The Federal Government on December 24, 2019 released on bail former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) and the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore after a lengthy detention. Dasuki, who was the NSA of the Goodluck Jonathan administration (2010-15), had been in detention since 2015 in spite of bail granted him by various courts on at least six occasions. He is facing charges for financial offences.

Omoyele Sowore ran unsuccessfully for president during the last election; he later called for protests and a popular revolution, which the government interpreted as treasonable. He was detained in August 2019 but was granted bail by the courts. He was later rearrested in the courtroom in a fashion similar to gangster abduction, the video footage of that violent abduction by the Department of State Services (DSS) was revolting and reminiscent of the era of Nigeria’s military dictatorships. The pressure to release the detainees has built up over time, especially for Sowore. Popular protests were held in many Nigerian cities on his behalf because he was thought to be innocent and was merely being victimised by the administration.

Dasuki won his bail since 2015 but the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had an extraordinary reading and interpretation of his offences and refused to release him. International human rights organisations considered Sowore a prisoner of conscience. Six US senators sent protests to the Muhammadu Buhari administration urging his release.

Internal reports of how President Buhari finally decided to release the two men made it look like an act of mercy, especially when the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, in his fifth year of detention, is still being held in spite of a Federal High Court order for his release and in utter disregard to numerous, sometimes, violent protests by his Shi’ite adherents.

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Nigerians were, indeed, relieved when the two men were released, but there is unanimity that it was belated and their lengthy detention unwarranted. The Attorney-General, Malami, after a lengthy statement to justify the long detentions, noted: “The two defendants are enjoined to observe the terms of their bail and refrain from engaging in any act that is inimical to public peace and national security as well as their ongoing trial which will run its course in accordance with the laws of the land.”

There is no doubt that the two men should have been released immediately the courts granted them bail and it was not a surprise that Counsel to Sowore, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), disputed the claim that they were released on compassionate grounds. The constitutional protections and guarantees of the bail process are well known. The gangster-like re-arrest of Sowore re-enacted the dark days of military dictatorship and its frightening symbols.

A government cannot be said to be governing according to the rule of law when it obeys court orders when it is convenient, when the ruling goes its way and ignores judicial decisions when it is displeased. The principle of the separation of powers implies the automatic obedience to judicial decisions by the Executive branch, which is a fundamental tenet of democracy.

We urge the government to begin the New Year with the release of others still in detention, following court orders made for their freedom. The rules are clear that the government always has the option to appeal court decisions. For this democracy to endure, government should observe the rule of law and obey court orders.