One of Nigeria’s leading lawyers and human rights advocates, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, takes President Buhari’s government to task over the detention of 40 persons by the Navy. He also explains why he would not accept an invitation to serve the government:
Do you think President Muhammadu Buhari’s government will heed your call for the release of the 40 people who have been illegally detained, in light of the fact that the government had ignored previous court orders?
If the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation had responded to my request over the matter I would not have petitioned the President.
I hope that President Buhari as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces would direct the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, to either release the 40 detainees or take them to appropriate courts if there is any evidence linking them with the commission of criminal offences.
Unfortunately, the judiciary has not helped matters with respect to the infringement of the civil liberties of the Nigerian people.
Can you believe that the Supreme Court indirectly endorsed the illegal detention of Colonel Sambo Dasuki by saying that it was the State Security Service that was detaining him and not the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission that is prosecuting him?
Are they not both agencies of the Federal Government?
I thought that the Supreme Court would have ordered the State Security Service to comply with the orders of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Federal High Court and ECOWAS Court for the bail of the defendant.
As far as the law is concerned no person in Nigeria should be detained beyond 24 or 48 hours without an order of remand made by a Magistrate in line with Section 293 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
Section 34 of the same law has imposed a binding duty on the heads of courts to appoint judges and magistrates to conduct a monthly inspection of all detention centres in the country.
On account of our request the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria has directed all Chief Judges to designate judges and magistrates to visit detention centres in their areas of jurisdiction.
But the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, the Honourable Justice Abdul Kafarati has not designated judges of the Court to visit the facilities of the Nigerian Navy and other agencies of the Federal government.
This is the immediate cause of the unwarranted detention by detaining authorities of the Federal Government. But apart from my request to the President I have also petitioned the National Human Rights Commission.
The Executive Secretary of the Commission, Mr. Tony Ojukwu, has assured me that the matter would be taken up.
Unfortunately, the judiciary has not helped matters with respect to the infringement of the civil liberties of the Nigerian people
Would you ask for damages?
They are not my clients. Their concerned family members cried to me. I investigated their complaint and found merit in it.
Hence, I have taken up the matter. I do hope that they would instruct their individual lawyers to approach the court to press for damages.
But on my own part, I can assure you that I would not relent until the 40 detainees are released from unlawful custody.
We are not a military dictatorship whereby people can just be jailed by a military officer or any other authority for that matter. It is a battle the Nigerian Navy cannot win
What would you do next, if the government fails to release them?
I am adopting a number of measures that will ensure the release of the detainees. We are not a military dictatorship whereby people can just be jailed by a military officer or any other authority for that matter. It is a battle the Nigerian Navy cannot win.
What are your expectations as President Buhari starts his second term in office on May 29?
I have no expectations whatsoever as President Buhari has said that he would continue his policies and programmes. With the incessant killing of unarmed people and abductions all over the place it is crystal clear that the next level will take us to nowhere.
Do you see Buhari’s government improving on the level of its compliance with court orders?
President Buhari has just reassured the nation that he would henceforth obey court orders. I am going to test the official statement by forwarding to the President’s office a number of court orders that are being treated with disdain by the federal government under his watch.
I have fundamental ideological disagreements with the government which disqualify me for any appointment
You were tipped for appointment in 2015, but you turned it down on the grounds that you did not want to get an APC ticket through the backdoor. Will you serve this time, if you were invited?
It’s true that I was contacted to serve in the government. I have always believed that it is good to serve one’s country if called upon to do so.
But in my own case, I have fundamental ideological disagreements with the government which disqualify me for any appointment.
For instance, having fought for the defence of human rights and the observance of the rule of law for over three decades I cannot possibly be part of a government that locks up without trial or which subverts the rule of law by treating court orders with contempt.
I have strong views on the economy which cannot be sacrificed to satisfy the wishes of imperialism and its local lackeys.
I had asked the Federal government to recover about $200 billion from local and foreign companies that have duped the Nigerian people.
Without any plan to recover such fund I cannot be persuaded to draft an agreement for the government to obtain foreign loans.
So, it is better for me to operate outside the ambit of the government.