•President denies allegation of rights’ violations
Deji Elumoye, Omololu Ogunmade and Alex Enumah in Abuja
Freedom finally came yesterday for former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), and the Convener, #RevolutionNow, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, as the federal government, apparently bowing to sustained pressure over their detention, ordered their release in accordance with orders of courts, which granted them bail.
The order for their release came just as President Muhammadu Buhari denied allegations of prevalent rights violations by his administration, saying his conscience is clear.
But the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, while reacting to the order for the release of Dasuki and Sowore, said the freedom of the detainees was part of the rights of Nigerian citizens guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution and not subject to the whims of civilian dictatorship.
While Dasuki had been in detention since December 29, 2015, Sowore was first detained in August and released briefly four months after before he was re-arrested on December 6 by the Department of State Services (DSS) less than 24 hours after he was released on bail.
The DSS had refused to let them go even after they had met the different conditions attached to their bail.
The action of the security agency, which attracted criticisms from within and outside the country, had forced the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), to take over the prosecution of Sowore a few days ago from the DSS.
However, a statement made available to newsmen yesterday in Abuja, said the government, following a review of the cases of the two defendants and in demonstration of its observance of the rule of law, had ordered their release from the custody of the DSS.
The AGF said: “The Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation has reviewed the pending criminal charges against the duo of Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) and Omoyele Sowore.
“Whilst the Federal High Court has exercised its discretion in granting bail to the defendants in respect of the charges against them, I am also not unmindful of the right of the complainant/prosecution to appeal or further challenge the grant of bail by the court having regards to extant legal provisions, particularly Section 169 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
“However, my office has chosen to comply with the court orders while considering the pursuit of its rights of appeal and/or review of the order relating to the bail as granted or varied by the courts.
“In line with the provisions of Sections 150(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and in compliance with the bail granted to Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) (as recently varied by the Court of Appeal) and the bail granted to Omoyele Sowore, I have directed the State Security Services to comply with the orders granting bail to the defendants and effect their release.”
He urged the two defendants to observe the terms of their bail and refrain from engaging in any act that is inimical to public peace and national security as well as their ongoing trial, which will run its course in accordance with the laws of the land.
“I wish to reiterate again the utmost regard of my office for the entire judicial structure of Nigeria. This administration remains unrelenting in deepening the rule of law and the administration of justice in general,” Malami added.
In a short response, Dasuki’s lawyer, Mr. Ahmed Raji (SAN), thanked God, the president, the judiciary and all Nigerians for standing by them during the travail of Dasuki.
“We thank God Almighty. We thank God Almighty. And we thank God Almighty. We thank the president of our country, the Attorney General of the Federation, the entire judiciary and all Nigerians. It is well with us. May God continue to be with all of us,” Raji said.
Another lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), described the order for the release of Dasuki and Sowore as good for the rule of law.
Ozekhome, in a statement yesterday, however, urged the federal government to also consider the release of leader of Shi’ite movement, Sheik Ibrahim el-Zakzaky.
He said: “I am happy the government has finally realised its faux pas and is seeing the same light which I saw since 2015, when I kicked against the illegal incarceration of Dasuki. It is never too late to take corrective measures and make amends,” he said, adding: “The government should add El-Zakzaky to the list of detainees to be released because the whole world, aside government apologists and grovellers, see all of them as political prisoners.”
Also confirming the directive for the release of Sowore is one of his lawyers, Mr. Marshal Abubakar, who said he was as at yesterday evening at the DSS headquarters in Abuja, for the release of Sowore.
Dasuki is standing trial on allegations ranging from diverting the sum of $2.1 billion meant to fight insurgency to money laundering and illegal possession of firearms.
He pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was admitted to bail by the respective courts where he is being tried.
Former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, commended Malami for directing the immediate release of Dasuki and Sowore from custody.
Ekweremadu, in a statement by his media aide, Mr. Uche Anichukwu, described Malami’s action as “the best public relations job for the President Muhammadu Buhari government in 2019,” noting that the move would help in rebuilding the confidence of Nigerians and the international community in the nation’s democracy.
“Although we should never have travelled this road in the first place, the intervention of the Attorney General of the Federation and the directive for the immediate release of Sambo Dasuki and Omoyele Sowore come as a big relief for the nation’s democracy and will a long way to restore confidence in the sanctity of the judiciary and its place as the last hope of the common man,” he said.
He also commended the media and the civil society, who stood firm as bastions of the nation’s democracy.
Dasuki was first admitted to bail in August 2015 by Justice Ademola Adeniyi of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on self recognisance. He was arraigned before the court on allegations of money laundering and illegal possession of firearms.
He was next granted bail by Justice Peter Affen of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory on December 18, 2015. But this time bail was granted in the sum of N250 million.
