wanted a secret trial, which Dasuki kicked against. Even when the ECOWAS court ordered his release, government refused to comply with the order, insisting he was being held in protective custody. He has been kept in custody for nearly two years in spite of a Federal High Court order that he should be allowed to travel abroad for medical care. The court granted Dasuki bail after he pleaded not guilty to other charges of money-laundering and the illegal possession of arms.

The case of El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeinab, though different, however shares closely with Dasuki in terms of disregard for court orders. El-Zakzaky and wife were arrested on December 14, 2015, following a bloody clash between members of his group and the Nigerian Army in Zaria, Kaduna State. A year later, a Federal High Court declared their detention a violation of their constitutional rights and ordered their release. Several months later, the government had yet to comply.

An outspoken Shi’a Muslim cleric in Nigeria, and head of Nigeria’s Islamic Movement, Zakzaky founded the Islamic Movement in the late 1970s, when he was a student at Ahmadu Bello University, and began propagating Shia Islam around 1979, at the time of the Iranian revolution, which saw Iran’s monarchy overthrown and replaced with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Khomeini.

El-Zakzaky believed that the establishment of a republic along similar religious lines in Nigeria was feasible. Thus, he had been detained several times due to accusations of civil disobedience or recalcitrance under military regimes in Nigeria during the 1980s and 1990s, and is still viewed with suspicion or as a threat by the Nigerian authorities.
But his people have continued to protest what they considered his unjust incarceration. The Police recently sprayed hot water and fired tear gas sporadically to disperse protesting members of his movement at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) office, in Maitama, Abuja. Hundreds of Shiites from different institutions across the country, assembled at the NHRC office to urge the commission to facilitate the immediate release of El-Zakzaky, his wife and other detained members of the group.

Two months ago, the group staged a nationwide protest to mark 500 days of Mr. El-Zakzaky’s detention by the government.
Recently, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), wrote to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and called for the immediate release of El-Zakzaky, and wife, Zeinab, from custody.

In addition to the demand for the release of the couple, Falana also urged Osinbajo to “direct the Nigerian Army to investigate and prosecute the military personnel responsible for the brutal and callous massacre of the 347 members of the Shia Community at Zaria in December 2015.”

Even the Chairman, President Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), has joined those calling on government to obey court orders on Dasuki and El-Zakzakky.

It is however an irony that a government that came on stream on the strength and promise to uphold the rule of law would continue to flout court orders.

No matter how grave an offence is, there cannot be an excuse to bypass the rule of law in pursuant of justice. Unfortunately, with this growing disregard for court order, a monster is inadvertently being created, and if allowed to grow beyond reach and control, everyone is inescapably vulnerable. Government must respect the rule of law at all times. It is sacrosanct!

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