Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), in this interview with Bayo Akinloye, calls on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to release the embattled ex-National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, as ordered by the courts
Has the President Muhammadu Buhari administration shown respect for the rule of law — considering the continued incarceration of Sambo Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu?
You cannot judge the human rights record of the Buhari administration on the basis of the detention of a couple of criminal suspects. To the best of my knowledge, President Buhari has never ordered the military invasion of any community or illegal demolition of the homes of the poor. But having promised to end impunity, he has a duty to call every security agency to order whenever the rights of Nigerians are violated. Citizens can be rearrested as many times as possible if there is a reasonable suspicion that they have committed criminal offences. But once such suspects are charged and granted bail by a court of competent jurisdiction, the order should be obeyed. If the government is aggrieved or dissatisfied with the order releasing any criminal suspect on bail, it can challenge the order at the Court of Appeal. Honestly, I sympathise with the government.
What do you mean by saying that you sympathise with the government?
This is because a few members of the legal profession have consistently pampered the ruling class to manipulate the criminal justice system. It is so bad now that only the poor are railroaded to jail. It can be very frustrating that bail is generously granted by judges to those who commit the worst cases of armed robbery. Removing billions of dollars from the Central Bank of Nigeria with the aid of riot police and military personnel in the dead of night is the worst case of armed robbery ever witnessed in our country. In one of the robbery incidents, the sum of $322m was carted away from the vaults of the CBN, changed to N68bn and distributed to all manners of loafers. Even marabouts got as much as N4.7bn. One of them who admitted that he collected over N2bn was being hailed in the court premises by a rented crowd of jobless youths. In granting him bail, the judge ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission not to arrest him in respect of another fraud of N8bn fraud. There is no serious government that will not be embarrassed by what has emerged as judicial cover for big-time crooks. Our judges are yet to appreciate that we are dealing with the worst form of corruption, which is ‘family corruption’. By which I mean the act of charging parents and children with stealing. It is the first time that a father and his children are sharing the same dock for allegedly looting the public treasury.
Are you suggesting that people standing trial for corruption should not be granted bail?
As far as I am concerned, it is illogical for a judge to grant bail to a man or woman who stole billions of naira meant for job creation only to turn round and refuse bail to a young man forced to engage in armed robbery due to unemployment. We are compelled to remind our judges that between 2003 and 2007, no politically-exposed person charged to court by the EFCC was granted bail in Nigeria. Go and check the record. A former governor, who was put on trial, was not granted bail. Even a former Inspector-General of Police was refused bail. But when the EFCC was taken over by powerful criminal elements in 2008 under President Umaru Yar’Adua, the law on bail was changed by our judges. Not only was a former Delta State Governor, James Ibori, admitted to bail by the Court of Appeal, their lordships ordered that his passport be released to him so that he could gallivant around the world. The court of appeal declared that his trial in Kaduna was illegal. As the judge in Benin was not going to play ball, a new court was established in Asaba. Before our very eyes, Justice Marcel Awokulehin, now retired, freed the accused and dismissed the 170-count filed against Ibori. But nemesis caught up with him in Dubai —from where he was deported to London — to the eternal shame of our country. I want to believe the government is worried that the law is being twisted, once again, to accommodate the criminality of the ruling class.
But you said the security agents were being overzealous.
Exercising his powers, the President set up the Arms Procurement Panel to probe the allegations of the criminal diversion of huge funds set aside for the purchase of arms and ammunition for the armed forces. Upon the receipt of the report of the panel, he directed that the suspects be arrested, confronted with the allegations of their involvement in the gargantuan criminality and charged to court. The EFCC has so far handled the investigation professionally. Remand orders were obtained from the courts to detain the suspects. In line with the section 293 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the fat bank accounts of the criminal suspects were frozen on the orders of the court. These measures were in strict compliance with the tenets of the rule of law. I am only asking the government not to be distracted by some overzealous security officials by refusing to comply with a couple of court orders. Personally, I do not like some of the orders. But once they are made, the government is duty bound to obey them.
Some people accused you of having kept quiet for too long.
