THE re-arrest of the suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, by the Department of State Services despite being granted bail by the Federal High Court in Lagos, and the continued detention without trial of the suspended Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa, and others, continue a worrisome violation of the rule of law by state officials. Alarmingly, under President Bola Tinubu, disobedience of court orders, unlawful detention and impunity by state officials persist, a holdover from the authoritarian government of Muhammadu Buhari. It should not be tolerated; Nigerians should rise with one voice to resist the lawlessness.
It is either Tinubu is distracted, or he endorses the lawless behaviour of the DSS. Either way, it is unpardonable, as he bears responsibility for the actions and misdeeds of executive organs. He should pay attention. Violations of the rule of law that many thought would disappear with Buhari’s exit have persisted and tainting Tinubu’s democratic credentials.
Arrested since June 10 over allegations of terrorism financing, fraud, economic sabotage, and threat to national security, Emefiele was only charged to court on July 25 on two counts of possession of a firearm. Contrary to the constitutional stipulation that no one be detained for more than 48 hours without being charged to court, Emefiele was initially detained for 40 days.
As usual, the secret police demonstrated its ingrained strong-arm tactics right in the court premises when it not only re-arrested Emefiele after the court had granted him bail to the tune of N20 million, but also manhandled officials of the Nigerian Correctional Services. The court had ordered that he be remanded with the NCoS pending compliance to bail conditions before he was seized again by the DSS. This is another blatant disregard for the rule of law. Tinubu should strongly reprimand the DSS and advance democratic ideals.
Emefiele is not the only victim. Bawa was suspended from office by the President and shortly after, was taken into custody by the DSS. By Monday, he had spent 47 days in the gulag without trial. There is the case of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra separatist group. Illegally renditioned in June 2021 from Kenya to Nigeria, held since then and arraigned on treason charges; but granted bail by the court, the DSS has refused to release him.
Lawlessness and impunity by the DSS have long been established, and Buhari apparently endorsed its illegalities. Tinubu is following suit.
A blog published by the William & Mary Law School, USA, declares that “democracy cannot exist without the rule of law,” and that adherence to the dictates of the rule of law stabilises democratic societies while disregard for the law is an attribute of fragile states.
The travails of Emefiele, Bawa, and Kanu present a vital lesson: lawlessness and impunity could ensnare its perpetrators. Emefiele disobeyed Supreme Court orders over the old naira notes early in 2023; Bawa has been cited for contempt for flouting court orders to release suspects and their property; and Kanu disdained the law in his campaign for secession. Admittedly, most Nigerians have no sympathy for Emefiele, remembering his callous naira re-issuance and his defiance of the Supreme Court, but multiple wrongs make nothing right.
Tinubu must reform the DSS. Its Director-General, Yusuf Bichi, has demonstrated his unsuitability for the headship of a domestic security agency in a democracy. Tinubu should replace him with a professional attuned to the dictates and supremacy of the rule of law.
Civil society organisations report that many persons remain in detention without trial held by the law enforcement and security agencies.
A report says Buhari disregarded more than 40 court orders. Among others, a former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, Shiite leader, Ibrahim el Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenah, activist, Omoyele Sowore, and Kanu all endured detention and defiance of court-ordered bail. DSS agents also defied a court order by invading the Ibadan, Oyo State, home of Yoruba self-determination agitator, Sunday Igboho.
Tinubu has not obeyed a recent FHC order that the Federal Government should publish details of money recovered from the late head of state, Sani Abacha. A previous court order in 2018 to publish details of recovered stolen assets in accordance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 is pending.
The lawlessness of successive Nigerian governments degrades democracy and bleeds the treasury; Nigeria owes $557 million, £99 million, and N226 billion in judgement debts.
Citizens should resist oppression by peaceful protests and litigation. A United States court reinstated state house correspondents illegally dismissed by former president Donald Trump in November 2018.
State governors have also trampled on the rights of citizens. Former governors Dave Umahi of Ebonyi, and Ben Ayade of Cross River used police and DSS to hound journalists, Chijioke Agwu, and Agba Jalingo, respectively. A former Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, demolished homes and businesses in defiance of due process.
A former governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, refused to pay some schoolteachers for more than seven years despite court rulings. Governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, disobeyed the Supreme Court judgement that overturned the sacking and non-payment of salaries and arrears of the state’s 33 local government councils’ elected officials in 2021. Within three weeks in office, Governor Abba Yusuf destroyed what he labelled illegal structures in Kano with scant regard for due process.
Nigeria’s democracy rating is consequently dismal. The 2022 Economist Intelligence Unit’s ‘Democracy Index’ and the ‘Global State of Democracy Report’ described Nigeria as a ‘hybrid regime,’ headlined by autocracy and the subversion of democracy. Also, the US Department of State 2021 Nigeria country report deplored unlawful and arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture of political activists and critics, as well as restrictions on freedom of the press and of association.
Tinubu should rein in the DSS and other agencies and ensure strict adherence to court orders and the rule of law.