RingTrue with Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@
Yusuf Bichi, the Director General of Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS), self-styled as the Department of State Services (DSS), clearly needs special training on the principles of democracy, freedom and free press. Bichi, who still thinks we are in a military era, should not be seen working close to a supposedly democratic President. I am still struggling with the fact that Bichi unleashed operatives of the SSS on inoffensive protesters last Tuesday. Truckloads of operatives, some with masks, used pepper spray to disperse protesters gathered around the SSS headquarters in Abuja to demand for the release of Omoyele Sowore. One of the SSS guys even fired live shots. Many of the protesters were injured in the melee. Some journalists also had their tools seized.
Who the hell is Bichi to have approved this kind of assault on innocuous demonstrators? He obviously went beyond his brief. If indeed, we are in a democracy, the SSS boss has no business staying a day longer in office. He should be substituted immediately. We must all rise up against this new anti-democracy force. Bichi, who was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari late last year, has always shown disdain for the rule of law.
I knew something was amiss about the Sowore case when last Friday, Bichi’s SSS issued a bizarre statement saying that the agency had not complied with the federal court order to release the activist from its dungeon because no one had come to look for him. It was a blatant lie from the pit of hell. This was a strategy to keep the activist with the agency while fresh charges are worked out for him. Sowore’s lawyers and associates had been going to the SSS office since his bail conditions were fully approved by a Federal High Court judge. Besides, it is unparalleled that a security agency will decline to release a grown-up that had met all bail conditions on the basis that no one had come to pick him up. Bichi and his men simply chuckled when the federal judge signed papers for Sowore’s release from custody. They had their dubious plans clearly worked out. I fear that the Sahara Reporters publisher may remain locked by the SSS, pending fresh charges.
The attack on pro-Sowore campaigners on Tuesday was absolutely unnecessary. To use Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka’s words, it was crude naked power. Firing live bullets was despicable. Soyinka puts it accurately: “Enough of this charade, nothing more than a display of crude, naked power. Release Omoyele Sowore and save us further embarrassment in the regard of the world. An apology to the nation by the DSS and the judiciary would also not be out of place. It would go some distance in redeeming the image of an increasingly fascistic agency and reduce the swelling tide of public disillusionment. Let the rule of law reign.
“Perhaps it is necessary to remind this government of precedents in other lands where, even years after the event, those who trampled on established human rights that generate homicidal impunity are called to account for abuse of power and crimes against humanity.”
Bichi has obviously decided to bring back a brand of SSS known for suppression as it was under Nigerian Army despotisms of the 1980s and 1990s. The SSS, as we have it today, is an organisation with little regard for established order. The illegal detention of Sowore is only one of several. The SSS has been illicitly holding some Nigerians in its custody in defiance of substantive court orders. Former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki and the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky readily come to mind.
It’s almost four months since the Court of Appeal in Abuja declared the detention of Dasuki, by the SSS illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional and ordered his immediate release on conditional bail. The appellate court held that the SSS and its Director General acted outside their constitutional powers on 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 rights.
Recall that the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in a landmark judgement, also declared the detention of Dasuki unlawful, null and void. The court subsequently ordered his immediate release in addition to imposing a fine of N15 million on the government as compensation for the breach of Dasuki’s fundamental rights.
As usual, Bichi’s SSS has refused to allow Dasuki enjoy his freedom. They have been holding him without trial for almost four years. Dasuki is being unjustly detained. This only happens in failed countries like ours.
For El-Zakzaky, he was incarcerated along with his wife, Zeenatudeen, since 2015. The SSS refused to allow the IMN leader out on bail as instructed by several courts. Justice Gabriel Kolawole had on December 2, 2016, granted bail to the fiery Islamic leader, along with his wife, and imposed a fine of N50 million on the federal government for the incarceration of the duo.
The offences for which Dasuki, El-Zakzaky, and Sowore were arraigned are bailable under the Nigerian law. Government must not be seen promoting impunity and disobeying court orders. Functionaries of government must not be seen assaulting the rule of law. Unfortunately, this is what has been happening for over four years in Nigeria. We must all fight for the respect of our constitution, our laws and the rule of law. All forces of good must rise and tackle Bichi in particular and the Buhari government in general.
I often laugh when I hear the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, saying that the judiciary under his watch will not tolerate disobedience of subsisting court orders. I have heard him describe disobedience of court orders as “anarchy.”
Last September, Justice Muhammad declared: “The rule of law must be observed in all our dealings and we must impress it on the governments at all levels to actively toe the path. The right of every citizen against any form of oppression and impunity must be jealously guarded and protected with the legal tools at our disposal. All binding court orders must be obeyed. Nobody, irrespective of his or her position, will be allowed to toy with court judgments.”
Unfortunately, the Judiciary under Justice Muhammad has not been able to deal with Bichi for persistently disobeying court orders. It is one big mess.
