President Muhammadu Buhari
This is 20 years of Nigeria’s experiment with civil rule which aspires to be a full-blown democracy. The current dispensation is founded on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), being the fundamental norm as all laws, actions and policies which are inconsistent with it are void to the extent of their inconsistency. One of its key features is the rule of law within the concept of separation of powers vested in three distinct arms of government. These three arms have their duties clearly delineated in the constitution.
The constitution provides for the rule of law where the legislature will make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation and or the states; the executive implements laws and policies while the judiciary is the arbiter in the determination of the civil rights and obligations of the citizen. Can the Nigeria of today be described as one run under the tents of this constitutional prescription? The continued disobedience to court orders by the executive, harassment of judges and desecration of the courts, being the judicial temple, especially at the federal level by the President’s appointees, question the very basis of civil and democratic governance. The President as the chief executive officer of the federation and Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces has an overriding duty to ensure respect for the judiciary. But there has been gradual erosion of judicial powers and authority and outright disobedience to its judgements and rulings.
When judges of the superior courts were attacked and subjected to abuse and ridicule on the specious agenda of fighting corruption, many Nigerians who could not see through the trajectory of dictatorship clapped. But the discerning knew that the Department of State Services did not need to break down doors and subject serving judges to Gestapo highhanded tactics before bringing anyone found to have committed an offence to justice. Before then and continuing, it was the judicial orders for the release of Dasuki Sambo, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky and now Omoyele Sowore which have been treated with utmost contempt. What has been the response of the executive, from the President to the Attorney-General of the Federation? It is a claim to the right to disobey court orders under their vacuous doctrine of national interest. But the question is – who determines or who is vested with constitutional authority to determine what is and what is not in the national interest? Evidently and glaringly, the constitution vests the judiciary with such powers. But the executive thinks otherwise and without any attempt to amend the constitution usurps the power of the judiciary.
It is the continuation of such arrogance of power and mindless usurpation, which has not been seriously challenged by Nigeria’s judiciary, the civil society and the media that has brought us to this new low. Since the President and Attorney-General of the Federation have expressed their minds against the rule of law, the Director-General of the DSS feels entitled to do anything considering that his superiors have apriori endorsed him and will do anything to protect him. This is the foundation as well as the basis that sets the stage for armed goons, in broad daylight entering a court, disrupting its proceedings and brandishing guns in a bid to supposedly effect an arrest in the hallowed judicial temple. To even worsen matters is the refusal of the agency to apologise for its illegal and obnoxious act that was recorded and has gone viral all over the world. Instead, the spokesman for the DSS believes he is the only sane person and we are all insane after we watched very clear pictures and listened to the testimony of eyewitnesses including the senior counsel, Femi Falana (SAN), who was in court during this dance of the devil.
The ball is back to the court of President Muhammadu Buhari as all Nigerians are expecting him to speak up and take decisive actions if he desires to be taken seriously as a man who understands what the constitution states about the powers, duties and functions of the judiciary. He can no longer pretend not to have heard what has happened. When the same DSS invaded the National Assembly in the time past, then acting President Yemi Osibanjo did not hesitate to sack its then DG for overstepping his bounds. Nigerians are of the unanimous view that the path of honour is for the DG of the DSS to resign or the President must sack him forthwith. Anything short of this is a presidential endorsement of anarchy and gross misconduct. Like no other agency, the DSS has become notorious for holding our laws and the judiciary in contempt.
No one or institution is above the law and anyone who expects others to obey the law must first obey the law in the conduct of his or its operations. The very basis for the establishment, operation and functionality of the DSS is the law. If there is no law and anarchy reigns supreme in Nigeria, there will be no DSS in the first place. Thus, the DSS that arrests a citizen in avowed protection of the laws of the land is duty bound after arresting and filing charges to get to the next level, which is to obey the judicial powers of the federation. For no agency is vested with powers to violate the rights of the citizens without judicial review. Thus, those who feel called upon to deprive others of their constitutional rights in the discharge of what they consider to be their legal duties should meticulously and scrupulously observe the law in its letter and spirit.
Preambular paragraph 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes it clear that it is essential if the human being is not to be compelled to have recourse to rebellion against tyranny and oppression that human rights and fundamental freedoms should be protected through the rule of law. Therefore, President Buhari and all members of the executive should be reminded that it is the fundamental and natural right of every Nigerian, created in the image of God, to resist tyranny, because all humans are born free with inherent and inalienable rights bestowed by the Creator. Our rights as Nigerians were not bestowed by the benevolence of the President or any member of the executive. Electing a President is not the same as conceding and handing over our fundamental rights to be impugned and violated at the whims and caprices of the executive. This is the same set of violations for which Nigerians fought the military to a standstill until they retreated to the barracks.
It is unacceptable that after 20 years of civil rule, the executive seeks to roll back the hands of the clock.
It is not late for the President to call in the dogs of disobedience to judicial authority, respect the rule of law and refrain from violating the rights of citizens through his appointees. The starting point should be the sacking of the DSS boss and thereafter, address Nigerians, apologising for previous disobedience to court orders and promising never again to hold the courts in contempt.
Written by Eze Onyekpere for the Punch