An overwhelming majority of Nigerians, who responded to The PUNCH opinion poll, said that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari was being lawless for refusing to obey court orders.
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had on Tuesday ordered the Department of State Service to release the convener of #RevolutionNow protests, Omoyele Sowore, who was arrested on August 3. But almost a week after the court gave the order, the DSS had yet to set Sowore free.
Before the agency ignored the order on Sowore, it had refused to set others, including the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenat; an ex-National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki and a Yenagoa-based journalist, Jones Abiri, free despite court pronouncements.
The PUNCH, had in the poll posted on its website on Saturday at 10pm asked, “Is the government’s persistent disobedience of court orders an act of lawlessness?”
Less than 24 hours after poll opened on The PUNCH portal, 2,073 representing 85.34 per cent of 2,429 respondents said that the government had been lawless.
A total of 314 respondents, representing 12.93 per cent, said the persistent disobedience of law did not mean lawlessness as they voted ‘no.’
On the other hand, a total of 42 respondents representing 1.73 per cent were not decisive as they voted ‘can’t say’.
Respondents were asked to choose one of three options to the question. The three options were “yes,” “no,” and “can’t say.” Out of the three options, an overwhelming majority, 2,073, chose ‘yes’.
This was followed by 314 respondents who chose ‘no’ and the 42 undecisive respondents who chose ‘can’t say’
Similarly, on Twitter, 83 per cent of 8,257 respondents said that the government had been lawless. Thus, an overwhelming majority of 6,853 respondents said that the government had been manifesting lawlessness.
A total of 11 per cent or 908 respondents, on the other hand, said that the refusal of the government to release the detainees on court orders did not represent lawlessness.
Another 495 respondents, representing six per cent of the total number of respondents, couldn’t say whether the refusal to obey court orders amounted to lawlessness.
The result of the opinion poll on Twitter represented the status as of 8pm on Sunday.
The respondents in their comments on The PUNCH website berated the President. One of them, Nigeriaintears, stated that “Buhari is misbehaving because the judiciary does not know its worth! They are all beggars. If they are not corrupt, they (judges) should have resigned and left the seats for the President to occupy.”
On his part, NewNation said, “ Buhari wants Nigerians to obey court orders, but Buhari himself has refused to obey the same court orders. Buhari rushed to court to proscribe IPOB and called them terrorists. The same Buhari rushed to court proscribe Shi’ites.”
‘Court orders now worthless’
Another respondent, Adesina, wrote, “I never knew court orders could be this worthless in a democratic government. One thing I believe is that we will surely outlive this.”
But Jide Ajibola said, “I believe the media are making a lot noise about this. What kind of message is this Buhari administration passing to Nigerians. I pity the future of this country if there will ever going to be one , with the rate at which the politicians and government keep doing the wrong things and taking the wrong decisions.”
Bidemi Adelabu wrote, “Check the character of people he has refused to release. Check the weight of their offences and re-examine yourselves. Don’t we have several cases in the land going smoothly as expected? Use your brain, if it hasn’t been looted by the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party).”
Also, Sowore and others’ travails attracted comments on Facebook. Lere Olayinka, in his comment, said, “On Monday, Sowore will be arraigned for treason and other offences, including insulting our almighty President. He will not be granted bail and he will remain in the DSS detention till God knows when.
“The lesson to be learnt from this is ‘never support a known tyrant to gain power because under him, no one will be free, including you.’
On his part, Guv’nor Yemi Prince, said, “In a better clime, it is an impeachable offence (disobedience of court orders) but here, we have the three organs of government vested in only one person.”
Also, Chimezie Chikezie, said, “We are in a terrible situation right now and we must endure it for the next four years. Sowore brought us here and he definitely is partaking in his own share of the spoil he made.”
Another commentator, Jamiu Isiaka, stated, “Nigerians who voted for Buhari are the problem and lawless people. You clothed a tyrant in 2015, he disobeyed court orders.”
Wasiu Popoola, stated, “Disobedience of court orders is dangerous. But there is an urgent need to review the constitution. The President is too powerful.”
But Abe Olumide Abiola, berated Sowore, “Treasonable felony is not a bailable offence….Sowore fans should study the charges levelled against their mentor,” he stated.
Buhari’s govt, DSS treating judiciary with contempt—NBA, Falana, others
Also on Sunday, Nigerian Bar Association, prominent lawyers and activists took a swipe at Buhari’s disregard for court orders.
Recall that during swearing-in of 38 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria, on Monday last week, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, had said the judiciary “will strongly uphold the tenets of the constitution as the supreme law of the land.”
He had said, “All binding court orders must be obeyed; and nobody, irrespective of his or her position, will be allowed to toy with court judgments.”
But on Sunday, the NBA condemned the DSS various acts of impunity and disobedience to the court order for the release of Sowore.
Besides the NBA, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana and others accused the Buhari administration of treating the judiciary with contempt.
The association called for immediate release of Sowore and other citizens being illegally detained by the agency.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kunle Edun, the NBA said the conduct of the DSS, which had held Sowore for more than 50 days “is unacceptable in a country where there are laws.”
The statement read in part, “The Nigerian Bar Association is aware of the unfortunate and flagrant disobedience of the order of Honourable Mr Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court sitting at Abuja directing the release on bail of citizen Omoyele Sowore by the Department of State Service on September 24, 2019, of which the bail terms have long been perfected by the detainee’s counsel.
