Legal practitioners and civil society organizations have condemned President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement at the opening ceremony of the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Monday.
The President, in his speech, urged lawyers to put national security over and above the rule of law.
Reacting, Ebun-olu Adegboruwa, in a statement on Tuesday, said Buhari’s declaration was a great set back for Nigeria’s democracy and national development.
He wrote: “National Security has no definition, it has no limit; it is amorphous and panders to individual discretion. It is the rule of the Executive Arm of Government alone, being the one responsible for policy implementation and the determination of security imperatives.
“National Security It is the rule and decision of individuals, such as the Inspector-General of Police or the Commander in Chief. Such rules are always subject to manifest abuses, especially in respect of opposition politics. That has been the experience in Nigeria.
“On the other hand, the rule of law is defined, basic, predictable and even subject to review; it helps to predict and govern human conduct. The rule of law limits and interpose upon the rule of self all forms of arbitrariness and is thus preferable to the whims and caprices of individuals.
“The point of convergence with the President however is that those who have prima facie cases of any malfeasance should not deploy the rule of law to avoid liability, especially when it concerns plainly intolerable economic crimes. In such a situation, what constitutes National Security and National Interest should still be determined through the due process of law.
“The daily narration of tales of mind boggling abuses, under the past administration, should serve as some kind of discouragement, in elevating national security beyond the dictates of law. In Nigeria presently, our collective wealth and resources are being pilfered by our leaders in the name of national security.
“To postulate that national security should override rule of law consideration may unwittingly portray one as harboring dictatorial intentions, for preferring national security as priority for governance.
“It is a dangerous proposition as we approach 2019. Taken to its proper interpretation, it may be taken to be an advance notice to the people of Nigeria, to brace up for likely threats to their rights and liberties, in the coming days.
“Whereas we all support the President in the fight against corruption and terrorism, it is still necessary to allow the rule of law to have the pride of place in all spheres of governance.
“I therefore humbly appeal to the President to accommodate the supreme law of our land, the Constitution, which already contains enough provisions to integrate national security within the due process of law.
“Nigeria itself as a nation, was created by law, the offices of the President and indeed all those saddled with the determination and preservation of national security, were all created by law. Thus, everybody and everything, can find their roots and bearings, under the rule of law.”
Also weighing in, the Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER) expressed disappointment at the president’s speech.
CASER’s Executive Director, Frank Tietie, said even during a war, there was still respect for the rule of law.
In a statement, he said at no time in any democratic country and the international community, is law, especially human rights, suspended.
“President Muhammadu Buhari cannot use national security or national interest to justify his government’s disobedience to orders of court directing it to either grant bail to specific citizens or commanding it to perform specific acts.
“The President was quick to cite the position of the Supreme Court in balancing national security and human rights or the rule of law but he has failed to recognise that it is only pronouncements from the courts that ultimately determine what is right or wrong. It is not the place of the government to determine what constitutes national security to warrant the disobedience of court orders.
“Rather it is the role of the courts to determine whether or not bail, for instance, should be granted to a citizen, having considerations to national security or national interest. The courts have so decided regarding the Dasuki. In the absence of a valid appeal, the government must comply to the directives of the court forthwith.
“There can no longer be any justifiable reason why the government would continue to keep Col. Sambo Dasuki in detention despite direct court orders granting him bail. The release of Col. Dasuki on bail cannot be plausibly shown to be of any threat to national security to the extent that the government would think the courts didn’t know what they had done by granting him bail.
“We should be ashamed as a country and a people since the liberty of just one man called Dasuki would constitute such a threat to national security to the extent that we would allow the government to begin a process of destroying the foundations of our democracy.
“Indeed, with all the arsenal of intelligence and organized force of Nigerian security agencies, it would be indeed shameful for a citizen like Dasuki, now an ordinary man, to pose such a threat and fear to the government. The government is even afraid to try him openly. It would therefore be wise for the government to make known to the courts and the Nigerian people what it really fears about Dasuki. He is just an ordinary man right now.
“Dasuki should be granted bail immediately because he is a citizen of Nigeria and more especially, the courts have so directed.
“President Buhari made the assertion on the derogation of the rule of law in a large gathering of lawyers. The influential lawyers present at the occasion did not seize the opportunity to correct the President by stating to him that law, especially as pronounced by the courts, is supreme.
“That neither national security nor national interest as determined by one man or a few men in government should be the basis for disobeying court orders. The government must approach the courts with such evidence before it can continue to detain him if the courts agree and do say so.
“Since the NBA missed the opportunity to correct the President at that gathering, it now has a duty, not only to correct the President but to first convince itself that it is always in the best interest of a country and in furtherance of its national security, when all authorities, institutions and persons are subject to the rule of law as pronounced by the courts.”