The Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on Monday said the federal government showed an ‘act of mercy’ to two illegally detained men by not appealing their bail orders.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the government last week released an activist, Omoyele Sowore and ex-National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki.
Mr Sowore had been detained for several months despite meeting bail conditions set by the courts while Mr Dasuki was detained for four years despite meeting his conditions.
The government eventually released both men after a lot of local and international pressure.
After the release, Mr Malami granted an interview to the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation where he justified the failure of the government to comply promptly with the court orders for the release of Messrs Sowore and Dasuki.
Femi Falana (SAN)
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 news medium.
He said the justice minister deserved to tender an apology to the recently released people, according to the provisions of the law.
He also said the government was mandated to release anyone granted bail by the court and that the government was yet to appeal the bail orders for Messrs Sowore and Saraki.
Rather than apologise to both men, Mr Malami on Monday further justified the government’s stance.
Mr Malami also described the government’s failure to challenge the bails granted to Mr Dasuki and Mr Sowore as “an act of mercy.”
In his reaction contained in a statement by his media assistant, Umar Gwandu, Mr Malami also accused Mr Falana of ‘fabricating’ constitutional provisions to support his arguments.
He accused Mr Falana of citing “non-existent sections of the law” to support his claim.
“Our attention has been drawn to a letter circulating on the media, purportedly written by Mr Femi Falana, SAN and titled “Re: Why FG Released Dasuki, Sowore – Malami”, in response to the statement issued on December 24th 2019 by the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (HAGF) in relation to the subject,” the statement said.
The statement also said the AGF decided to respond to the letter, “to clarify issues including the federal government’s right to challenge bail orders and how Nigerians should view such rights even when the government decides to wave them.”
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“First, it is beyond doubt that the Federal Government of Nigeria or any Prosecuting Authority has been vested with constitutional right of appeal in Criminal Prosecutions. These rights extend to Rulings on Bail and right to seek to vary terms of Bail, among others. Thus, in any circumstance where this right is waived by the Prosecution, it can only be for valid reasons, including compassion, after all connected issues have been duly considered,” the statement said.
Mr Malami also accused Mr Falana of quoting section 32 (6) of the constitution “which does not exist.”
“It is unfortunate that a senior member of the Bar could resort to concoctions and fabrications of non-existing provisions just to score cheap media publicity,” Mr Malami said in his statement.
The justice minister also criticised Mr Falana’s reliance on section 175 of the constitution which talked about the prerogative of mercy.
He accused Mr Falana of “stretching arguments beyond reasonable limits” adding that the government is committed to ensuring the unity of the nation and upholding the rule of law.
In a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Falana dismissed the claim of fabrication as brought by Mr Malami and urged the AGF to address the issues raised in his statement rather focussing on frivolities.
“That was obviously a typographic error. It’s section 35 (6) which deals with compensation in the case of illegal detention.
Femi Falana (SAN)
“He should face the issues and not dwell on petty frivolities. I raised several issues. I said he had an obligation to obey court orders and such obedience had nothing to do with compassion.
“I said that no government agency or authority had powers to detain anyone longer than 48 hours. I said that even the president who is empowered to grant amnesty can only do so after a person has been convicted, not before that. Why is he not responding to these issues?” Mr Falana queried.
The section 35 quoted by Mr Falana during the interview with PREMIUM TIMES states that: “Any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person”; while the subsection (6) states that “the appropriate authority or person” means an authority or person specified by law.