The failure of the Federal Government to obey successive court orders granting bail to a former National Security Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), raises serious issues of constitutionalism, the rule of law and Nigeria’s obvious descent into dictatorship. For the avoidance of doubt, Nigerians need to understand that dictatorship starts slowly, builds up incrementally and then goes full blast to a crescendo where everything and everyone will be fair game. It is evident that Nigeria is going through perilous times when the rule of law is about to be subsumed by the rule of the whims and caprices of individuals. This discourse analyses the implications of the continued disobedience of court orders, especially the latest court order on Dasuki, by the Buhari administration.
The first point to consider is that President Muhammadu Buhari came to power through an election where he won the majority vote in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The constitution sets the parameters of governance; allocated federal executive powers to the President and his team; legislative powers to the National Assembly while the judiciary gets judicial powers. Thus, the power to determine the civil rights and obligations of the citizen and to settle disputes between citizen and citizen and citizen and government rests in the judiciary. Essentially, Section 6 (6) (b) of the constitution extends judicial powers to “all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person”. There is also an obligation on the part of the other arms of government to obey court orders and judgements so that society can be governed in a civilised manner. Specifically, the executive that controls the powers of coercion is under obligation to execute court judgements without delay.
In an earlier media chat, the President balked at the idea of setting Dasuki free in obedience to court orders and queried whether the journalists understood the gravity of his offence. Again, the media reports the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), as defending the disobedience of the last order of court that the detainee be set free pending his trial. The Attorney General was quoted in his response to the Voice of America, Hausa Service as saying that Dasuki’s personal rights can be violated for the public good. Malami stated that: “Reports have shown that there was massive mismanagement of funds meant for military hardware which the military could not access and that led to the death of many, embezzlement of the funds and because of that many people have lost their lives. Obeying the court is not the issue per say. Are we going to take the issue of an individual more important than that of the people? The government’s main responsibility is for and about the people. The essence of governance is to better the lives of its people. So, you have to weigh it based on that; the rights of an individual or the rights of the people.”
If this quotation actually came from the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, then it is quite unfortunate and extremely calamitous for the administration of justice and the rule of law. The Attorney General now considers the executive, an appellate court to the judgements of the courts. The executive now reserves discretion as to the court orders it would obey? For the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who should be the defender of the constitution and the rights of the citizen to say the above, we have entered a Tsunami of illegality and constitutional abomination. Where is the public good in the desecration of the constitution and violation of human rights? Is it that the Attorney General does not understand what bail is all about? Elementary legal jurisprudence states that bail is not about the guilt or innocence of the accused person. Stemming from the presumption of innocence, right to personal liberty, etc. bail is a constitutional right except in cases clearly stated in our constitution and evolved case law. What should have been of utmost importance to the Attorney General is the diligent prosecution of the accused person. Clearly, the Buhari administration is using the disobedience of court orders, which factually denies the accused person bail, as a punitive measure.
This is troubling because in the mind of the Buhari administration and its Attorney General, the accused is already guilty. Pray, of what purpose is the trial? A government that submits to the jurisdiction of the court and only enforces judgments that suit its pre-determined position and disobeys others that do not fit into its designs is an abomination and a strong threat to fundamental freedoms. With this mindset, the Buhari government is hereby implored to withdraw all the charges against Dasuki by simply issuing an Executive Order (Executive Order 7), pronouncing Dasuki guilty, sentencing him to whatever punishment that suits its fancy and executing the same. This is logical follow-up to this mindset. Wasting time in the courts that may give a judgement that the administration may not like makes no sense. Let the trajectory, world view and jurisprudence of the Buhari government run its full course!
President Buhari on the day of his swearing-in swore an oath to discharge his duties in accordance with the Constitution. From the last time I checked, the constitution has not been overturned and its supremacy clause is still intact and the President still purports to govern in accordance with the Constitution. Then, this continued disobedience to court orders to free a certain individual cannot be justified under any ground whatsoever. Evidently, personal interest is at play and there is nothing to suggest any larger national interest. This is such a serious misconduct and breach of the constitution that demand Mr. President answer some queries from the elected representatives of the people in the National Assembly.
For the Nigerian Bar Association, this is the time to fight for what every decent lawyer believes in – the supremacy of the rule of law, obedience to court orders and respect for separation of powers. It will also not be out of place for the NBA to consider sanctioning any of its members who advises and supports disobedience to court orders. Corruption cannot be fought outside the crucibles of the rule of law. Otherwise, the fight itself becomes a corrupt act, an act of illegality.
Nigerians did not elect a Leviathan; we did not elect a maximum ruler and we did not elect a Messiah who reserves the right to set aside the basic norms accepted by all civilised nations at his whims and caprices. It is time for all civilised men, women, the youths and children to stand up and be counted on the side of the rule of law. When dictatorship is fully entrenched, no one will be safe including the mob that always bays for the blood of their real and imaginary enemies.