On the flip side, the forces of anarchy in Nigeria are doing everything possible to strangulate the people with all sorts of useless proposals in the National Assembly. The latest is the bill which seeks to establish a Federal Government agency to check hate speech in the country. It also prescribed death by hanging as the maximum punishment for certain categories of offenders.
It is pertinent to remind those behind this obnoxious moves that section 39 (3) of our 1999 Constitution makes it mandatory that no law should abrogate the rights of Nigerians to exercise their right to freedom of speech. This bill aims to muzzle Nigerians, take away the people’s liberty and constitutional rights. It is not justifiable in a democracy. There are enough laws in Nigeria to tackle the abuse of freedom of expression.
The jaundiced Social Media Regulation Bill, reintroduced in the Senate last week, must also be thrown into the lagoon. The sponsor says it is aimed at curtailing the spread of fake information. The bill is seeking a three-year jail term for anyone involved in what it calls the abuse of social media or an option of fine of N150, 000 or both. It is also proposing a fine of N10 million for media houses involved in peddling falsehood or misleading the public.
What the bill is seeking is unconstitutional because it aims to infringe on the constitutionally-guaranteed right to freedom of expression and speech. It contains elements that will affect the right to free expression of internet users in Nigeria. It aims to restrict the ability of Nigerians to use social media tools to communicate, connect and seek independent information. The threat of jail aims to create fear among bloggers and online activists, so that they won’t post critical materials. The National Assembly must avoid repressive laws that will serve Nigerians no good. The social media gives everyone a voice, irrespective of class and position.
Ordeal of Justice Iheme-Nwosu
Last Wednesday, Justice Chioma Iheme-Nwosu of the Court of Appeal, Benin, regained freedom after spending day 15 days in the dungeon of her abductors. She was kidnapped along Benin-Agbor Road and her police orderly, Inspector A. I. Momoh, killed by the gunmen. Yes, an Appeal Court judge was snatched in Nigeria and it took our security agents 15 days to smoke out the criminals and secure her freedom. It is even more painful that the kidnappers were communicating with the family of this judge and our security agents still could not track their location. This is one big shame that continues to show how insecure mother Nigeria is right now.
In fact, the story in town is that Justice Chioma Iheme-Nwosu’s family paid an undisclosed amount as ransom before she was released. This counters the story by the police that she was rescued. Well, more facts will emerge on this in days to come. Judges in this part of the world are poorly protected despite the hazardous job they do. A statement by lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), captures this appropriately.
Ozekhome noted that while a minister or senator could afford to travel in convoys of fully armed security operatives, a judge is left with just one policeman who is usually armed with obsolete firearms: “Yet, the judge, especially justices of the Court of Appeal, must traverse the nation, handling never ending sensitive appeals from election petition tribunals, in jurisdictions other than their ordinarily accustomed places of abode or sitting. They are thus compelled by the cause and course of duty to travel by road, the very bad roads that are unmanned by security personnel. They thus fall easy prey to marauders. Justice Iheme-Nwosu has just suffered this fate.”
Buhari Has to End His Foreign Medicals
President Buhari is expected back in the country early next week after 15-day medicals in the United Kingdom. His family also runs abroad for medicals. After almost five years in power, our President is yet to raise any medical facility in the country to the standard capable of meeting his medical needs and that of his family. If our President can raise the standard of the National Hospital, Abuja, to the level of the one he attends in the United Kingdom, then, many ordinary Nigerians will benefit. Unfortunately, this has not been done.
I am always horrified each time Buhari runs to a British hospital. I guess his supporters will argue that there is no law stopping him from doing this. The burden on him is more of a moral one, considering that he had doggedly preached that we should always look inwards for our needs. My foremost issue with our dear president is that he is spending public money abroad for his medicals. Only God knows how much of public fund is going down for his foreign medicals.
Since Buhari himself had clearly stated that taxpayers’ money would not be used to pay for foreign medicals of public servants, I demand that he should make refunds as soon as he returns to the country. As a reminder, Buhari announced in April 2016 that his administration would no longer provide allowances for medical trips by government officials, unless the case can’t be handled in Nigeria. He stated this at the opening ceremony of the 56th Annual General Conference Meeting of the Nigeria Medical Association in Sokoto. The President, who was represented by the then Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said: “The government would not encourage medical tourism with the nation’s resources. While this administration will not deny anyone of his or her fundamental human rights, we will certainly not encourage expending Nigerian hard-earned resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad, when such can be handled in Nigeria.”
Back in April, Buhari was curiously lamenting Nigeria’s loss of over N400 billion, yearly to medical tourism. The man, who has a responsibility to address the irregularity, is lamenting. So, who will address the problem? If Buhari (the President) is helpless on access to health care, then, who has the power to help Nigeria?
We have not been told what Buhari’s health challenge is, but with focused investment in equipment and manpower by a forward-looking government, I doubt if there is any health challenge that can’t be handled in this country.