Pursuant to the Supreme Court judgment in Dokubo-Asari v FRN (2007) ALL FWLR (PT 375) 588 (pg 585-586) per Muhammed JSC (CJN rtd), fundamental human or individual rights may be suspended over national security. However, such situations apply at pretrial stages; prior to arraignment in the court. The moment arraignment is done; the court assumes the position of the referee. Thus, to pay no attention to its order on account of national security or whatever reason is off beam and akin to bringing back the obnoxious proscribed Decree 2 State Security (Detention of Persons) of 1984 which then gave indefinite powers for detention of persons without arraignment on security ground.
In a democracy, rule of law is supreme. Under the doctrine, once a matter is laid before a court, it connotes submission to the jurisdiction of the court. Hence, all parties; the accuser – the accused are under duties to abide by the rulings of the court for a conducive atmosphere. It doesn’t matter the nature of charges hanging on the suspects. Where a party believes the court is biased and did injustice in a matter, the appropriate thing is to approach a superior court for appeal. For self-help, it is a non sequitur.
Historically, self-help does more harm than good to the society as it brings fears and uncertainties. Rule of law is the trademark of democracy. For example, the government can competently arrest a suspect over threats to national security. But the suspect must be arraigned accordingly and if the court grants bail or directs release from custody, except appealed, the suspect must be released in line with the court order. Under no circumstances will national security justify indefinite or indiscriminate detention.
Arguably, the power to suspend fundamental human rights terminates at prosecution in the court as arraignment amounts to total submission to the legal justice system. So also, the power vested in the government on national security doesn’t supersede a court order. Otherwise, needless for arraignment in the first place if any of the parties cannot be bound by the verdict of the court. It is more pathetic when a suspect after securing a bail from the court labored to meet the conditions which may be tough only to be denied the partial freedom.
Frankly speaking, the grievous allegations against Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd); former National Security Adviser to erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan deserved severe punishments if found guilty, precisely the inconsiderate diversion of public funds earmarked for arms procurement amidst alarming insecurity, which led to loss of countless innocent lives. Incidentally, the doctrine of rule of law doesn’t see it from that angle. It makes it compulsory that everyone including the government must submit to the court for fair-hearing as the temple of justice alongside the mantra; the last hope of the common man. If not, it may be abused some day in future for selfish motives.
Consequently, since no fresh charges were filed against the accused person, government should thoughtfully comply if the suspect met the bail conditions as ruled by the court. Rule of law is simply adherence to prescribed procedures particularly obedience to court orders irrespective of justification or not. To release a suspect on bail doesn’t amount to exoneration from alleged charges rather it is simply a judicial practice that distinguishes the system from the barbaric jungle justice.
Of course, my views would have been different if the federal government had appealed the ruling or filed fresh charges as done previously even without him stepping out of the custody. But as that is not the case, the court order should be complied with as a civilized and democratic society. According to Tom Bingham, “the rule of law is held to be not only good in itself, because it embodies and encourages a just society, but also as a cause of other good things, notably growth”.
For example, former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, was on bail for years till the day the court delivered judgment on his case. From that point, he was moved into custody. Ditto a former Taraba State governor, Jolly Nyame, who also bagged 14 years jail term. Several others were on bail while their prosecution lasted but finally jailed. Thus, bail is only a partial freedom and if the prosecution has cogent reasons why it shouldn’t be granted, the reasons should be adduced to the court for consideration knowing that the court exercises discretion on bails.
What the government essentially needs is a good prosecution team to conclude its case meritoriously. Above all, the government needs to look into the incongruous delays that have become accepted norm in the legal justice system to the extent that some matters have stayed over a decade in the court which already tantamount to injustice to a party in the suit. According to William Ewart Gladstone, “justice delayed is justice denied”.
Nonetheless, the determinations of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to restore sanity, prudence and accountability in the polity deserved commendation. The federal government requires public support to continue in its task to rid the nation of corruption and lawlessness. However, it is imperative that all actions must be within the ambit of the law while the fight gathers momentum. If not, the laudable efforts may be endangered.
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst.