FEMI FALANA

Ejiofor Alike

A human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to end the culture of impunity and illegal arrest of law-abiding Nigerians and foreigners residing in the country by the agents of the state.

In an open letter to President Buhari, which was obtained by THISDAY, the Lagos lawyer reminded the president that upon the inauguration of his administration on May 29, 2015, he had pledged to end the culture of impunity in Nigeria.

 Falana quoted President Buhari as saying during the inauguration that “as far as the constitution allows me, I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch.”

Falana alleged that contrary to the president’s pledge, the Department of State Security (DSS) has engaged in the indiscriminate arrest and detention of many citizens and foreigners living in Nigeria.
According to Falana, the failure of the federal government to call the leadership of the security agency to order has created the misleading impression that Buhari’s administration does not have respect for the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people.

“The incessant disobedience of court orders by the DSS has questioned the commitment of the administration to operate under 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,” Falana said.
Falana also reminded the president that under the defunct militarily junta, the detention of citizens was carried out under preventive detention decrees.

He identified one of such legislations as the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 2 of 1984 signed by Buhari as a military Head of State.
Falana argued that 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  At the end of military rule, the preventive detention decree and other obnoxious decrees were repealed to pave way for the restoration of democratic rule in the country,” he said.

He noted that under the current democratic dispensation the fundamental right of every person to personal liberty is guaranteed  by section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended and article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A10) Laws of the Federation of  Nigeria, 2004.

“Thus, under the prevailing human rights law regime in Nigeria, if anyone is going to be detained beyond 24 or 48 hours the detaining authority is mandatorily required to obtain a remand order from a Magistrate Court in line with section 293 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. But in violation of the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the DSS has acquired notoriety for arresting and detaining innocent members of the public without any legal justification whatsoever,” Falana explained.

Falana alleged that the DSS has detained several Nigerians and foreigners to settle personal scores.
According to him, others have been arrested and detained by the DSS on the suspicion that they have committed criminal offences, 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,” Falana added.

Falana identified the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.); two Indian nationals- Messrs Nitin Verma and Umesh Asudani, as well as  Sheik Ibraheem Elzakzaky and his wife, Hajia Zeinab Elzakzaky, as some of the persons whose fundamental right to personal liberty has been infringed upon by the DSS.