FG Must Stop Unlawful Arrests, Flouting Judiciary Orders -AI

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Amnesty International

Amnesty International, yesterday, accused Nigeria’s government of carrying out unlawful arrests and practising “enforced disappearance” detention without trial to suppress dissent.
“The Nigerian government has used enforced disappearance as a longstanding tactic to silence critics and instil fear in civilian populations,” the rights watchdog said.
It said some detainees had been held incommunicado for up to nine years or more, without access to family or lawyers, and others have continued to languish in prisons despite court orders for their release.
Amnesty cited the case of journalist, Abiri Jones, who it said had been detained by the Department of State Services (DSS) for two years without access to family or lawyers.
Head of Amnesty’s Nigeria Section, Osai Ojigho, said, “At the beginning, the government denied detaining him, only to later release him following pressure from civil society organizations. It is unacceptable that many families are going through the same turmoil Abiri’s family went through”.
The rights group said people suspected of links to the Boko Haram jihadist group, Niger Delta oil rebels and pro-Biafran activists had suffered a similar fate.
Amnesty asked the government to account for some 600 Shi’ite members of a pro-Iranian group called the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), allegedly held since deadly clashes with the military in December, 2015.
“We call on the Nigerian government, as a matter of urgency, to end unlawful arrests and incommunicado detentions,” Ojigho said.
“Enforced disappearance is an instrument of intimidation that grossly violates human rights. It is unacceptable and must stop.”
It would be recalled that last Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari drew the flak of opposition, civil society groups and lawyers for remarks on the rule of law.
Buhari, a former military dictator in the 1980s but who was elected in 2015 and is seeking re-election in February, said the “rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.”
Similarly, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has berated President Muhammadu Buhari for saying that rule of law can be suspended for the sake of national security.
Buhari had, at the opening of the 58th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja, said, “Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.”
In a statement titled, ‘Buhari’s Pernicious Doctrine’, yesterday, Soyinka said he was thankful that Nigerians were being given an advance warning of what is to come.
The Nobel laureate recalled that during his rule as a military dictator, Buhari locked up journalists under the guise of ‘national security.’
He said, “Here we go again! At his first coming, it was ‘I intend to tamper with Freedom of the Press’, and Buhari did proceed to suit action to the words, sending two journalists — Irabor and Thompson — to prison as a reward for their professional integrity.
“Now, a vague, vaporous, but commodious concept dubbed ‘national interest’ is being trotted out as alibi for flouting the decisions of the Nigerian judiciary. President Buhari has obviously given deep thought to his travails under a military dictatorship, and concluded that his incarceration was also in the ‘national interest’.
“The timing is perfect, and we have cause to be thankful for the advance warning, since not all rulers actually make a declaration of intent, but simply proceed to degrade the authority of the law as part of the routine business of governance.”
Soyinka said he was happy that the ominous statement was made in the presence of lawyers.
He called on the NBA to make a sound reaction to Buhari’s statement.
The playwright added, “We have been there before. It should be of mere interest, not despondency that this latest proclamation of dictatorial recidivism has also been made before an assembly of officers of the law, the Nigerian Bar Association. We expect a robust response from the NBA as part of its conclusions.”
While insisting that there was no short cut to democracy, Soyinka said history had shown repeatedly that those who tamper with the rule of law never end well.
He added, “There is no short cut to democracy. The history of law, even where uncodified, is as old as humanity. Numerous rulers have tried again and again to annul that institution. Sometimes, they appear to succeed, but in the end, they pay heavy forfeit.
“So does society. The rule of law, however, outlasts all subverters, however, seemingly powerful. If the consequences for society in defence of the rule of law were not so costly, any new attempt would be merely banal and boring, hardly deserving of attention. We know, historically, where it will all end.”
However, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) has advised President Muhammadu Buhari to let the courts decide what constitutes threat to national security instead of allowing security agencies to disobey court judgments under the guise of safeguarding national security.
Falana, who was a discussant at the 58th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja, yesterday, said this while responding to a question posed by another senior advocate, Chief Mike Ozekhome.
Ozekhome had questioned Buhari’s speech at the opening of the conference wherein the President suggested that human rights could be suspended with regards to national security.
The lawyer had also asked Falana if the Supreme Court ruling on Asari Dokubo vs. Federal Government gave the Buhari government the right to detain people indefinitely under the guise of national security.
Speaking on the topic, ‘Rule of Law and Security,’ Falana said civil liberties could be put in abeyance with respect to national security.
He, however, argued that only the courts should be made to determine what constitutes a national security threat.
Falana added, “The point made by the President has long been captured in the Latin maxim, ‘Salus Populi Supremalex’ which means the law of the society will take precedence over individual liberty. Where we can depart from the President is the attempt by whoever wrote the speech to use the case of Dokubo Asari vs. the Federal Republic of Nigeria to justify disobedience to court orders.
“In that case, Justice Tanko made the point that it is only when you have peace that you can talk of your individual liberty. But if the country is in pieces, you cannot talk of human rights and nobody can dispute that.
“But who defines national insecurity? It is the court; Section 45 of the constitution has provided that many of those rights in Chapter 4 can be suspended. So, the law is very clear on this.”
Falana also agreed with Ozekhome that the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation must be separated from that of the Minister of Justice.
The activist said the AGF is not supposed to be a politician.
“As for the office of the attorney general and minister of justice, I have always argued that both have to be separated. One is a politician, one is a professional. We have not been able to draw a line of dichotomy,” he said.