Former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and convener of #RevolutionNow, Omoyele Sowore were finally released from detention last week, after initial refusal to obey several court orders granting them bail by the federal government. Shola Oyeyipo chronicles their respective struggles to freedom
The one development that dominated political discourse in the week that just ended was the news by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, ordering the release of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and convener of RevolutionNow and publisher of Sahara Reporter, Mr. Omoyele Sowore.
Though the AGF told Nigerians and the rest of the world that the decision to release them was in compliance with the bail granted the two by the courts, he did not confirm or deny the widespread public opinion that the release was as a result of pressure from some US lawmakers.
Malami handed out the ‘bail condition’ in his statement with a caveat that, “The two defendants are enjoined 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.”
The immediate confusion created by this rather undemocratic action of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government was reflected on the Facebook page of Nigeria’s journalist-turned-lawyer, Mr. Richard Akinnola, who felt that the angle reported by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) that the “Federal Ministry of Justice, Federal Republic of Nigeria Office of the Attorney-General Grants Bail to Dasuki, Sowore”, was ‘Media illiteracy at its peak’.
He queried: “How can you say the Attorney-General granted bail? Is the office of Attorney General a court? And one editor passed this for broadcast.”
However, responding to Akinola, Temitayo Abayomi Adeseye, who was of the opinion that the AGF and not the court granted the duo bail, said: “Please don’t blame the media; when the competent court granted the bail, DSS didn’t obey and now office of AGF said they should release them and they were released. So, is it not good to say office of AGF granted them bail? At least they have done what competent court could not do.”
Biodun Mike has a rather interesting slant. He said: “The bail looks more like ‘amnesty’ already with footnotes from AGF ‘advising’ them to comply with the bail conditions.”
In Don DDon’s view “The actual headline should be US Congress sends a letter to Nigerian Dictator that forced him to release Sowore, Dasuki and others.” But the general perspective was that since several court orders granting them bail were ignored by the DSS until the AGF gave them the directive to release them, then, it was an act of the AGF.
Indeed, the headline could have been modified to say ‘Buhari Grants Dasuki, Sowore Bail’, because he was the unseen hand behind the illegal and continued detention of the people. Further statements by Malami, which read that, “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”, and that “In line with the provisions of Section 150(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and in compliance with the bail granted to Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) (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 order granting bail to the Defendants and effect their release”, showed it was a decision he took after intense legal fireworks and sustained public outcries.
The Federal High Court, Abuja had to direct service of court documents on the AGF and the Director General (DG) Department of State Services (DSS), Yusuf Magaji Bichi, to explain why Sowore was still being held in disobedience to the orders of Justices Taiwo Taiwo and Ijeoma Ojukwu.
In a statement titled: ‘Duty of AGF to Release Sowore from illegal custody of SSS’, Nigeria’s human right activist and constitutional lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) argued that it was Malami’s duty to order his client’s release, because he took over his case from the secret police.
Malami had announced on December 13, 2019, that he took over Sowore and Olawale Bakare’s case from the DSS, but that he had no control over their continued detention by the DSS.
From the onset, in the cases of Dasuki and Sowore, it was clear that the Buhari-led government had only one thing in mind: keeping the two men incarcerated for as long as possible, even if it entailed embarking on an open disregard for court orders and due process. There’s a third person though, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (Sheikh Ibrahim El-zakzakky, whose fate is still hanging in the balance.
Thus, claims by the Bichi-led DSS that the service “is not a lawless organisation and will never obstruct justice or disobey court orders”, were mere singsongs meant to dissuade the outraged public. The secret service was part of a scheme aimed to keep them behind bars and that role they played effectively till it was no longer convenient due to pressure from the international community.
After meeting fresh bail terms by Justice Ojukwu, the DSS claimed that the reason it had not released Sowore and Bakare, was because no one came for them. The DSS Public Relations Officer, Peter Afunanya, said the agency “has received the Court Order for the release of Omoyele Sowore,” but “It is important that the public notes that since the receipt of the order, no person has turned up at the DSS to take delivery of him. This becomes imperative for reasons of accountability.
Contrary to the position expressed by Afunaya on behalf of DSS, what was in the public was that the agency turned back the court bailiff that came with the order and the defendants’ lawyers, so, the court order signed by Justice Ijeoma after the perfection of bail conditions, was not received by them on the grounds that they had closed for the day, at 3:30pm on that fateful day.
Even allegations by Falana and Adeyinka Olumide Fusika (SAN), the duo who appeared for Sowore and Bakare, that the DSS prevented them from defending their clients by not releasing them after the last order of Justice Ijeoma were further pointers to a distorted system that did not give the accused persons the opportunity to state their sides as prescribed by the constitution, thereby preventing fair hearing.
