The Federal Government of Nigeria has ordered the release of the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki rtd and the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore.
The duo have been incarcerated by the president Buhari administration for various alleged offenses. Dasuki was accused of embezzling over $2.1 billion security fund while Sowore was arrested and charged with treason for calling for a revolution.
Upon their arrests, there had been several court rulings granting them bail but had been ignored by the Federal Government. The government’s refusal to obey court orders has resulted in series of protests and condemnation both locally and internationally.
In October 2016, the court of Economic Committee of West African States (Ecowas) ordered the Federal Government of Nigeria to release Dasuki and awarded N15 million in damages in his favor. The order, like others given by Nigerian courts was flouted.
Early in December, the Department of State Security Service (DSS) invaded a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja and rearrested Sowore who had been granted bail the previous day. The development did not go well with a lot of Nigerians, especially those in the legal profession. The outrage that followed the incident resulted in the DSS sending a delegate to apologize to the presiding High Court Judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu.
Following the consequent backlash, the National Assembly ordered probe into the incident termed “desecration of the court.” The U.S Government did not hold back from condemning the Federal Government over the excesses of security agencies and their apparent disregard for the rule of law.
On Monday, protesters for the release of Sowore, led by political activist, Deji Adeyanju, were attacked by hoodlums chanting (Sai Baba). They were believed to have been sponsored by the government as counter-protesters. Deji was injured, and another round of outrage ensued as a result.
The chronology of these events is seen as evidence that the present administration is being draconian and would go to any length to muzzle dissenting voices. so it came surprising on Tuesday when the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami issued a statement on the order to release both Dasuki and Sowore. The statement reads:
“1. The office of the Honorable Attorney General of the Federation has reviewed the pending criminal charges against the duo of Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and Omoyele Sowore. Whilst the Federal High Court has exercised its discretion in granting bail to the defenders in respect of the charges against them, I am also not unmindful of the right of the complainant/prosecution to appeal or further challenge the grant of bail by the court having regards to extant legal provisions, particularly 169 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. However, my office has chosen to comply with the court orders while considering the pursuit of its rights of appeal and/or review of the order relating to the bail as granted or varied by the courts.
“2. In line with the provisions of Sections 150(1) of the 1919 Constitution (as amended), and in compliance with the bail granted to Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) (as recently varied by the Court of Appeal) and the bail granted to Omoyele Sowore, I have directed the State Security Services to comply with the order granting bail to the defendants and effect their release.
“3. The two defendants are enjoined to observe the terms of their bail and refrain from engaging in any act that is inimical to public peace and national security as well as their ongoing trial which will run its course in accordance with the laws of the land.
“4. I wish to reiterate again the utmost regard of my office for the entire judicial structure of Nigeria. This administration remains unrelenting in deepening the rule of law and the administration of justice in general.”
The questions that followed this statement are: why does the DSS have to wait for an order from the Attorney General of the Federation to obey a court ruling? What about the leader of Islamic Movement of Nigeria, El-zakzaki who the court has also ordered his release? Is the Attorney General selective in the court rulings he obeys?
On December 21, the U.S. Government added Nigeria to the Special Watch List of countries that show disregard for religious freedom and tolerance, and that is besides what has been criticized as government clampdown on free speech and freedom of expression. The order to release Dasuki and Sowore has been attributed to international criticism. On 20 of December, the U. S. Congress had written Mr. Malami, urging him to respect the laws of his own country, especially regarding So wore, who the court had notably granted bail twice. But why the letter did not compel the government to release El-zakzaki also is not clear.
Civil rights activists have urged Mr. Malami to use his office to facilitate the release of others who are held against court orders.