The frightening scale of impunity and arbitrary conduct under the presidency of General Muhammadu Buhari plumbed new depths on Friday, December 6 when armed operatives of the State Security Service (often called the Department of State Services – DSS), invaded Federal High Court No. 7 in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
In a bid to re-arrest Omoyele Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, both of whom were only released on bail in delayed compliance with the ruling of the court by the same SSS barely twenty four hours earlier, the operatives, some of whom were masked and armed, recklessly and violently violated the hallowed chambers of the law.
In one fell swoop, the operatives desecrated a court room, made a mess of the separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, and gratuitously infringed the fundamental rights of Messrs Sowore and Bakare to enjoy the bail that had been granted them. Our democracy was brought into disrepute through this most unfortunate action.
We are now at that point where it is being argued that never in the history of Nigeria, including during the colonial period and the dark days of military rule, has such brazen act of disrespect for the sanctity of our law courts and independence of the judiciary been perpetrated.
Embarrassed by the opprobrium that greeted and continues to greet its conduct, the SSS, through Peter Afunanya, its spokesperson, disingenuously claimed that the entire scene was stage-managed by Mr Sowore and his team of lawyers.
This is a puerile and futile attempt to cover up an event whose eye witnesses were many and diverse – lawyers, journalists, civil society, human rights, trade union and political activists, and many others.
The SSS, as it is wont, appeared ignorant of advances in information technology and thus was shocked that audiences in Nigeria and elsewhere watched footage of its macabre display of barbarism in the name of effecting an arrest, the grounds for which remain dubious, at best.
We recall that after spending over 90 days in detention, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu finally granted bail to Messrs Sowore and Bakare after they had produced the needed sureties; but on the condition that the two of them would be confined to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
Despite the order, which received public acclaim, the SSS held on to the two men, giving different excuses as to why it could not comply with the ruling of the court. Miffed by such unbecoming conduct, Justice Ojukwu had to give the security outfit 24 hours within which to comply with her ruling, while also awarding N100,000 damages to Mr Sowore.
When, however, the substantive matter came up for hearing last Friday, the SSS showed it had another game plan, but one which could not disguise its anger towards the court, by going after the two men they had earlier released. The drama and embarrassment were such that Justice Ojukwu had to hurriedly adjourn proceedings before she was spirited into safety by her security details.
We are greatly concerned that the SSS under the leadership of Yusuf Bichi has repeatedly acted as if it is above the laws of the land. The serial violations of the fundamental human rights of the citizens by the security outfit since Mr Bichi assumed the reins of leadership and the disdain with which it has been treating the judicial arm of government through flagrant disobedience of court orders that seek to put a stop to such violations, have indeed become routine.
Evidently, Mr Bichi’s SSS has become a major threat to the norms and values of a democratic system. The time has come for Mr Yusuf Bichi to step down as the head of the organisation. We hereby demand that he should immediately step down as the boss of the SSS. We also demand that the SSS tenders a public apology to the judiciary for its unwarranted assault on the sacred institution.
We are also greatly worried that the presidency is speaking from both sides of its mouth on an incident that has angered persons of goodwill the world over. While, on one hand, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, claimed that the presidency did not order the re-arrest of Sowore, he, on the other, sought to justify the assault on him inside the court premises by stating that the relationship between Sowore and the SSS should not come as a surprise to the public, as his call for a ‘revolution’ (even when Sowore had clearly defined the civil, and certainly not armed, parameters of this group’s protest) had made him a target of the secret police.
We find this kind of argument unreasonable and hereby call on President Buhari to order a public probe of the incident of December 6, if indeed his government did not order the crude invasion of the court of law.
We call on the government to reassure Nigerians that it wants to govern according to the rule of law by pledging to obey court orders, while also bringing to justice any agency of the government that violates democratic and legal norms.
Enough is enough!