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Editorial: Obey the law

• The Buhari administration should respect fundamental rights

A major feature that distinguishes a democracy from authoritarian rule is scrupulous adherence to the Rule of Law. In a democracy, there is no room for impunity or capricious rule. Every citizen, and non-citizen alike, is presumed innocent until he has been afforded the opportunity of arraignment and trial in a court of law. Detention beyond 48 hours can only be at the instance of the court. Besides, every court order is to be obeyed unless or until it is set aside by a superior court.

It is within this context that we agree with Mr. Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a notable socio-political rights activist, who has argued that all detainees held by the Department of State Services (DSS), contrary to the tenets of the Rule of Law, should be immediately released or arraigned. Falana contended, in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, that unlawful arrest and detention violate the Constitution, which Buhari had solemnly pledged to uphold at his inauguration on May 29, 2015.

Perhaps Buhari needs to be reminded of what he said: “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.”

As Falana pointed out, the detention of Mr. Ibrahim Elzakzaky of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) since December 2015 is simply inexcusable. The detention of the Islamic leader and his wife, even after Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja division, ordered his release in December last year, portrays the Buhari administration in a bad light.

Similarly, Col. Sambo Dasuki, who served as National Security Adviser under the Jonathan Administration, has been locked up and kept away from his people for more than two years. He has been accused of sundry offences, including illegal possession of firearms, money laundering and diversion of funds provided for prosecuting the war against terrorism in the Northeast. These are all bailable offences and the courts, including the municipal and the Economic Community of West Africa Courts, have ordered that he be admitted to bail. This has been disregarded by the Federal Government. It is hard to believe that this could have happened without the President’s approval.

In yet another case, two Indians, Messrs Nitin Verma and Umesh Asudani, who live and run their businesses in Kano, have been held in detention since October. They were arrested by the DSS for alleged money laundering. Although Justice Usman Mallam Na’Abba has ordered that the detainees be allowed their day in court, the DSS authorities have disregarded the ruling. This suggests that the government has no regard for the laws of the land as the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, clearly makes detention without court order illegal. It must be noted in the case of the Indians that a government interested in attracting foreign investment should not expect to do so through such disrespect for the law.

There is no question that the Nigerian Constitution is supreme. All tiers, branches and institutions of government derive their powers from it. The provisions on Fundamental Human Rights therein, as well as those in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act, as well as the Administration of Criminal Justice Act are binding on the government.

We call on President Buhari to forthwith obey the laws of the land. Failure to do so amounts to a gross violation of the terms and spirit of the Constitution. He should also call his men in the law enforcement agencies to order.

THE NATION

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