By Emmanuel Onwubiko
One of the most cherished values that marks out a society as genuinely humane and responsive to the yearnings of the generality of the citizenry, is the ability of the institutions of democracy to be stronger than individuals in such a robust manner that no single political office holder can clothe himself with powers extraneous and ultra vires to the constitutional provisions.
It would seem that Nigeria has rapidly deteriorated to a backyard of the human community whereby the holder of the office of president thinks himself as Nigeria-writ-large and stronger than all the constitutionally erected institutions put in place as bulwarks against totalitarianism.
The above scenario can be drawn from the events in the last couple of years that the leader of a religious body known as Islamic Movement of Nigeria otherwise called Shiites in the person of Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzakky and his beloved wife have been clamped into the dungeons of the Department of State Services against several binding orders of the courts of competent jurisdiction on the order of president Muhammadu Buhari.
The immediate past attorney General/Minister of Justice of the federation Alhaji. Abubakar Malami who hangs on the title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, it would seem, has failed to provide sound and qualitative legal counsel to President Muhammadu Buhari to let go the duo of Sheikh El-Zakzaky and also the immediate past National Security Adviser Colonel Sambo Dasuki and the wife of the head of the Islamic movement, even when courts had directed their freedom at least on bail.
Unlike Col. Dasuki, who does not seem to have loyal supporters, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria has proven to have millions of faithful loyalists who are prepared to be on the streets democratically protesting to demand the release of their leader and his wife who have remained in incarceration illegally for nearly four years.
These religious supporters of the Islamic movement of Nigeria have demonstrated abundant zeal, resilience, determination and the will power to keep up the tempo of their purposeful peaceful protests on the streets. Also many of them have lost their lives doing so and hundreds of others have been locked up by the police as soon as they are picked up on the streets of Abuja, Zaria, Kano, Madala and Nasarawa demonstrating. About four dozens of these Shiites followers were picked up Yesterday after a confrontation that sadly turned out bloody with divergent accounts on who exactly unleashed bloody violent and set cars ablaze.
Some police officers were injured in the fracas that broke out. The sad reality is that the yards of the treacherous Nigerian Prisons are brimming with these followers of the detained religious leader.
A meticulous media analysis of the rough and tumbles that have characterized their otherwise, peaceful demonstrations, have revealed that the more the armed police are getting more brutal in crushing these peaceful protests, the more determined the unarmed loyalists of the detained religious leader are becoming.
So I ask the Nigerian President for now to tell Nigerians how many more prison yards would be filled up with these civilian protesters before the federal government free this man from illegal detention and grant him medical leave to take care of his alleged deteriorating health conditions and to assuage the boiling resilience of his followers to up the tempo of their protests which in any event is lawful and constitutional?
In other words, I urge the President to free Sheikh El-Zakzaky and allow the wheel of justice to run the way it should because section 6 of the constitution recognizes the court as the custodian of the judicial powers of the federation in the following unambiguous wordings; “The judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section –
(a) shall extend, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution, to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court of law
(b) shall extend, to all matters between persons, or between government or authority and to any persons in Nigeria, and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person;
(c) shall not except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, extend to any issue or question as to whether any act of omission by any authority or person or as to whether any law or any judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental
Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy set out in Chapter II of this Constitution;
(d) shall not, as from the date when this section comes into force, extend to any action or proceedings relating to any existing law made on or after 15th January, 1966 for determining any issue or question as to the competence of any authority or person to make any such law.
This writer humbly calls on President Buhari to also read section 36 (5) of the constitution which states as follows: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty;
Provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts. “
My brief message to the heads of security forces is to know that in life no condition is permanent because the powers we exercise in politics are ephemeral, transient and fleeting and with advancements in international laws, security forces and their heads are taken to the international criminal court in The Hague, Netherlands, to render accounts should they fall foul of the laws against crimes against humanity.
The heads of the security forces who are now feasting on these civilian demonstrators by breaking up their gatherings by force of arm and weapons of mass destruction should in their moments of reflection should go through the provisions enshrined in chapter four of the Nigerian constitution with specific references to section 40; 41(1); 42 (1); 36 (1) (5) and 33 (1).
I will replicate these provisions below:
Section 40: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests:
Provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition.”
Section 41(1): “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.”
Section 42(1): “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or
(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions.”
Section 36 (1) (5): “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.” “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty;
Provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.”
Section 33(1): “Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”
The heads of security forces should know the global humanitarian laws such as: “All human rights are universal, indivisible, inter dependent and interrelated; democracy, development and respect for human rights are interdependent and mutually re-enforcing; (Vienna Declaration, 1993). Respect for human rights is an essential component of development; economic growth in itself is no guarantee of development.
Also the civil populace must be protected since under international law, development is “A comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom.”
*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA)