Nigeria: That Desecration of the Rule of Law

11 December 2019

Aisha Yesufu, president Muhammadu Buhari's unrepentant heckler-in-chief is a seer of sorts. Following the willful desecration of the chambers of justice by agents of the Department of State Services, DSS now holding Omoyele Sowore; Yesufu vlogged her disappointment at our collective docility. She said that these things happen because government knows that Nigerians would do nothing about it. In our country, life always goes on.

Mrs. Yesufu has been proved right. In spite of a brazenly shameful desecration of the judiciary thus far, presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina sees nothing wrong with the infraction. He told a Channelstv audience "all this noise is coming from less than 100 million Nigerians and the noise will be so loud that you think it is the whole country. It is a country of 198 million people. When just 100,000 are making noise in the social and traditional media, you would think the whole country is in an uproar. There are millions and millions of people who are not bothered."

Adesina says the real truth lies between what we were served in video and the DSS account. The DSS have changed their tactics. In the past, they gave no feedback. Lately, they seek to engage. But in their engagement, they employ the language of jesters.

On Sowore, the DSS initially refused to release until his stringent bail conditions were all met. When that condition was met, the DSS kept their unlawful captive saying that 'nobody came to pick him up'. When protesters showed up to peacefully demand his release, they were dispersed with sanguine force.

Explaining away that action, the DSS said it could not have released Sowore under those circumstances in case he 'was run down by a truck'! Usually courts react swiftly to the disobedience of its orders. But in this era it would appear that most judges know better not to show disagreement with the system.

While we waited, rookie law experts said all Sowore's lawyers needed to do was to approach the courts for an order of mandamus to compel the release of their client instead of unnecessary 'drama'. Sowore's lawyers listened to them and the result was beamed live to a global audience.

The dictum in Nigeria has been that the courts are the last hope of the common man. Democracy thrives on a global concept known as the rule of law. That concept works on the principle that everybody is subject to and accountable to the law as promulgated and openly accessible to all, government inclusive. Obedience of court orders, accountability to courts and open government are parts of the rule.

Impartial observers that Adesina appealed to have seen government disobey court orders arbitrarily to the extent that some detainees have given up on right to fair hearing and impartial treatment under the law. Col. Sambo Dasuki is now challenging Major Hamza al-Mustapha's for his record of long incarceration. Elzakzaky has battled both federal opposition to his bail and Kaduna government's challenge of his freedom to the extent that he gave up court-sanctioned treatment in India because of its stringent conditions.

We don't necessarily have to agree with the 'crimes' for which these individuals were charged - but we know the principle that all accused persons are presumed liable to bail by the order of a court of competent jurisdiction. The disease has infected state governments and powerful individuals. Agba Jalingo was 'kidnapped' from a trip in Lagos and taken to Calabar to face indefinite detention because he criticized Ben Ayade, his state governor.

A young man in Kaduna is in jail for a similar reason and a member of the Kano State parliament has ordered one of his constituents sent to jail for criticizing him in a Facebook post. Our lawmakers are working very hard to create more loopholes to send more people to jail with the Hate Speech and the Social Media Bill. Bills are introduced, read and passed without the requirement of public debate.

The very people who owe their mandate and authority to the rule of law are desecrating the chambers of legality. If we surrender to this institutionalization of illegality, we are all toast to arbitrariness.

The prisons, now called correctional services without commensurate technical backing are already bursting at the seams accommodating thrice their built capacity. More than half of the inmates are awaiting trial persons. What is missing in the prisons is more than correction, freed inmates remind us of holocaust victims heading for the gas chambers. The rights guaranteed by our constitution and years of public advocacy are daily being eroded by civilian dictatorship. If Adesina's words are to wait until the majority troops to the streets in protest, let us hope that government has the capacity to stop it. Silence may be a subtle way of protest. Most silent protesters are very hard to contain when they finally have used up the last ounce of decorum it takes them not to burst. My sincere advice would be for government to tread softly for they may be treading on the resilience of the Nigerian people.

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