The All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government dragged Sowore and Bakare to court on seven-count charge of treasonable felony, cyberstalking, money laundering and others.
Sowore, who was the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), had planned to mobilise Nigerians to embark on a revolution protest to address the continuously declining living standards, mass unemployment among young Nigerians, general insecurity, widespread poverty, poor roads, unreliable electricity supplies and all such ills betiding the country.
Justice Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja first granted Sowore and Bakare bail and dismissed the objection raised by the DSS. It was gathered then that his action raised concern in the corridor of power and that the government planned to report him to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for granting bail to the two.
There had been claims that anyone standing trial for treasonable felony was not entitled to bail and as such, Justice Taiwo shouldn’t have granted them bail, many Nigerian were aware that those were trumped up charges aimed at keeping them away from ‘instigating’ Nigerians against the government on the basis of its failures.
The team of federal government lawyers led by Mr. Hassan Liman (SAN), expressed fear that once set free, Sowore would organise another revolution. In their explanation on why they opposed bail request by Sowore and his co-defendant, pending the determination of the allegation that he committed a treasonable felony, government said Sowore was “a threat to national security”.
His case was likened to that of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, who fled Nigeria after he was granted bail on a similar charge and that Sowore, based in the United States of America, would not hesitate to do same, more so that his charges attract capital punishment that could earn him life imprisonment if found guilty. The argument was that he could jump bail and continue to push for the revolution when released.
Whatever government’s argument was, Nigerians largely disapproved of the decision to ignore the many bails granted the activist by courts of coordinate jurisdiction before Justice Ojukwu finally handed down a new bail condition that raised a lot of concern among Nigerians and international observers.
She granted Sowore bail of N100m on October 4 and two sureties in the same amount and barred him from travelling out of Abuja. She also ordered him to deposit N50m in the account of the court as security. Bakare, on the other hand, was granted bail for N50m with a surety in the same amount and also barred from travelling out of his base in Osogbo, except while coming for the trial in Abuja.
According to the judge, the sureties, who must be resident in Abuja, must also have landed assets worth the bail sum in Abuja and should deposit the original title documents of the assets with the court. She further ordered that the defendants should remain in the custody of the DSS pending, when they were able to meet their bail conditions.
But following public outcries and the fact that Sowore and Bakare were unable to meet the conditions, their lawyer, Falana applied for a variation of the terms and asked the court for leniency, which made the judge to set aside the previous conditions of N50 million security deposit by one of the sureties and also reduced the N50 million bail of the second defendant, Bakare, to N20 million while their conditions stand.
Sowore, a New York based-Nigerian journalist and publisher of Sahara Reporters, was first arrested on August 3, 2018 in what has been considered intolerance taken too far and infringement on press freedom but the drama that ensued in the court on December 6, 2019, when he was eventually released on bail and forcefully rearrested was what showed that the government was only playing pranks to keep him perpetually behind bars.
Men of the DSS seized him and returned the activist back into their custody despite the fact that a judge granted him bail in October.
It was same kind of tyrannical government use of brute power that will best explain how the Buhari government ignored several court orders demanding the release of Dasuki (before his recent release) and El-Zakzakky (still in detention). These acts of lawlessness are not only capable of bringing about anarchy, they have continued to put the administration in bad light, painting the government as having no iota of respect for the rule of law.
Sowore’s case was relatively not as protracted as the case of Dasuki, who remained in detention from December 1, 2015 till December 24, 2019. Not anyone, perhaps, except those in the presidency is able to explain why the federal government opted to ignore several court orders that Dasuki should be granted bails.
On paper, however, Dasuki was charged for alleged complicity in a $2 billion arms procurement deal in Nigeria, which purportedly led to the mismanagement of the said sum under his supervision. He was also accused of being in possession of prohibited firearms without the requisite licenses in July 2015, contrary to Section 28 of the Firearm Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. He was alleged to have in his possession a Trevor Rifles at his Abuja home.
But to some who are close to the duo of President Buhari and Dasuki, the latter’s predicament was because it was payback time. In I985, when former military Ruler, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida overthrew Buhari’s government through a military coup, Dasuki was the one who arrested Buhari and immediately placed him in detention.
The arrest was at the time Muslims were celebrating their festival and enjoying public holidays. Dasuki, led a team of four policemen, including Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, Lawan Gwadabe, Abdulmumuni Aminu to arrest Buhari on August 26, 1985, after his government was sent packing by a new junta led by Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.
To some, that was what earned Dasuki the job of ADC (aide-de-camp) to Babangida while Buhari was left in jail for two years, an action some said wrecked his love life with Hajia Safinatu. Buhari married Safinatu in 1971 and they had five children, four girls and a boy but upon Buhari’s release, Safinatu divorced Buhari as she was said to been devastated by Buhari’s arrest.
Shortly after he returned to power, Dasuki was arrested, and was also questioned in a money-laundering allegation. The sum of $40, 000, N5 million and £20, 000 were allegedly found in his house in July 2015. The law enforcement agencies position was that the monies were proceeds of unlawful transactions, which is punishable under Section 15 (3) of the money laundering prohibition act 2011.
The amended charge also indicated that $150,000 and N37 million being part of proceeds of unlawful act was also found in the Sokoto residence of former NSA on July 16, 2015.
While it is difficult to ascertain the level of culpability of the former NSA in the allegations against him, it is the blatant disrespect for the rule of law by the President Buhari leadership especially, by ignoring various court pronouncements granting Dasuki bail.
For the sixth time, the Federal High Court, Abuja on Monday, July 2, granted bail to Dasuki. Justice Ojukwu, who granted the bail in the sum of N200m with two sureties in like sum, was of the view that his detention since December 29, 2015, was not justifiable.
“The respondents have not successfully justified the long and continued detention of the defendant. Based on the circumstances of this case and the established facts, the honourable court is of the humble but firm opinion and as affirmed by superior authorities that the applicant (Dasuki) has made out a case to warrant the intervention of this court,” Ojukwu stated in her ruling, insisting that his detention was “an aberration to the rule of law.”
Dasuki was also granted bail on August 30, 2015, by former presiding judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, on self-recognition following no objections by Mohammed Diri, the prosecuting counsel.
On December 18, 2015, Justice Hussein Baba Yusuf of the FCT High Court granted Dasuki bail in the sum of N250 million alongside a Director of Finance in the office of the NSA, Salisu Shuaibu and one other person, Aminu Kusa. They were asked to provide a surety that owns a property in the FCT worth N250 million.
The Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice on October 4, 2016, declared Dasuki’s arrest and continued detention as unlawful, arbitrary and a violation of his right to liberty. The court ordered that he should be released from the custody of the DSS, whose operatives re-arrested him shortly after he was released from Kuje Prison, Abuja on bail on December 29, 2015.
The court, in a unanimous judgment of a three-man panel, read by Justice Chijioke Nwoke, also awarded N15m damages against the federal government.
Again, on January 24, 2017, Justice Yusuf reaffirmed Dasuki’s bail on the grounds that he was entitled to it particularly, because he had been admitted to bail since 2015, when the federal government brought criminal charges against him.
Counsel to Dasuki, Ahmed Raji had applied to the court to reaffirm the bail granted him and which he has not been allowed to enjoy since December 2015.
Later on April 5, 2017, the presiding judge of the FCT High Court, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, reaffirmed the 2015 bail granted Dasuki after hearing his appeal of the amended seven-count charge against him. Mohammed said since the prosecution counsel, Oladipo Opeseyi, did not object to Dasuki’s appeal, so the court had to affirm the bail.
On May 18, 2018 Justice Yusuf ruled that Dasuki and others should continue to enjoy the bail he granted them in 2015, when they were first arraigned before his court.
For Dasuki, however it was indeed a long struggle to freedom, unlike Sowore’s especially, considering that the law had prescribed his freedom, but he was kept behind bars simply for reasons best known to Buhari and members of his team.
A strong critic of the Buhari leadership and former Minister of Aviation, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode named some persons within the system, whom he said contributed to the eventual release of Sowore and Dasuki on his twitter handle.
“I can tell you authoritatively that four people fought from within to get Dasuki and Sowore released and eventually managed to convince Buhari. They are Abba Kyari, Malami, Hadi Sirika and Kayode Fayemi. They represent the liberal and cerebral wing of the Buhari-led government and I commend them”.
Outreach and Communications Coordinator at Family Practice and Counseling Network, New York, Jackson Ude, was particularly appalled that the Nigerian lawmakers were unable to prevail on the government to release the affected person until lawmakers from the US intervened.
“That letter. Yes, that letter from the U.S lawmakers that got Buhari shivering and caused his release of Sowore and Dasuki, should be the tonic and morale booster to all the timid activists in Nigeria. You are not alone! Except those who are over fed with Kano rice.
“109 Senators, 360 Rep members in NASS and they could not have Sowore and Dasuki released. It took just 4 Senators and 2 Reps from the United States to get the job done. If I hear ‘pim’ (any sound) again from any useless Nigerian lawmaker.”
The takeaway from the two scenarios is that government itself got personal with the individuals and became lawless as a result. A situation where court pronouncements were treated with open disrespect was nothing but an invitation to anarchy and must not be condoned by all, going forward.