The State Security Service (SSS) has become notorious for disobeying court orders, a PREMIUM TIMES analysis has shown.
The agency, established under military rule in 1986, has a penchant for disobeying court orders and has continued to do so despite a recent statement by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad.
On September 23, Mr Muhammad said the judiciary under his watch will not tolerate disobedience of subsisting court orders.
He described disobedience to court orders as creating “anarchy.”
“The rule of law must be observed in all our dealings and we must impress it on the governments at all levels to actively toe the path.
“The right of every citizen against any form of oppression and impunity must be jealously guarded and protected with the legal tools at our disposal.
“All binding court orders must be obeyed. Nobody, irrespective of his or her position, will be allowed to toy with court judgments,” the chief justice said.
Days after his warning, the SSS has again declined obedience to a court ruling. In this analysis, PREMIUM TIMES looks at major instances where the SSS had disobeyed court orders under President Buhari’s administration.
The SSS is headed by a Director-General who is chosen by the president and reports directly to him.
Mr Buhari has never condemned the SSS for disobeying the court orders and his appointees have repeatedly defended the disobedience.
Mr Dasuki has been held by the SSS since December 2015 when he was arrested on allegations he diverted $2.1 billion from funds meant for the war against terrorism.
He has denied wrongdoing and is yet to be convicted.
Several court orders for the release of the former NSA had been flouted by the Nigerian government.
Since his arrest and arraignment before the Federal High Court, Abuja, Mr Dasuki has been granted bail at least seven times by various courts, with the SSS refusing to heed all the orders.
In one of Mr Dasuki’s reactions to his continued detention despite court orders for his bail, the former NSA approached the court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Court) in 2016. The court ruled that his continued detention despite a valid court order granting him bail, was unlawful and an affront to his fundamental human rights.
The court also ruled that the federal government should pay Mr Dasuki N15 million as damages, adding that the cost of litigation should also be charged against the Nigerian government.
Despite the court judgement and criticism by local and international human rights activists, Mr Dasuki is still detained by the government.
In a recent development, the Court of Appeal granted yet another bail to the former NSA, in July 2019.
The court also ordered the federal government to pay Mr Dasuki N5 million for holding him against the provisions of section 35 (6) of the constitution which gives every Nigerian the right to free movement.
The government has also refused to obey the appeal court while Mr Dasuki remains in SSS custody.
In December 2015, the Nigerian government also arrested the leader of the proscribed Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, after a clampdown by the army that resulted in the death of over 300 Shiite members. The soldiers had accused the Shiite group of blocking a major road that was to be used by the army chief, Tukur Buratai.
That massacre of the Shiites has been condemned by local and international rights groups.
Since the December 2015 incident, Mr El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zeenah, have been detained by the SSS; first without trial for over two years before they were arraigned on charges of murder for the death of a soldier during the December 2015 incident.
In 2016, when Mr El-Zakzaky was still being held without trial, a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the SSS to release him and his wife on bail.
The judge, Gabriel Kolawole, also ordered the SSS to pay N50 million as damages to Mr El-Zakzaky and release the Shiite leader along with his wife within 45 days.
However, the agency refused, claiming that the Shiite leader was kept in its custody for his own protection.
Not only did the SSS refuse to obey that order, but the government also continued detaining Mr El-Zakzaky till April 2018 when the Kaduna government eventually filed charges after the Shiite members began a daily protest to demand Mr El-Zakzaky’s release.
Members of the House of Representatives on July 10 also called on the Nigerian government to release Mr El-Zakzaky. The House made the call while adopting a motion by the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu.
A Federal High Court judge, Taiwo Taiwo, on September 24 ordered the immediate release of Mr Sowore after the prosecution informed the court of its completion of investigations into the allegations against the activist.
The judge said Mr Sowore’s lead counsel, Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria, would be responsible for ensuring he appears in court for trial.
“It is therefore ordered that the respondent be released forthwith. But he must deposit his international passport with this court within 48 hours of this order.
“Further, the respondent shall be released to Femi Falana forthwith by the applicant, that is the State Security Service (SSS).
“Femi Falana shall ensure that the respondent is produced for his formal arraignment whenever he or the respondent is notified.
Five days after that court order and four days after Mr Sowore met the bail conditions, the SSS has refused to obey the order.
Many Nigerians have since expressed doubt that the SSS and the Buhari administration would obey the court order, following the disobedience of earlier ones.
Mr Sowore was arrested on August 3 by the SSS for planning a protest popularised with the hashtag #RevolutionNow.
The protest took place on August 5, amidst heavy clampdown of protesters and journalists by security agents.
The SSS accused Mr Sowore of plotting to cause chaos and overthrow President Muhammadu Buhari with the protest. The agency obtained an order for his initial detention from the same Justice Taiwo for 45 days which elapsed on September 21.
On September 20, the Nigerian government filed a seven-count charge against Mr Sowore and a co-accused, Olawale Bakare.
SSS carving notorious image for itself – NBA
In a reaction to the recent case, the Nigeria Bar Association condemned the SSS for refusing to comply with court orders especially that freeing Mr Sowore.
In a statement on Sunday, signed by the association’s national publicity secretary, Kunle Edun, the NBA described the agency’s action as unfortunate and unacceptable.
“The Nigerian Bar Association has become aware of the unfortunate and flagrant disobedience of the order of directing the release of Omoyele Sowore by the Department of State Security Service of Nigeria on the 24th of September, 2019, of which the bail terms have long been perfected by the detainee’s counsel.
“The NBA recalls that the DSS found it convenient to approach the Federal High Court in ensuring the detention of Omoyele Sowore for more than 50 days but has since comfortably refused to comply with the order of the same Court directing the release of Citizen Omoyele Sowore. This is unacceptable,” it said.
The association said the conduct of the SSS is inimical to the pledge made by President Muhammadu Buhari at the UN General Assembly, to uphold human rights and the provisions of Nigerian laws.
“The NBA notes that the Department of State Security is cutting for herself the notorious image of an agency that enjoys treating judicial process with disdain, particularly as it pertains to obeying orders of courts enforcing the fundamental rights of Nigerians. The continued detention of Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) in spite of various court orders readily comes to mind.”
The NBA said Nigeria operates a constitutional democracy and Nigerian laws must be respected by all.
“The Nigerian Bar Association, therefore, calls for the immediate release of Citizen Omoyele Sowore in terms of the order of the Federal High Court made on the 24th September 2019, and other Nigerians who have been languishing in DSS detention centres without any charge.”
Also in a remark, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, said the failure of the SSS to release Mr Sowore was further evidence “of government’s barefaced impunity.”
Mr Ozekhome said the only option available to the SSS is to first obey the court order then appeal the ruling.