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OPINION: Guilty until proven innocent



OPINION: Buhari’s presidency at Nigeria’s expense [1]

NIGERIA’s laws provide that any suspect arrested in connection with any crime whatsoever is presumed to be innocent until found guilty by a court of law vested with competent jurisdiction. We acknowledge that in some other climes the reverse is the case. In those places suspects are adjudged to be guilty and the onus would then be on them to prove their innocence. Nigeria appears to be moving towards the later category. Our steps toward that state is still minute and insignificant but we are clearly, steadily and gradually heading in that direction. It is also interesting, though sad, that our steps backwards in the enforcement of the laws of the land is accelerating in the dispensation of democracy since 1999 and especially since the affliction of the presidency of Maj.Gen. Muhammadu Buhari happened on Nigeria in 2015.

Sambo Dasuki was retired from the Nigerian Army. He was a Colonel. He is royalty being the son the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, who was deposed by a former military ruler, the late Gen. Sani Abacha. Sambo was national security adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan, who was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP], lost the presidency in May 2015 to Buhari of the All Progressives Congress [APC] political party. Seven months later, in December of 2015, Col. Dasuki was arrested by the secret police which goes by the name Directorate of State Services [DSS]. He was accused of stealing or misappropriating $21 billion appropriated for the purchase of arms and ammunition to prosecute the fight against insurgents particularly in the north east region of Nigeria. Dasuki was left to rot in prison for a long time while the DSS carried out their ‘investigations’.

But eventually he was arraigned in court on a number of charges including money laundering and gun running. A federal high court granted him bail but Buhari’s regime ignored the court’s order. Dasuki remained in jail. A court of appeal heard the government’s case and still ruled that Dasuki should be let out on bail. The regime ignored the ruling. Hours passed into days, days into weeks, weeks into months and months into years and the suspect remained in prison. After four long years, including allegedly years in solitary confinement, Dasuki was allowed out on bail. He was in jail from December 2015 to December 2019.

The case against Dasuki appears to have died a naturally death since after he regained his freedom four years ago. Of course, there is always a likelihood of conspiracy theory for every such travail. And there was in the case of Dasuki. It was suggested that Buhari, reputed to be vindictive, was taking vengeance on Dasuki. Buhari was sacked as a military ruler in 1985. The story was that Dasuki, who was a junior officer at the time of the coup that ousted Buhari, played an active and visible part in his arrest and subsequent detention for about 30 months. So it was pay back time.

Government was being used to prosecute personal battles. Some Nigerians at that time made muffled noise about the ordeals of Dasuki. But Buhari got away with it.

Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is the leader of the self-determination group, the Indigenious People of Biafra [IPOB]. The group was branded a terrorist organization by the Federal Government of Nigeria and then proscribed. So far, and to the annoyance of the erstwhile Buhari regime, no other country or international organization subscribed to the terrorism labelling of IPOB.

As part of the growing tribe of Nigerians who are determined guilty of crimes even before the courts of the land say so, Kanu has so far cumulatively spent three years in prison without being convicted of any offence by any court of law. Earlier, he had spent two years between DSS dungeon and Kuje, Abuja- prisons, and last month marked one year that he had been imprisoned by the DSS.

Kanu was on bail from Kuje prisons when he fled the country. Soldiers had invaded his home in the outskirts of Umuahia, Abia state, shot and killed some people. He reportedly escaped by the skin of his teeth. Last year he was trailed and arrested in Kenya and was subjected to extraordinary rendition. A United Nations [UN] working group on human rights issues said his arrest as well as rendition was illegal and they violated international laws and conventions. It said Kanu should be released unconditionally. Buhari ignored them.

Eventually the federal government brought charges against him. A federal high court in Abuja struck out about seven of the 15 charges preferred against him and ordered that he be tried on the rest. Kanu objected and took the matter to the Appeal Court which found in his favour and struck out the remaining eight counts. Indeed the superior court ruled that Kanu should never be made to face those same charges again. Buhari was adamant. His DSS has kept Kanu in prison since then while pretending to be formulating new charges against him. Three years and counting. No end in sight.

Last month two other citizens were arrested and clamped into jail by the secret police. The DSS made a public show of the arrest of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN], Godwin Emefiele, in Lagos about 24 hours after he was suspended from office by the President, Alhaji Bola Tinubu. It’s going to one month that Emefiele has been detained. The same fate befell the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC], Alhaji Abdulrasheed Bawa, about the same time, also after he had been suspended by Tinubu. To our knowledge no charges have been preferred against them.

However, Emefiele’s case appears to be different, curious and even troubling. On December 19, 2022, the DSS approached a federal high court in Abuja for approval to arrest and detain Governor Emefiele on allegations of terrorism financing and sundry crimes. Justice John Tsoho declined the request, saying that the DSS did not furnish the court with any evidence that was worthy of consideration. About one week later, on December 29, a federal capital territory high court issued an order restraining the same DSS from arresting Emefiele. In that case, the EFCC was also a respondent. Justice M. A Hassan said in her ruling that the DSS did not substantiate or provide any material fact of terrorism. She said the “continuous harassment” of Emefiele over “trumped up allegations of terrorism financing and fraudulent practices” was unwarranted and oppressive. The EFCC told the court that the DSS witch-hunt of Emefiele was embarrassing and that it had no hand in it. Could what played out in that court last year provide a link to the current travails of Emefiele and Bawa in the hands of Tinubu’s DSS. Tinubu may have a different and personal axe to grind with Emefiele [over Naira redesign] and Bawa [on his comment in the lead up to the APC presidential primary election about Tinubu having an active corruption investigation case with the Agency]. The expectation is that if the DSS has been on the Emefiele case for seven months even to the extent of seeking a court order to arrest him in December, then he should have been speedily arraigned in court since his ouster from office. The optics are not good. The secret police and the regime should not create the impression that they are willing to continue the practice of detention of suspects without trial or that they are enamoured with trial by torture.

Nigerians had allowed Buhari to get away with murder. We should not give Tinubu the same pass for whatever will be the duration of his regime. To stem the growing abuse of people’s rights and creeping dictatorship in our democracy, the eternal words of Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor should never depart from our consciousness: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak outbecause I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out- because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out- because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me”. Free Nnamdi Kanu now and let Emefiele and Bawa and other secret detainees have their day in court. And speedily too.

AUTHOR: Ugo Onuoha

Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.

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