However, following the refusal of the federal government to comply with the orders, Dasuki approached the ECOWAS Court in 2016, where he was not only granted bail, but was awarded compensation of N5 million for his illegal detention.
In 2017 another judge of the FCT High Court, Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf, affirmed the bail the court granted Dasuki following his re-arraignment alongside five other defendants.
Also in 2017, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, who took over Dasuki’s case from Justice Adeniyi, who retired from service, also affirmed the bail the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court granted Dasuki.
Following a fundamental rights suit at the Federal High Court in 2018, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, also admitted Dasuki to bail in the sum of N200 million with two sureties in like sum.
However, following claims by Dasuki that the conditions attached to his bail by Justice Ojukwu were stringent and nearly impossible to meet, the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, had last month varied the bail terms as prayed by Dasuki.
On his part, Sowore was first granted bail by Justice Taiwo Taiwo on September 21, after the expiration of a detention order.
Justice Taiwo had in August permitted the DSS to detain Sowore for 45 days pending the conclusion of investigation of alleged treasonable felony against him.
However, on expiration of the dentention order, the court noted that since there was no fresh application for Sowore’s continued stay with the DSS, the best thing was to make an order for his immediate release.
However, the federal government then filed a seven-count charge against Sowore and his co-accused, Olawale Bakare, before Justice Ojukwu.
Having pleaded not guilty, Justice Ojukwu on October 4, admitted them to bail in the sum of N100 million and N50 million respectively with two sureties in like sum. Sowore in addition was to deposit the sum of N50 million cash with the court as part of other conditions to his bail.
The court, however, varied the conditions on October 21 following an application by Sowore.
Sowore and Bakare, however, met the conditions and reported to the court, which after due diligence check ordered the DSS to release them.
But a month later, the DSS told the court that Sowore and Bakare could not be released because they have not met their own conditions.
This forced the court to issue a 24-hour ultimatum to the security agency for their unconditional release.
The DSS though complied in less than 12 hours after the fresh order was made, but it re-arrested Sowore in court the following day, December 6.
He has been with the DSS since then.
Buhari Denies Allegation of Rights Violations
Meanwhile, Buhari yesterday in Abuja denied allegations of prevalent rights’ violations by his administration, saying his conscience is clear.
The president, while receiving letters of credence from the United States’ new Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms Mary Beth Leonard, said the US decision to place Nigeria on the watch-list of countries with human rights’ concerns, created an impression that some people were being unfairly treated or marginalised in the country.
Buhari urged the US to always ensure that its sources of information on Nigeria are drawn from all parts of the country, insinuating that some people might deliberately provide misleading and manipulative narratives in pursuit of their selfish agenda at the expense of a united country.
“I know that those with access have created an impression of being marginalised. I sit here with a clear conscience. I took an oath and I am honouring the office,’’ he said.
A statement by a presidential spokesman, Malam Graba Shehu, said the president told the ambassador that he took some time to explain the situation in the country in 2018 when he met with President Donald Trump in Washington DC after the American president had expressed concern over reports of attacks on some segments of the society.
“It is not an easy task to work for the unity of the country, and I am doing my best. During your stay in the country, I am asking you to ensure that your sources of strategic information cut across,’’ the president stated.
He encouraged the envoy to use the opportunity of her posting to Nigeria as well as her experience, knowledge and energy to get facts about the country.
Leonard in her remarks, explained that Nigeria was placed on a watch-list to deepen conversation on humanitarian situation in the country, adding that some people could “flare the flames and crystalise issues’’ that could affect peaceful-coexistence.
“There are people who make things less attractive than they seem,’’ she said, noting that the report will deepen conversation of the situation in the country, especially with religious leaders and mediators.
“I want to assure that the United States recognises and celebrates the integration in Nigeria,” she was quoted as saying.
The ambassador assured Buhari that the United States would always align with transparent processes, adding that Nigerians and the United States have a lot in common including “being big among neighbours, enthusiastic and entrepreneurial.”
He also said Leonard assured Buhari of support from the United States, especially on issues bordering on humanitarian challenges and expressed appreciation to Nigeria for its willingness to always share useful information and intelligence with her country.
Buhari also received letters of credence from the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Nigeria, Ahamed Lebbe Sabarullah Khan, appreciating the country for supporting Nigeria to produce the President of the United Nations General Assembly.
Citizens’ Rights are Constitutional, Says Afenifere
Meanwhile, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, yesterday said the freedom of the detainees was part of the rights of Nigerians guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution.
Reacting to the release of Dasuki and Sowore, Afenifere’s spokesman, Yinka Odumakin told THISDAY that “we say thanks but no thanks as the rights of our citizens are constitutional and not subject to the whims and caprices of military or civilian dictators.
According to him, the Buhari’s administration has chosen to release them “on its own accord jettisioning court orders in the order of Decree 2 of military days.”