Activist lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Department of Secret Service (DSS) to release Nigerians and foreigners being held in illegal custody contrary to the provisions of the constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
In the alternative, he asked the government to arraign them in the appropriate courts in line with the avowed commitment of the present administration to respect the fundamental rights of the people under the rule of law.
Falana made the request in a letter to the President dated December 5 and titled: “Request to end illegal arrest and detention of law-abiding citizens and foreigners in Nigeria”.
He noted that Buhari, during the inauguration of his administration on May 29, 2015, pledged to end the culture of impunity in Nigeria.
The letter reads: ”Specifically, Your Excellency promised that ‘as far as the constitution allows me, I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people, if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch.”
“But contrary to Your Excellency’s pledge, the State Security Service otherwise called the Department of State Security (DSS) has engaged in the indiscriminate arrest and detention of many citizens and foreigners living in Nigeria.
“From the information at our disposal, the DSS has detained several Nigerians and foreigners to settle personal scores. Others have been arrested and detained by the DSS on the suspicion that they have committed criminal offences, a matter that is within the purview of the Police and the anti-graft agencies. To compound the illegality of such arrest and detention, the orders made by competent courts of law directing the DSS to either release or produce detainees in court have been treated with contempt.”
To buttress his claim, Falana listed some of the people whose fundamental right to personal liberty has been infringed upon by the DSS to include the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Dasuki Sambo, Sheik Ibraheem Elzakzaky and his wife, Hajia Zeinab Elzakzaky and two Indian nationals, Messrs Nitin Verma and Umesh Asudani.
The senior lawyer noted that Col. Dasuki was arrested and charged with money laundering at the Federal High Court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2015, following his indictment by the Presidential Panel on Procurement of Arms and Ammunition and for illegal possession of arms at the Federal Capital Territory High Court by the DSS.
He said trial courts admitted the defendant to bail pending trial.
The lawyer said though Dasuki met the bail conditions, the DSS contemptuously refused to release the defendant from custody while the order of the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) directing the Federal Government to release the defendant from further custody has been ignored by the DSS.
According to him, Elzakzaky and wife, Zeinab, who he described as political detainees, were arrested after the military invasion and destruction of their home in Zaria, Kaduna State on December 14, 2015 during which 347 people including three of the children of the couple were killed by the rampaging soldiers.
On December 2, 2016, Falana said the Abuja judicial division of the Federal High Court presided over by the Honourable Justice G. O. Kolawole declared the arrest and detention of both detainees illegal and unconstitutional.
He said the judge ordered their release from illegal custody and awarded N50 million damages in favour of both detainees and directed the Federal Government to provide them with a temporary accommodation since their residence was burnt down by “the rampaging troops with the connivance of the Kaduna State government.
He said the Federal Government has ignored the orders of the court while the DSS has continued to hold the couple in illegal custody.
Falana said the two Indian nationals, Messrs Nitin Verma and Umesh Asudani, who live and do business in Kano were arrested on October 5, 2017 by the DSS on the basis of allegations of money laundering.
He said the order made by the Justice Usman Mallam Na’abba of the Kano State High Court for the production of both detainees in court has been ignored to date by the DSS.
Falana said he highlighted the aforementioned cases to let the government appreciate the extent to which the DSS leadership has embarrassed the Buhari administration by using the security agency to settle personal scores with political opponents.
Falana urged the President to direct the DSS to desist from further arresting and detaining innocent people and criminal suspects without court orders contrary to the provisions of section 293 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
This piece first appeared in TheNationOnline December 7, 2017