Sonnie Ekwowusi writes that the government must act within the law

Yesterday, December 10, was marked across the world as the Human Rights Day. The theme for this year is “Stand Up For Human Rights” (#StandUp4HumanRights).

As we gleefully mark the Human Rights Day with the alluring theme, it is apposite for us in Nigeria to reflect on human rights violations and abuses in Nigeria. Many Nigerians are concerned, frightened and angry about the increasing human rights violations in Nigeria. Is Nigeria an accursed country? Or, is Nigeria finally doomed to irreversible failure? I am asking these questions because the human rights violations in Nigeria have put the country at the lowest rung of human civilization.

It is probably only in Nigeria that the Department of State Services (DSS) (or the Presidency – the DSS is an extension of the Presidency) can contemptuously desecrate the hallowed temple of justice and get away with it. The barbarism that shocked the whole world last Friday speaks volumes. I have watched the video clips of the act over and over and I cannot but shudder that in the 21st Century when most countries are steadily advancing in human development Nigeria is steadily retrogressing. The DSS mouthpiece is obviously lying by saying that the body did not assault and re-arrest Omoyele Sowore within the precinct of the court. The video clips in possession of the whole world obviously proved the DSS wrong.

After Sowore and Bakare who are standing trial at Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu’s Federal High Court had satisfied the onerous bail conditions attached to their bail, the DSS refused to release them. On learning about this defiant disobedience of court order by the DSS, a visibly angry Justice Ojukwu gave the Presidency a 24-hour ultimatum to release the aforesaid duo. In fairness, the DSS promptly complied with the court order and even paid the cost awarded against them by the court. That was Thursday last week.

But the next day being Friday the devil entered the DSS again. As the Sowore matter was going on in the same Justice Ojukwu’s Federal High Court, some heavily-armed DSS men, acting in a Gestapo-like manner, stormed the court, disrupted the court proceedings, drove away Justice Ojukwu (some eye witnesses say that her wig fell off her head as she ran for her dear life) and finally swooped on Sowore, thus creating a very ugly commotion inside the court room. The DSS grabbed Sowore by his arms attempting to whisk him away but Sowore’s supporters who had put up a strong resistance held Sowore by his upper waist and were shouting, “Leave him alone”, “What is the problem?”, “You can’t arrest him”. The rest of that ugly scene is now consigned to our history of executive repression of the judiciary.

But let it be stated that the travesty last Friday was not the re-arrest of Sowore within the precinct of the court: last Friday’s travesty was the assault on the judiciary by the Presidency. What transpired last Friday in Justice Ojukwu’s court corroborates what we already know that the Buhari government has neither regard for the judiciary nor the rule of law. This was most aptly demonstrated when contrary to sections 153, 158(1), 160, 161, and 292(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the DSS was dispatched in October 2016 to invade the residences of Supreme Court Justices John Inyang Okoro, Sylvester Ngwuta and Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja and other State High Court judges in what was disingenuously dubbed at that time as a “sting operation”. But guess what? The aforesaid Justices and others who were visited in the night for that matter have been exculpated from wrongdoing. Justice Ngwuta in particular whom the DSS claimed stockpiled his house with American dollars is back to the Supreme Court. We have also witnessed how the former Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Walter Onnoghen was removed with a forged ex-parte order and replaced with a pliable Justice Mohammed Tanko.

Let me say that the magnitude of human rights violations in Nigeria in the last four years is undeniable. Recently the American Congress criticised Nigeria over the continued detention of Sowore, incessant harassment of journalists, the Hate Speech Bill and the Social Media Bill aimed at infringing on the freedom of expression. In 2016 the United States Department of State issued a damning Human Rights Report indicting the Nigerian government and its agents of serious human rights violations. The report specifically says that on February 9, 2016 the Nigeria police and soldiers callously used live ammunition to disperse unarmed civilians and supporters of IPOB movement at a school in Aba, Abia State and in the process killed at least nine unarmed civilians. It also reported that between May 29 and 30, 2016 the Nigerian police and soldiers in Onitsha, Anambra State, killed at least 17 unarmed protesting civilians.

In 2017 the United States Department of State also issued another damning report on Nigeria. In the 48-page report, it stated that impunity remained widespread at all levels of government in Nigeria. It noted that the Buhari government lacked transparency. The report also indicted the Buhari government for not adequately investigating or holding the police or military personnel accountable for the extrajudicial killings of supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra. This report corroborates the Amnesty International (AI) Report. In 2018 the the United States Department of State also heavily indicted the Nigerian government and its agents of gross human rights violations and abuses.

The report stated that human rights violations in Nigeria included “unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and non-state actors; forced disappearances by both government and non-state actors; torture by both government and non-state actors and prolonged arbitrary detention in life-threatening conditions particularly in government detention facilities; harsh and life threatening prison conditions including civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy or no evidence; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly…”

As 2019 draws to a close, the Office of the High Commissioner, United Nations Human Rights (OHCHR) had drawn the attention of the world to the human rights violations in Nigeria. The OHCHR decries the armed conflict; arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial killing, communal violence in Nigeria in 2019.

Therefore, instead of denying the aforesaid human rights violations, the Buhari government should turn a new leaf and erect the necessary framework and machinery for the promotion of human rights and human dignity in Nigeria. Nothing damages a country’s reputation than human rights violation and abuses.