Insist it fared better under military rule

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

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 the court.

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“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 an 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 the power to do whatever we like under the law, in disobedience to an 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 the 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 was 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.

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“The military then made laws for themselves, but the judiciary was still allowed to adjudicate. And when it adjudicated, the military complied. It is the saddest 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 a 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 a 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 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.”

On his part, a constitutional lawyer and human right activist, Jideobi Johnmary, said: “I have always known that the present government is a huge danger to democratic ethos in more ways than one but I never knew it would come to this bottom of obscenity when state forces would have the temerity to invade and disrupt the proceedings of a properly constituted Court at the very Headquarters of the Federal High Court in the nation’s capital Territory in a bid to carry out a specie of arrest considered an aberration in law in view of the venue of the said arrest.

“It raises the abiding question which is: how many more impunity and unprecedented desecration and disdain for the Judiciary would the present government commit that would be sufficient to rouse the stakeholders in the nation’s Judiciary to robustly rise to the occasion, stamp their feet authoritatively on the ground and make the statement that the nation’s Judiciary would no longer countenance state-sponsored impunity, outlawry and condescending abuse of this our most sacred institution?

“Lawyers and the journalists who rose to defend the sanctity of democracy must be commended. However, history would be most unkind to all the stakeholders who have shamefully elected to keep mum or sit on the fence in this perilous and dark hour of our democratic experiment. In the face of this grave atrocity, all those who keep mum to preserve their offices, government contracts, government relationships, government briefs, life and limbs and or such other political backlashes will never ever know peace!

“Evil which they promote by their chilling silence will surely overtake them and abide forever and never depart from their homes. Above all, as has been said by the National Human Rights Commission, all the men and officers of the SSS who are found wanting or complicit in this atrocious attempt at overrunning the Nigerian Constitution must quickly be brought to account for the greatest incitement for crime is the hope or certainty of escaping punishment.”

Similarly, another constitutional lawyer, Chief Nkereuwem Akpan, said: “Firstly, it must be stated clearly and for the avoidance of doubt that there is no limit to the number of times a person may be arrested for questioning so long as an offence is alleged to have been committed by him. There’s a caveat to this general rule however and would occur where for instance there is a valid order of court precluding same in respect of a subject matter already a subject of adjudication before the court.

“In the instant case, he can be lawfully arrested upon a valid warrant (or without a warrant depending on the nature of the offence). Secondly, the next question will necessarily be the place and venue of the arrest.

“There is no provision in any law for the time being in force permitting the arrest of suspected offenders inside the courtroom or even within the four walls of the court’s premises.

“In fact, the extent and sacrosanct provisions of section 43 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2015 expressly prohibits an arrest inside the Courtroom

“I am unable to wade into or discuss the political implications of the current travails of men like Sowore, Dino Melaye, Bukola Saraki, Olusegun Obasanjo or Lamido Sanusi etc.their injuries are self-inflicted and I am content to let them stew in it.

“The judiciary as an independent arm of government lost its independence and was emasculated the day the DSS invaded the private sanctuaries of judges and justices under the cover of darkness arresting, harassing and intimidating their Lordships under the pretext of fighting corruption. Everything that has followed is simply the ripples effect.

“I think the NJC and the NBA can team up and restore some modicum of sanity, but the fabric has been torn and desecrated already. What we can do is a bit of damage control”, he added.

Human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, equally condemned the action of the DSS in re-arresting Sowore within court premises.

He said: “When a government that is supposed to respect and protect institutions, citizens’ rights and rule of law, invades and desecrates the sacred precincts of a Court of law, then we are in trouble.

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“When the same DSS invaded Judges’ homes in October 2016, terrorizing the hapless Judges and their families, many uninformed Nigerians hailed the misadventure as a sign of fighting corruption. I had vehemently disagreed then, citing section 36 of the 1999 Constitution and section 7 of the ACJA that inure in us our humanity and human dignity and respect.

“I had warned then of a possible descent into anarchy and chaos if the masked DSS goons were not immediately restrained and halted on their tracks. Friday’s disgraceful and atrocious outing by the DSS is the clearest exemplification of a rudderless state in search of a redemptive deus ex machina.

“A government that is short on tolerance to criticism, a plurality of voices and opposition and which serially violates citizens’ rights and disobeys court orders is a ready recipe for organised disenchantment. Our constitutional democracy should be one modelled on the rule of law and not on the rule of the thumb of a benevolent ruler, even if dictatorial, tyrannical, absolutist and fascist.”

Vanguard

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