A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, has again reacted to the federal government’s position on the recent release of activist Omoyele Sowore and former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki.
In a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Falana said the Nigerian government had no right to indefinitely detain a citizen for the offences that Mr Sowore and Mr Dasuki were accused of.
He said the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, should apologise to both men for the illegal detention.
Mr Falana also said the Nigerian constitution does not allow the federal government to solely determine what constitutes national security.
Mr Dasuki, a retired Nigerian Army colonel, was arrested shortly after vacating office, as NSA on December 1, 2015 following an allegation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
On December 29 of that same year, Mr Dasuki was released on bail but rearrested hours later, by officials of the State Security Service. Mr Dasuki remained in prison, despite various court orders for his release till the agency released him on December 24, following a directive by the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
Mr Malami also directed the SSS to release Mr Sowore in compliance with subsisting court orders, long neglected by the federal government. Mr Sowore was released four months after his initial arrest on August 3. He had also been briefly released on December 5 but rearrested on December 6 by the SSS.
After his release, Mr Malami granted an interview to the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Cooperation where he justified the failure of the government to timely comply with the court orders for the release of Messrs Sowore and Dasuki.
In a reaction to Mr Malami, Mr Falana, who is the counsel to Mr Sowore, countered the arguments raised by Mr Malami in the interview with the British broadcaster and added that the justice minister was not empowered by law to order the release of detained Nigerians on compassionate grounds.
“Even under the defunct military dictatorship, detaining authorities were not authorized to incarcerate any person for “security reasons” in defiance of court orders.
“With profound respect, you have no power to release any detained defendant from custody on compassionate grounds. As you are no doubt aware, only the president and state governors are entitled to exercise the prerogative of mercy or release any convicted person on compassionate grounds by virtue of section 175 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
“But having belatedly deemed it fit to review your position and advise the federal government in line with the tenets of the rule of law you ought to have apologised to both Sowore and Dasuki. That is what is expected of you in accordance with section 32 (6) of the 1999 Constitution. It is not an occasion for grandstanding or arrogant display of power,” Mr Falana said.
Mr Falana said it was obvious that the release was propelled by local and international pressure mounted on government against the claims made by Mr Malami that the government was not compelled by international forces to yield to the court orders.
Mr Falana also said the decision to challenge the bail, was not enough to continue keeping any accused in prison.
“Honourable Minister, we concede that the government is entitled to appeal against the order of bail if it is dissatisfied with it. But in the cases of Sowore and Dasuki the federal government did not file an appeal against any of the orders in question. Hence, no application was filed for a stay of execution of the orders. Assuming that the federal government had filed an appeal against the orders of bail the mere filing of the appeal could not have constituted an order of stay of execution of the orders for bail,” Mr Falana said.
He cited cases where the Buhari administration as a military leader respected the decision of courts to release accused persons and advised Mr Malami to help the current administration “make compliance with court orders a cardinal policy.”