*ECOWAS may be financially broke
By Kingsley Omonobi
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice has adjourned sine die (indefinitely) judgment in the case of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) against the Federal Government in which he challenged his unlawful detention by government since December 2015 in the custody of the Department of the State Security Service (DSS).
The court, presided over by Justice Friday Nwoke had on May 16 reserved judgment till today after taking final argument from Dasuki’s lawyer Mr. Robert Emukperuo and government lawyer Mr. Tijani Gazali.
However, journalists, lawyers and other observers who stormed the regional court in Abuja Wednesday were taken aback when they were told that the much awaited verdict of the court was not ready and that the new date for the judgment would be communicated to lawyers when ready.
At the court entrance, journalists, lawyers and observers were turned back by about twelve security men who told them that the court management had mandated them to tell everybody that judgment was not ready, prompting the people to leave one after the other when the reality dawned on them that the court will not sit after all.
Dasuki had dragged the Federal Government before the ECOWAS Court praying the regional court to intervene in his detention without trial since December last year.
The ex-NSA asked the court to void the detention, the seizure of his properties and to bar government from further detaining him without a lawful court order.
In the court action instituted by his counsel Mr. Robert Emukpoeruo, Dasuki asked the court to award in his favor a sum of N500 million as compensatory damages for his alleged unlawful invasion of his house, detention, seizure of properties and infringement on his rights.
He claimed that government had put him on trial in three different high courts on corruption charges where he was granted bail and that after his bail, he was re-arrested on December 29, 2015 and has since been held incommunicado without lawful court order.
Dasuki told the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice that the federal government has no legal or moral justification for his continued incarceration since December last year.
The ex-NSA who argued through his counsel, while making his final address predicated his stance on Sections 293-296 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act ACJA 2015 which outlines the procedure for keeping a suspect in detention for not more than two weeks.
“To accentuate the illegality of the arrest and detention of the applicant, the ACJA 2015, S.293 to 296 thereof, set out the procedure for the detention of any person pending trial or investigation. And in summary, that procedure requires judicial intervention by a magistrate for it to be carried out and the maximum detention time-frame is two weeks”, he submitted.
Emukperuo had earlier filed an application to amend the originating application by including additional reliefs, a request the court granted, ordering the defendant to respond, if any, within 15 days to the issues raised in the amendment.
He prayed the court to order the release of his client and as well order the government to pay N500 million as compensation to Dasuki.
He recalled how several courts had granted Dasuki bail and how President Muhammadu Buhari had stated in a media chat that the ex-NSA cannot just be released.
He said his client’s arrest and detention by the defendant is without any legal justification because it was not backed with any court order.
“The critical issue that needs to be resolved is whether there is any legal justification for the detention of the applicant by the defendant”, he said, adding that the only justification in the amended statement of defence adduced by the defendant for detaining the applicant is the recourse to national security.
“They have not adduced before this court any judicial procedure that they have relied on in incarcerating the applicant.
“They have equally not relayed to the court any domestic legislation whatsoever to justify the detention of the applicant.
“My lord I submit that this is a classic case of arbitrary and illegal arrest”, he added.
The counsel further submitted that the government has defied all known legal instruments or legislation by not following its own laws.
He said apart from its complete disdain for the laws of the land, government has also not followed judicial orders given by courts of competent jurisdiction.
Emukperuo said on the issue of being in possession of arms, Dasuki was granted bail on self-recognition and the Ministry of Justice did not oppose the application for bail, wondering why they had to still keep him in detention having not opposed the bail application if they knew he was a security risk.
“It is a spurious defence conceived in bad faith, and I urge the court to dismiss it”, he pleaded.
But the Federal Government through its counsel, Mr. Tijani Gazali, had argued a preliminary objection against Dasuki on the ground that he ought to have filed a contempt charge against the government for alleged disobedience to court order on the bail granted him but the ECOWAS Court ruled that the case of the plaintiff was on his fundamental rights and has nothing to do with the domestic court.
While no reason was giving for the indefinite adjournment of the ruling on Dasuki’s case, it was learnt that the ECOWAS Court and its Parent body the ECOWAS Secretariat may be financially broke.
Recently the Vice President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, Justice Micah Wright disclosed that one of the impediments that the court was facing was insufficient fund for its operation due to non-payment of levy by member states.
“The court and by extension the entire community is facing financial difficulties where member states are not paying up the community levy and that is the means of finance for all ECOWAS activities,” he said.
“The court is always at disadvantage when the funds are being distributed. But we have to take more initiatives to impress it upon the commission the mandate of the court is of such that the court is alone.
“The court cannot source external funding like the commission or like other institutions. We don’t want to compromise our independence and neutrality by going out to seek donor funding.”
At another occasion, the President of ECOWAS, Mr. Marcel De Souza expressed frustration over the paucity of funds being experienced by the commission.
De Souza, spoke when he led a delegation from the commission to a courtesy visit on the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mrs Khadijat Abba-Ibrahim.
He appealed to Nigeria and other member states to rescue the commission by paying up their outstanding levies.
“The community levy which represents 90 percent of our funding is no longer regularly paid by most member states; Nigeria is not alone in this regard, also Cote D’Ivoire.
“We see that the greatest challenge lies with Nigeria. The arrears that Nigeria owes are 694,000 dollars because there was no payment made between 2015 and 2016.
“Because of the debt burden it carries, ECOWAS is now losing its credibility,” the president said.
Meanwhile President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier assured of Nigeria’s continued commitment to meet all her obligations to the ECOWAS Commission.
Buhari made the pledged last month (May 27, 2016) while receiving the new president of the ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Marcel Alain de Souza in State House, Abuja.
The President was reported to have told the ECOWAS delegation that “the federal government of Nigeria would strive to show good example by meeting all its financial obligations to the sub-regional organization.”