By Ikechukwu Nnochiri – Abuja
Senior legal practitioners in the country, on Monday, flayed what they termed as continuous desecration of the judiciary by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, insisting that the recent re-arrest of embattled pro-democracy activist and convener of RevolutionNow Protest, Omoyele Sowore, within the precinct of the Federal High Court in Abuja, was the height of impunity.
The lawyers, in separate interviews with Vanguard, condemned Omoyele’s re-arrest, barely 12 hours after he was released from over 124 days detention by the Department of State Service, DSS, saying it depicted a total lack of respect to the authority of the judiciary as an independent arm of government in the country.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Mohammed Abeny, who was embittered over the incident, concluded that the judiciary fared much better under the military junta, alleging that most Judges presently adjudicate under the influence of fear.
He said: “The judiciary has suffered unprecedented disruption under this regime that is so-called democracy. Even under the dictatorship of General Abacha, was the judiciary so desecrated?
“Whenever court order was given under Abacha, he obeyed. But here we are, a supposed democracy, with the Executive flouting with impunity the orders of court.
“What happened to Sowore has been criticized particularly from the point that it happened in the precincts of the courtroom. A courtroom is a sacred place which forbids somebody from being arrested within the court premises. But this area has been much over-flogged by critics and those who saw what happened as a sort of insult to the judiciary.
“I want to look at it from another angle. Why was it even necessary to re-arrest Sowore after he was granted bail? Within 24 hours or less after his release he was re-arrested. This is a man who has been in their custody for over 100 days.
“If indeed he committed any offence, that period is more than enough for them to frame any charges against him. He was granted bail based on the fact that there was no prima-facie case established against him. My worry is, what did he do after he was granted bail, after his release, to warrant his re-arrest whether in the courtroom or outside the courtroom.
“Why will people calling themselves the DSS commit such atrocity by re-arresting him in defiance of existing court order? That is my concern.
“The situation now is this, yes, let the court give whatever order, let the court release any suspect in their custody, we have power to do whatever we like under the law, in disobedience to existing court order.
“Now their excuse was that the arrest was outside the court premises. The question is why they will even carryout such arrest outside the court premises? It is disdain and short of saying that they do not recognize the judiciary and whatever it does, it is on its own. And we the DSS we have the power to undo what the court has done. That is, by arresting anybody the court granted bail or freed.
“This is worse than can be imagined. I am filled with nostalgia to see that our judiciary has been so degraded and reduced under a democracy. It has never been so bad. I am a student of constitutional law and in my over 37 years of practice, I saw where judgments involving military officers on cases that were taken to court under the military and the court gave judgment, the military government complied.
“A case in point is the case between federal government and Odumegwu Ojukwu, where the Supreme Court made a clear statement that there existed in Nigeria then under the constitution, two institutions, one of them being the judiciary, because it was under the military regime.
“The military were obliged to obey the court orders and recognized the judiciary. If they had wanted, they could have at that time abolished the judiciary because they had already fused the powers of the Executive and the Legislature together.
“The military then made laws for themselves, but the judiciary was still allowed to adjudicate. And when it adjudicated, the military complied. It is most sad and worst thing to happen to a country when the judiciary is being silenced. The judiciary is being hunted down, not only by noncompliance with its orders, but by subtle threats.
“When matters are before judges they are being threatened subtly. Since the midnight raid on houses of judges, it has never been well with the judiciary. It started with the ugly, unjust and illegal removal of the CJN, followed by refusal to comply with court orders. People like El-Zakzaky, people like Dasuki are known cases, but there are others, where the acted with impunity and they are getting away with it.
“Today as it, the Nigerian judiciary has been decapitated by this government. They have unlawfully and unconstitutionally, rendered the judiciary impotent. That is the worst thing any government can be remembered for.
“That under your time, the judiciary was decimated as never before. There is right to protest, which they have abolished. Bad as the 1999 constitution is, it recognizes the independence of the judiciary. The powers of the three arms of government are embedded in the constitution. Judiciary under section 6, Legislature under section 3 and Executive under section 4. They are called the ominibus powers of the government.
“But today, this government has subsumed the duties and reduced the judiciary to mere institution that exists only in the papers. It is sad, and unfortunately, we have a rubber-stamp legislature that ought to call the executive to order by passing resolutions and motions inside the government, but it will not.
“Leaders of the legislature today have failed in their duties. It is unfortunate for the leader of the Senate to say that whatever the President says is something that is good for Nigeria. So if the President said Sowore should be remanded indefinitely in detention without trial or conviction by the court, it is good for Nigeria.
“It is unfortunate. Since I grew up, I have studied the 1960, 1966, 1979 and even the 1999 constitution as bad it is, under the military, the judiciary fared better, and yet we claim that we are operating under a democracy. This is the worst dictatorship than under the military.”