The fellows who say that are not serious. I am not a spokesperson for the rich. The rich have the resources to hire top lawyers to defend them. Since they can take care of themselves, it is not my business to make a case for them except when it has implications for the society. For close to two years, I have defended ‘pro bono publico’ an array of army officers and soldiers who were convicted, jailed or sentenced to death for asking for weapons to fight terrorists. More so, that is a case of monumental injustice. I advised the government to obey the order of Justice Adeniyi Ademola which had admitted Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) to bail. Mind you, when the residence of Dasuki in Abuja was searched by some officials of the Department of State Services sometime last July and President Buhari was accused of exhibiting dictatorial tendencies by the Peoples Democratic Party, I defended the action of the government. I said there was nothing dictatorial in the circumstance since a magistrate had issued and signed the warrant for the search.
Do you think the government will listen to your views on this matter of disobedience of court orders?
I remember an incident in which the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) and I had to advise our clients to obey a court order. The Nigeria Labour Congress, under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, had issued a strike notice over the removal of fuel subsidy. The government played a fast one by obtaining an ex parte order which Oshiomhole tagged a ‘black market injunction’. It took us several hours to persuade the labour leaders to suspend the strike. They took our advice reluctantly as they had mobilised the whole country for the action. We then proceeded to the court and vacated the order to pave the way for the strike. It is not a sign of weakness to comply with a court order. I have no cause to doubt the commitment of the government to consider my position on the matter. It is on record that government has taken some of my criticisms in good faith.
If your call on the government is ignored, what do you intend to do?
First, I had made a public statement on the matter. Apart from the statement, I had also met with relevant public officers over the matter. I was not in the country last December when the President had his maiden media chat. But I was informed that he defended the detention of Dasuki and Kanu. With respect, I disagree with that position. Hence, I advise the government to comply with the court orders or charge them to court.
Some have accused Buhari of being responsible for human rights abuse in the country. Do you agree?
I do not agree. We are dealing with institutionalised violations of human rights. It is part of the legacy of colonialism. Members of the neo-colonial ruling class have contempt for our people. Hence, in our police and military schools, human rights courses are not taught. From 1999-2015, our country witnessed horrendous violations of human rights and total disregard for court orders. Laws were also violated with impunity. There was a governor who once led armed thugs to demolish the houses of suspected kidnappers. I directed the attention of the governor to the bill signed by him which provides for death penalty. Instead of resorting to jungle justice, I advised him to allow the trial of such dangerous criminal suspects. When General Muhammadu Buhari, as a candidate of the All Progressives Congress, promised that he would fight corruption and end impunity, the majority of poor people decided to vote for him. The Federal Government has begun the fight against corruption but it has to be done within the ambit of the law. Otherwise, the government will play into the hands of criminal suspects. As corruption is already fighting back, the government has to ensure that those who looted the public treasury are tried in accordance with the law.
What do you advise the FG to do on Dasuki and Kanu?
Both Dasuki and Kanu were granted bail. (The Federal Government should) release them on bail or charge them to court without any further delay as one bail does not cover all criminal offences. In fact, Nnamdi Kanu was charged with treason. He said he did not want a particular judge to try him. Take him before another judge. I defended Henry Okah who was charged with treason under the Yar’Adua administration. He was tried in camera in Jos. He was refused bail. If the government has fears that Dasuki will run away, there are ways of dealing with the situation under the law. From the information at my disposal, the EFCC has other charges pending against him. Since this is not a security matter ‘stricto sensu’, let the Department of State Services stay away and stop embarrassing the government. The EFCC is competent to handle a clear case of unprecedented looting of the treasury. The rule of law requires that the infraction of the law by any criminal suspect be dealt with under the rule of law and not under the rule of man.
Aren’t you bothered that this government is authoritarian as alleged by some people?
No, I don’t agree with you. An authoritarian regime would not have taken Dasuki to court. He would have been held incommunicado until he has refunded all the funds allegedly stolen by him and his accomplices. During the military era, all the suspects would have been detained indefinitely under the State Security Detention of Persons Decree. Let us use words like Gestapo or dictatorship as loosely as it is being done by Governor Ayo Fayose (of Ekiti State). This is not an authoritarian rule but a democratic dispensation. Hence, we should rise up against the contraventions of human rights law by fighting impunity whenever it rears its ugly head. (Source: Punch)