The campaign against impunity and intolerance by the media, civil society, the general populace and the international community recorded a modest, but significant victory on Tuesday as the Federal Government bowed to sustained public pressure to release detainees in wrongful custody.
The Federal Government, which had rejected entreaties to release the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, and an ex-National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) after both men were granted bail by the courts, made a U-turn on Tuesday and ordered the release of the two men.
The directive by the AGF for the release of Sowore and Dasuki came barely eight days after he said he had no power to issue such directive to the DSS to release the Sahara Reporters publisher from custody without recourse to court.
The AGF was, in the statement by his spokesperson, Dr Umar Gwandu, on December 16, reacting to the letter by Sowore’s lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), sent to the AGF’s office to demand the activist’s release.
Falana’s letter, dated December 13, had followed the announcement by the AGF’s office that it had taken over the prosecution of the Sahara Reporters publisher and his fellow detainee Olawale Bakare from the DSS.
The Dasuki conundrum
On September 1, 2015, Justice Adeniyi Ademola who was then of the Federal High Court in Abuja granted the former NSA bail on self-recognition shortly after he pleaded not guilty to the charges of illegal possession of firearms, and money laundering, among others.
On December 18, 2015 Justice Baba Yusuf of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Maitama, Abuja, granted bail in the sum of N250m with one surety to Dasuki, who was being prosecuted on charges relating to the diversion of funds meant for procurement of arms needed to fight insurgency in the North-East.
On December 21, 2015 Justice Peter Affen of the same FCT High Court also granted bail to him and his co-defendants with respect to another set of 22 counts of misappropriation of about N13bn in the sum of N250m with two sureties in like sum.
DSS operatives on December 29, 2015, re-arrested and took Dasuki into custody shortly after he was released from Kuje Prison in Abuja on meeting the bail conditions imposed on him by the courts.
Displeased with his continued detention in violation of the court orders, Dasuki’s legal team approached the ECOWAS Court of Justice, to seek redress on behalf of the ex-NSA.
The regional court on October 4, 2016, ordered Dasuki’s unconditional release from illegal custody and awarded N15m damages in his favour and against the Federal Government.
When the orders were not complied with, the ex-NSA also filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit before Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court in Abuja.
In her judgment delivered on July 2, 2018, the judge granted fresh bail in the sum of N200m with two sureties.
Following an appeal by Dasuki, the Court of Appeal on June 13, 2019 reduced the bail conditions imposed on him by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court’s July 2, 2018 judgment.
The lead judgment, delivered by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, had reduced the bail sum from N200m to N100m, and also cancelled the condition that he must pay N100m to the account of the Federal High Court which would be retrievable only after the completion of the cases against him.
Also cancelled was the Federal High Court’s condition that Dasuki’s sureties must submit evidence of tax payments for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017.
The appellate court also awarded N5m damages against the Federal Government for the unlawful detention of the ex-NSA, who has been in the custody Department of State Services since December 29, 2015, despite a series of court orders directing his release.
Following a further application for the variation of the bail conditions, another three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, on November 22, 2019, cancelled the condition that Dasuki must produce a Grade Level 16 civil servant with landed asset worth N100m within the Federal Capital Territory.
In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Stephen Adah, the court held the it was wrong for courts to make the presentation of civil servants sureties for bail.
The release of the two men generated lot of reactions on Tuesday. The Arewa Consultative Forum said it commended the decision of the Federal Government to release Dasuki and Sowore.
The ACF stated this in a statement in Kaduna by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Muhammad Ibrahim-Biu. The ACF called on those released to comply with their bail conditions.
On his part, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Samson Ayokunle, in a statement, described the Federal Government’s action as “a Christmas gift to the populace.” A cross-section of Nigerians on social media also commended the move.
But the Minority Leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, in a statement by his media adviser, Uchenna Awom, urged the Presidency to release other detainees that the courts had granted bail.
The Peoples Democratic Party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said Buhari ordered the release of Sowore and Dasuki because of national and international pressure.
Sowore’s lawyer, Falana; Chief Mike Ozekhome,SAN, and other lawyers also commented on Sowore and Dasuki’s release.
Falana said, “We call on the Federal Government to release other political detainees and criminal suspects in line with valid and subsisting orders of courts.
“In particular, we request the Federal Government to liaise with the Kaduna State Government to withdraw the charge filed against Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife, Mrs Zeinat Elzakzaky, who have been detained since December 14, 2015.”
On his part, Ozekhome said, “I am happy the government has finally realised its faux pas and is seeing the same light which I saw since 2015, when I kicked against the illegal incarceration of Dasuki.It is never too late to take corrective measures and make amends.”
A former 2nd Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Monday Ubani, said the release of the two men was in compliance with a series of court orders which the government had always breached.
The immediate past President of the Committee for Defence of Human Rights, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, said the release of the two men came too late.
He stated, “It is coming too late, too little in the sense that nothing precluded the same Federal Government and the AGF from directing the same releases soon after the express orders of courts.
“Recall that the orders sought to be obeyed now have been issued several months and weeks ago, depending on the case. This is a damage control effort that has very little impact because of the profound damage that has been occasioned by the indiscretion of this government and the presently established tradition of disobedience of court orders.”
The Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Yinka Oyebode, hailed Buhari for releasing Sowore and Dasuki.
Culled from Punch