THE NATION'S EDITORIAL: Free El-Zakzaky Now!

Editorial frum The Nation Newspaper

It is sometimes difficult to understand the vision and goals of the Buhari administration. The depth of comprehension of the democratic order by key officials of the government is also questionable. Had the Attorney General of the Federation lived up to his responsibility as Chief Law Officer of the Federation and Legal Adviser to the President, the rough edges around interpretation of the law and the executive’s relationship with the other two arms of government could have been prevented.

Consistently, the judiciary has said that democracy is antithetical to impunity and rule of the thumb, which the Federal Government appears to enjoy. On Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, it is now clear that the Federal Government has no regard for the rule of law. Since his abode was destroyed by soldiers in December 2015, the man, his wife and children have been in detention.

As provided for in the Constitution and the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights, the Sheikh, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria who was charged with terrorism and disregard for constituted authority, approached the court for enforcement of his right. He is not only entitled to fair hearing, but is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, the government wants to be prosecutor and judge in the matter. It has been unwilling to get the detainees prosecuted and has done everything to stand in the way of judicial arbitration.

After one year of unlawful detention, the judge handling the case, Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, ordered that the detainees be unconditionally released and provided accommodation and security by the Department of State Services (DSS) in a town of their choice. He gave 45 days within which the government should fully comply with the judgment, in addition to payment of N50 million general damages. It is instructive that the government ignored the judgment and failed to apply the verdict within the 45-day window it had. It has now approached the Court of Appeal to annul it.

It appears the Federal Government is still suffering from the lingering effect of military dictatorship. When a constitutional government chooses to willfully stamp down the law, what is expected of the citizenry? How is the Buhari administration better than the sect that it has accused of disregarding the law and constituted authority?

We agree with Amnesty International that warned when the 45-day window was about closing that: “if the government deliberately disregards the orders of its own courts, it will demonstrate a flagrant and dangerous contempt for the rule of law.” It is an invitation to the people to resort to self-help whenever court decisions run against their preference.
Justice Kolawole could not have been clearer in his verdict. He said: “Let me state clearly and for the avoidance of doubt that the failure by the government to effect the release of the applicant and his wife from its custody or any illegal custody whatsoever, upon the expiration of the 45th day from December 2, 2016, such failure shall not only constitute a deliberate act of disobedience of these orders, but it will crystallise into fresh cause of action of infraction of the applicant’s rights and his wife to personal liberty guaranteed by the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, as amended.”

A government which became inheritor of a general agitation for the right of the people cannot afford to trample on the rights of the same people. President Muhammadu Buhari should remember the consequences of the mindless murder of Muhammad Yusuf who founded the Boko Haram sect. His death in custody only further radicalised his followers and Nigeria is yet to recover from the after-effect. All those being detained outside the purview of the law, especially in those cases where the courts have ruled for their release, should be set free immediately. Nigeria is not a jungle. 

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