*Contemptuous Justification of Illegal Detention*
By Femi Falana, SAN
In a reckless demonstration of official impunity Mr. Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to President Mohammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity purportedly issued a statement yesterday on behalf of the Presidency to justify the illegal detention of Sheikh Ibraheem Elzakzaky and his wife, Hajia Ibraheema Elzakzaky. In the incendiary statement Mr. Shehu claimed that the valid and subsisting order of the federal high court made on December 2, 2016 would not be obeyed by the federal government on the dubious ground that the Sheikh is in “protective custody” while the justification for holding the wife is that he is taking good care of her husband in the illegal custody. According to Mr. Shehu, “ElZakzaky is held for his own good. If you set him free, what do you think will happen on the streets? He is not in a typical prison condition. He has the company of his wife and children. They can leave if they want. There is overall public good weighing against his release.”
In the checkered history of Nigeria this is the first time that a democratically elected government has openly justified the detention of any citizen in defiance of a valid and subsisting order of a competent court of law. Even under the neo-tarzanist Buhari/Idiagbon military junta , court orders which directed that victims of the obnoxious Detention of Persons Decree No 2 of 1984 be released from illegal custody were complied with. But under a democratic government Mr. Shehu wants Nigerians to believe that Elzakzakys are held in “protective custody” after the federal high court had declared such detention illegal and unconstitutional. Or has Mr. Shehu suddenly become so power drunk to the extent that he can conveniently set aside the judgment of the federal high court?
Before now, the “Presidency” had claimed that the couple could not be released on the nebulous ground that they constituted a threat to national security. When reminded that the federal high court has dismissed such unsubstantiated allegation Mr. Shehu has turned round to say that “ElZakzaky is held for his own good.” Is Mr. Shehu not aware that Elzakzaky has lost one of his eyes in the dungeon of the State Security Service and may lose the other eye due to denial of urgent medical treatment? Why has his request to travel abroad for medical attention at his own expense been refused by the federal government?
Since neither President Mohammadu Buhari nor Acting President Yemi Osinbajo could have authorized the contemptuous statement issued on behalf of the Presidency Mr. Shehu Garba should be called to order and restrained from further exposing the Federal Republic of Nigeria to ridicule before the comity of civilized nations. However, since the federal government continues to proclaim loudly that it operates under the rule of law it cannot be operated to treat court orders with disdain. To that extent, Elzakzaky and his wife must be released from the illegal custody of the State Security Service since the federal high court has held dismissed the official claim that they are held in “protective custody.”
In the same statement, Mr. Shehu said that the federal government would not release Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd) from detention because there are several cases against him that he must answer to. But why has the same government that charged Col Dasuki with criminal diversion of public funds and reasonable felony frustrated his trial by refusing to take him to court? The reason adduced for detaining Col Dasuki is highly contemptuous as the three Nigerian courts trying him have admitted him to bail. Furthermore, the Court of Justice of the Community Court of Justice (Ecowas) has directed the federal government to comply with the orders of its national courts which have admitted him to bail. Since no higher court has quashed the bail of the former NSA the arrogant statement of Mr.Shehu on the matter is the height of official impunity in a democratic society.
In the light of the foregoing i hereby reiterate the call for the immediate and unconditional release of the Elzakzaky from illegal custody in strict compliance with the judgment of the federal high court. At the same time, Col Dasuki should be released on bail and be allowed to stand his trial in the federal high court and the high court of the federsl capital territory. A government which is desirous to secure conviction of persons charged with criminal offences cannot treat the orders of the same court with disdain and impunity.