“The NBA recalls that the DSS found it convenient to approach the Federal High Court in ensuring the detention of Omoyele Sowore for more than 50 days, but has since refused to comply with the order of the same court directing the release of citizen Omoyele Sowore.
DSS treats judiciary with disdain – NBA
Calling for the release of Sowore, the NBA noted that the DSS was fast becoming “an agency that enjoys treating judicial process with disdain, particularly as it pertains to obeying orders of courts enforcing the fundamental rights of Nigerians.”
It added, “The continued detention of Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) in spite of various court orders readily comes to mind.
On his part, Falana, described the Buhari administration as “a neo-colonial regime which has contempt for the Nigerian judiciary and the people. The regime has continued to treat court orders with disdain.”
He charged both the bench and the bar to halt the “disturbing development” of wanton disobedience of court orders by the administration.
He said, “It is a matter of irony that the neo-fascistic Buhari junta released all victims of the obnoxious State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 2 of 1984 in obedience to court orders, while the elected President Buhari justifies disobedience of court orders for the release of detainees in a democracy under the pretext of maintaining national security over the rule of law.
“The disturbing development should be halted by the bar and the bench. Our judges should commit public officers who disobey court orders to prison, while the NBA should suspend federal and state attorneys general who support disobedience of court orders.
“Let the NBA take up the challenge. After all, the Vice-President, Attorney General and Minister of Justice and two ministers are Senior Advocates of Nigeria in the Buhari cabinet. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Chief of Staff to the President, ministers of foreign affairs, information and others are senior lawyers. I once counted 12 lawyers in the Buhari cabinet. Each of the state government has senior lawyers as attorneys general. It is high time the NBA called them to order.”
He recalled that Nigeria found itself “in the avoidable mess” of judgment indebtedness of $9.6bn in favour of a foreign firm, Process and Industrial Development, “because of her total lack of respect for the rule of law”.
Buhari’s disregard for rule of law scaring away investors – Falana
He said he was aware of “not less than five companies that wanted to invest in Nigeria, but decided otherwise because Buhari said publicly last year that national security had to take precedence over the rule of law in the country.”
He added, “The Attorney General, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, who ought to have assisted the President echoed the anti-democratic statement.
“Many companies and individuals fear that breaches of contracts by the government cannot be successfully challenged in Nigerian courts whose orders are usually ignored. It is also one of the reasons London, New York, Paris and even Johannesburg are now chosen as venues of tribunals in respect of contracts executed in Nigeria.”
Giving indication that the culture of disobedience of court order was only reinforced under the Buhari administration, Falana said, “We have compiled not less that 40 judgments of the courts that are being disobeyed by the federal government for the past 15 years.”
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Seyi Sowemimo, said it was good that the Chief Justice of Nigeria had openly expressed concern about and condemned disobedience to court orders. He encouraged anyone whose right was being violated despite court order to initiate contempt proceedings.
Govt disobeying constitution – Adesina
Also expressing concern about widespread disobedience of court orders by the government, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Dele Adesina, said by disobeying court orders government was disrespecting the constitution.
Also, human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, described as unconstitutional and undemocratic situations where government agencies flouted court orders at will.
Adegboruwa, particularly, decried the refusal of the DSS to release Sowore despite the order of the court.
“It is the case by his lawyers that the bail conditions have been met but the DSS is still holding onto Mr Sowore, in flagrant violation of the express order of the court.
Some Nigerians in detention and their travails
Besides Sowore, other Nigerians that are being detained despite court orders include the leader of the IMN, El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenat; who have been detained by the DSS in spite of an order the Federal High Court on 20 December 3, 2016.
The Federal Government has also continued to disobey various court orders granting bail to the immediate-past NSA, Dasuki.
The ex-NSA is facing multiple charges bordering on illegal firearms possession and diversion of the $2.1bn earmarked under former President Goodluck Jonathan for the purchase of arms for the Nigerian Armed Forces to fight the Boko Haram insurgents.
He regained his freedom on December 29, 2015 after perfecting the bail conditions. The freedom was, however, did not last long as he was re-arrested by the DSS when he was released.
Jones Abiri in detention since, 2016
Also, Jones Abiri has been in detention since July 21, 2016. His family members, friends and medical doctors have not been allowed access to him at the Kuje Prison, where he is being detained.
Naval officer Labinjo and 67 persons in DIA underground detention
Recently, Falana wrote the National Human Rights Commission complaining how about 67 persons including Naval Captain Dada Labinjo, had been held for months by the Nigerian Navy without trial.
Falana, said though he obtained an order of the Federal High Court for the release of many of them, the court order was ignored.
He said Labinjo was being detained in the underground detention facility of the Defence Intelligence Agency in Abuja since September 12, 2018.
Dadiyata’s whereabouts unknown – Activist
More than 42 days after his arrest, an activist, Abubakar Idris, popularly known as Dadiyata, has not been released.
An civil rights activist, Ibrahim Maryam, told our correspondent in Kano that activists had been searching for Dadiyata, adding that no security agency had claimed responsibility for his arrest.
He said another activist, Basheer Galadanchi, was arrested about two weeks ago by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
Maryam said that civil rights activists and Basheer’s family members were still making efforts to fulfil his bail conditions.