Disrespect of court orders, rule of law under Buhari worse than Abacha, Babangida ― Falana
• Sowore/SSS court saga greatest abuse of the rule of law
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, on Wednesday, said the disdain with which court orders were being disobeyed under the current democratically elected government of President Muhammadu Buhari is worse than even the renowned fascistic regimes of late Sani Abacha and former head of state, Ibrahim Babangida.
Falana who spoke on Wednesday during the 2019 Law Week of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ibadan branch, described the last Friday’s saga involving the State Security Services and founder of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, at the Federal High Court, Abuja, as the greatest abuse of the rule of law ever witnessed in the country.
Making reference to various instances of orders of the court handed out during the Sani Abacha regime, which he described as the most murderous and fascistic of all regimes, Falana said disobedience to court orders, with respect to detainees, under the Buhari administration was epochal.
“Even the most murderous, fascistic of them all, the late Sani Abacha, never disobeyed the orders of the court, with respect to detainees. In 1996, I was detained in a Jigawa prison for 10 months in one year but on the eight-month, my wife got an order from the federal high court to visit me. She took the order to Abuja to serve on the honourable Attorney General, late Mike Agbamuse, SAN and he wrote a letter to accompany the order to the prison’s superintendent asking them to comply and allow the bearer to visit her husband. On that basis, my wife was allowed to visit me, under Abacha.
“Babangida closed down a newspaper, Concord newspaper owned by Abiola. The decree provided that the government can close down any newspaper house that embarrasses the government and they brought the proscription order. The decree said any newspaper house can be sealed off; the return said the premises of Concord newspaper are hereby sealed up. In arguing my case, I brought a bottle of wine to the court and argued that bottle of wine can be sealed up but a house can only be sealed off but this house has been sealed up which is illegal. The government argued on a technicality but the judge said if you are dealing with penal statutes that affect with the rights of people, you must comply with the law strictly and scrupulously. Once there is a departure, you are out and the court on that basis struck down the closure of the newspaper house.
“The only time the Babangida regime disobeyed court order was one in Gongola, now Adamawa state. The current Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, was the Chairman of the bar in Yola, he alerted the then President that a court order was being disobeyed. The NBA met and decided to boycott the courts. Two days later, the same government ran to a court and got an order against us.
“The greatest irony for me is that under a democratically elected government, court orders are being disobeyed and disregarded, with disdain. When did the rain begin to beat us? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo disobeyed the order of the Supreme Court; this never happened since 1914 in the case of Attorney General of Lagos vs Attorney General of the Federation over local government fund. But President Yar’Adua, another PDP President, objected that such cannot happen under a democracy. He then said the money must be paid.
‘You know for former military people, and I hope this will be the last in Nigeria, there is no way you can turn them into democrats. A military dictator remains one forever. They have this conquest mentality that nobody can disagree with them,” Falana said.
Falana particularly, fingered the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, for spearheading continued disrespect for the rule of law by the Buhari administration.
According to Falana, Malami’s disposition towards obedience of court orders was epitomised by his statement on July 15, 2018, on the Dasuki trial, where he said national security was higher than the liberty of an individual.
Noting that that Malami’s statement was a call to anarchy and asking the courts to be closed down, Falana said the NBA should be able to de-robe and sanction Attorney Generals at federal and state levels who disobey court orders.
“Under the current administration, the Attorney General is the problem. On July 15, 2018, the Attorney General, Mallam Abubakar Malami said on VOA Hausa service said the government will not release Dasuki no matter what the court says because the man stole money and many people died. He then said national security is higher than the liberty of an individual.
“For the bar, if we want to get it right, we have to sanction Attorneys General at the federal and state levels who disobey court orders. If anybody had made that statement that Malami made in England or Ghana, that person will be de-robed because that is the totality of democracy. If you say you will not obey the orders of the court, you are calling for anarchy and asking the courts to be closed down,” Falana said.
He bemoaned last Friday’s Sowore/SSS saga as an utter disregard for the rule of law and desecration of the court.
He lampooned the SSS for its statement released 24 hours after the Sowore saga, questioning if the SSS would have stood aloof to watch those alleged Sowore’s men continued to beat a suspect they planned to re-arrest.
Falana held it was incontrovertible that the SSS apologised in court for the fracas that ensued after Sowore ran back into the court for cover when SSS attempted to re-arrest him.
“What happened last Friday in Abuja is the greatest abuse of the rule of law that I have witnessed in this country. A court granted bail, the sureties verified by the court and the court issued a release order. The SSS said no, go and bring the sureties for us to approve and I said I will not be the lawyer that will turn a security agency into an appellate chamber over the federal high court. I told my clients that I will not allow them to create a dangerous precedent through me.
“Luckily for me, my clients asked me to go ahead adding that they understand that the purpose for asking that we produce our sureties is to have them detained under the pretence that they were verifying them so that they can frustrate them and withdraw their being sureties.
“The following day, we went to the court to thank our ladyship for standing by the rule of law and for protecting the integrity of our court but I told our ladyship that my client was likely to be rearrested and charged afresh. The government lawyer denied that there was no plan like that. As I had already left the well of the court, as Sowore was trying to leave, just at the door of the court, they wanted to seize him.
“Anybody would have rushed back to the court because the court is a sanctuary. Under section 42(3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, you cannot execute a warrant of arrest inside a courtroom. This time around there was no warrant at all. Sowore asked on what basis they were arresting him and they pounced on him.
“I couldn’t believe when the SSS after 24 hours, issued a statement saying that those who rough handled and brutalised him were his own people. But the question I have asked, which they haven’t answered, is assuming, without conceding, that they are Sowore people, and this is a suspect you want to arrest, will you have allowed them to kill him?
“Shouldn’t you have arrested them for pouncing on a citizen? What happened is against the provision of the anti-torture act of 2017, you can no longer subject any Nigerian to such indignity.
“Another thing they said is that they were in court at all. I was already going out when the other members of the defence counsel quickly said there may be a problem if I go. He said on his way to their office, these people may kill him and say that he was trying to escape. Moreover, we have already seen them in action in court.
“They have also said that he may be run down by a moving vehicle. I then came down with him, they now wanted to arrest him in the premises of the court, which I declined stating that this is a sanctuary. That is why I led them to the gate. They thought I wanted to run away and said they wanted their own driver to drive. So, we were driven to their office and I handed over Sowore to their officers,” Falana said.