Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), on Thursday, urged the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), to ensure the release of the detained leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenat.
Falana, who made the call in an open letter, said the minister and the Presidency never ceased to justify the detention of the couple, who have been in custody since December 2015.
Malami had, while explaining why El-Zakzaky and his wife were not released on the Christmas Eve like Dasuki and Sowore, said, “The Federal Government does not interfere with cases being prosecuted by a state government.”
But responding in his open letter to Malami on Thursday, Falana stated, “Notwithstanding the pending criminal case in the Kaduna State High Court, your office and the Presidency have not ceased to justify the refusal of the Federal Government to comply with the orders of the Federal High Court and the Kaduna State High Court.”
Falana recalled how the Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, in its judgment on December 2, 2016, awarded the couple N50m damages for their illegal detention, ordered the Department of State Services to release them from custody and provide them with a house since the Nigerian Army had burnt down and demolished their house in Zaria, Kaduna State.
Falana also reminded the minister that on July 26, 2019, during his screening for reappointment as the Attorney General of the Federation, Malami told the Senate the failure to carry out the court orders by the Buhari regime in respect of El-Zakzaky and others was based on national security.
Falana recalled, “In justifying the decision of the Federal Government to detain Messrs Sowore and Bakare in defiance of the orders of the Federal High Court, the Department of State Services issued a statement on November 14, 2019, wherein it claimed the duo as well as El-Zakzaky and Dasuki were enjoying themselves in custody as ‘they are allowed access to people and use of other facilities like telephones, gymnasium, TV, newspapers and medical facilities’.”
He urged the minister to ensure compliance with orders which had been issued by both the Kaduna State High Court and the Federal State High Court in respect of the couple.
El-Zakzaky and his wife were arrested in December 2015 following a clash between members of his Shi’ite movement and soldiers in the entourage of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The Army had subsequently transferred the couple to the Department of State Services, until their recent transfer to the prison authorities in Kaduna following an order of the Kaduna State High Court.
Meanwhile, Malami, has, in another development, said the regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) had the right to detain the Sahara Reporters’ Publisher, Sowore; and a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), despite court orders that granted them bail.
Malami made the claim while featuring in an NTA programme, titled, ‘Good Morning Nigeria’ on Thursday.
The minister said the constitution gave the government the right to appeal court orders to the level of the Supreme Court.
He said during the process of applying for variation of court orders or appealing judgments, the enforcement of court order could be delayed and this ought not to be termed as disobedience to court orders.
When asked if that was what happened in the cases of Dasuki and Sowore, the AGF said, “There were applications for setting aside orders; there were appeals for stay of execution all through. So, until those matters reach the Supreme Court and it takes the final decision, you are still operating within the ambit and context of rule of law.”
Malami, who had come under intense criticisms for disobedience to court orders, said, “Perhaps, I need to clear the air on how the rule of law operates within the context of the Nigerian constitution. We have multiple and a plethora of judicial decisions that establish the fact that when you are challenging a court order through a judicial process, the idea of disobedience to that court order does not arise.
“The misapprehension that set into the system and deliberately put in the public space is the fact that once there is a court order, you must unconditionally comply. You can only be adjudged being in disobedience of a court order when you don’t take advantage of the constitutional powers, rights accorded to you by appealing against the order and perhaps seeking for stay of execution of the order or perhaps you don’t take any steps seeking variation of the court order.”
It can be recalled that in the case of Sowore, the DSS never stated that its refusal to release him was based on an appeal of his bail granted by the court. Rather, the DSS, through its spokesman, Peter Afunnaya, gave several reasons for about a month, some of which included that his lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, refused to come to take his bail or that the agency would only release him to a surety.
In another instance, Afunnaya said, “We cannot just release Sowore and ask him to go because he may be knocked down by a vehicle at the gate.”
Sowore was later released but re-arrested inside the court the following day for reasons unstated.
Malami stated that the decision to release Dasuki and Sowore recently was not based on any international pressure but the prerogative of mercy.
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