It was heartening that, on the eve of Christmas, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration released Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) and Omoyele Sowore, both of whom had been held in detention in spite of orders from competent courts that they be released on bail. The action was actually in compliance with court orders. Both men are facing various charges in court, but the courts have also ruled that their offences are not such as call for indefinite detention. They can be granted bail, not to walk away from trial, but to continue to come for trial from the point of freedom, since they had not been convicted of their charges.
Sowore had been charged for attempting to convene a revolution, just as Dasuki was charged for alleged misappropriation of funds meant for purchase of military hardware in the previous administration. Dasuki had been in detention for over four years, to the consternation of scores of human rights activists who have called for his release following orders of court granting him bail. But Dasuki was kept behind bars.
There had been unconfirmed rumours that Dasuki was kept there on account of a vengeful act by Buhari for Dasuki’s alleged role in the coup that ousted the Buhari from power in 1985, when he was in the saddle as military Head of State. It was said that all the courts in the land could not rescue Dasuki from the President, who is said not to easily forget or forgive. Some people had been categorical in stating that Dasuki would never breathe the air of freedom until Buhari completes his tenure, the same way the Chief Security Officer to late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, Major Hamza al Mustafa, remained in detention in the days of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency.
Dasuki had been in detention since 2015, in spite of court orders granting him bail. Sowore was whisked thrown into detention that should have lasted for a maximum of 40 days. His lawyers swung into action, and got the court to grant him bail. They succeeded but the terms were too stringent, he had to stay back in detention to enable them appeal for lighter conditions or make moves to meet the conditions. On December 6, 2019, his handlers met the conditions, but hardly had he been set free than the Department of State Security (DSS) stormed the courtroom to re-arrest Sowore, and hell was let loose on the government and its agents for that act. Human rights activists, foreign countries, including the American government, came down hard on the Buhari government for the brazen desecration of the court, another independent arm of government.
A rather stringent newspaper editorial drew more attention to the matter. The Punch newspaper was scathing when it made a policy decision to desist from addressing Buhari as President, and rather address him as Major General Muhammadu Buhari, on account of his dictatorial tendencies, a trait that trailed him from his days as military Head of State. The President has often lamented the bottleneck tendencies of democracy, such as slow his desire to deal with corrupt people. The President has come to terms the reality of democratic tenets, and the adherence to the rule of law, the major ingredient of democracy. He has bowed to the rule of law. It has been in the rumour mills that the American government was unequivocal in its condemnation of unlawful detentions in Nigeria, for which Buhari’s people told America not to arrogate to itself the unassigned duty of being the global policemen for democracy and the rule of law.
However, I commend the President for obeying the courts. The truth is that heaven would not have fallen had he stuck to his guns in keeping the detainees. I have often been minded to believe that the President may be unaware of the unbecoming acts that may be carried out by his overzealous aides, in the guise of protecting their principal. Buhari, in releasing these detainees, has shown democratic tendencies. We must not forget that the the world, including Pope John Paul II, urged the late General Sani Abacha to release MKO Abiola and other detainees, but they spoke to deaf ears. I applaud the President, and plead with his aides to proceed with a large dose of caution when defending the indefensible. If past Presidents turned their backs on the rule of law, such actions do not make it a norm to ignore orders of court. By this action, Buhari has sent the right signals to all arms of government.
Dasuki and Sowore have enjoyed bail but the list has not been exhausted. Whatever applied to them also applies to other illegal detainees. Past unlawful precedents must not be cited as reasons for disobedience of court orders. It was unfortunate that politicians put a knife between the press on the matter. That section that wrote in apparent defence of the President would have been used to dent its integrity. One critical ingredient of a good and thriving press is tha even the promoters must see it as public trust. The press must fight on the side of the people and not pander to sectional interests, as those who defended the President on this matter betrayed.
NB: This article should have been published last week