By Ehichioya Ezomon
It’s “different strokes for different folks,” as Nigerians continue to react to the release of former National Security Adviser, retired Col. Sambo Dasuki, and activist-publisher-politician, Mr Omoyele Sowore, on Tuesday, December 24, 2019.
The overdue gesture, coming after Dasuki and Sowore had spent almost four years and seven months, respectively, in detention, was ordered by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami.
While many hail the release as “a perfect Christmas gift” not only to the detainees, but also to all Nigerians, others are splitting hairs over the process of their freedom: Why was it effected?
This angle of the debate has overshadowed the import of the matter, as the proponents argue that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration didn’t release the detainees as a matter of benevolence, but was forced to so act.
So, what informed the administration’s decision after shunning several court orders on bail? Who or what pressured or influenced the government to free the duo from lengthy incarceration?
This query isn’t misplaced, going by experiences of the recent past when agencies of government acted, in a pick-and-choose fashion, which lawful orders to obey or disregard in high-profile cases.
For instance, in the matter of Dasuki and Sowore, the Department of State Services (DSS), which prosecutes them for offences of treason, gun-running, cyber-stalking or money laundering, has displayed scant regard for court fiats to commit them to bail.
Even when it “agreed” to releasing them, the DSS would sooner slap fresh charges on the defendants, and capitalize on the confusion to re-arrest them, sometimes at court premises.
On December 6, armed operatives of the DSS invaded a Federal High Court in Abuja, to seize Sowore on “fresh charges” of breaching his bail conditions hours after his initial release.
The previous day, December 5, Sowore (and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare) was released by the DSS on the strength of a ruling, on that day, by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu.
Besides giving the DSS 24 hours to free the detainees, and pay a fine of N100,000, the judge had threatened dire punishment should the service disobey, once again, to release the defendants.
So, on the next court day, Friday, December 6, specially slated for a report of compliance with the court directive, and for resumption of the trial, DSS operatives invaded the court, to arrest Sowore.
There’s a tug of war between the operatives and supporters of Sowore, to take possession of the activist. The milieu, in which “guns were cocked,” prompted an adjournment of proceedings.
It took the shepherding by Sowore’s lead lawyer and rights activist, Mr Femi Falana, to persuade the operatives not to “desecrate” the “Temple of Justice,” but to go outside to effect the arrest of his client, who spent additional 18 days in confinement.
While Mr Malami, in the interim, called for Sowore’s court files, many Nigerians didn’t expect a positive outcome from the Attorney General, who had said he couldn’t ask the DSS to release Sowore and others in similar dilemmas.
Indeed, the watching public had hazarded that Malami, a close ally of President Buhari, only called for the detainees’ files in order to prolong their captivity through “contrived” adjournments and amendments or filing of fresh charges against them.
In essence, the “Breaking News” of December 24, about the government directive to release Sowore and Bakare, and the long-held Dasuki, was a bolt out of the blue.
That’s why the “conspiracy theory” that government’s hands were forced by external forces, particularly the United States of America, which days earlier, had placed Nigeria on a Security Watch List (SWL) over alleged religious and human rights abuses.
Before the SWL slam, there’s a report that U.S. Senator Robert Menendez had written a letter, threatening American sanctions on Nigeria for refusing to release Sowore and others.
The social media thus linked the letter to the release of Sowore. Some samplers: “Buhari bows to pressure from America.” “The fear of the U.S. government is the beginning of wisdom for Nigerian government.” “I now believe that dictators are indeed cowards.” “It was a foreign letter that compelled this lawless government to do the right thing.” “I sense the beginning of the cabals’ downfall.” “Sowore is the Saviour Nigerians have been looking for.”
Nothing could persuade the purveyors of this narrative that the Buhari government acted at its discretion to release the detainees. Not even the usual “credible persons” they religiously follow could change their minds.
In the heat of the debate, former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, had “revealed four Nigerians,” who persuaded President Buhari to release Dasuki and Sowore. He stated this on Twitter on December 24.
He wrote: “I can tell you authoritatively that 4 people fought from within to get Dasuki & Sowore released & eventually managed to convince Buhari. They are Abba Kyari, Malami, Hadi Sirika and Kayode Fayemi. They represent the liberal and cerebral wing of the Buhari Govt. & I commend them.”
But some see Fani-Kayode, an unrepentant critic of Buhari and his government, as “spinning” for the administration. “What haven’t we seen in this Nigeria,” a critic wrote on WhatsApp, adding, “Look at Fani-Kayode joining the ‘cabals’ to fool Nigerians.”
It’s the same way others dismissed the explanation by Mr Malami, that the government took the decision to free Dasuki and Sowore on compassionate ground, and on its commitment to the rule of law and obedience to court orders.
“Oh, where were they (government) when ‘fowl grow teeth,’?” a poster hollered on Facebook. “Is it just now they knew that Dasuki and Sowore needed compassion, and that they should obey lawful orders of the courts?” the critic said.
No one should begrudge Nigerians expressing displeasure over government’s seeming proclivity to resorting to strong-arm tactics in dealing with offences people would readily ascribe to “settling scores” instead of the pursuit of law and order.
But my point of departure with them is the simplistic conclusion that an American senator’s letter would quickly turn, into a lilly-livered civilian, an alleged “military dictator,” who the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) labels his rule as “worse than Adolf Hitler’s of Germany, and Samuel Doe’s of Liberia.”
Does Buhari that Nigerians know present a visage to be cowed by external forces, least of all by a morally-bankrupt American senator mired in underage prostitution allegations?
Let’s wean ourselves of this mentality that America or any other country can dictate to Nigeria how to run its domestic affairs. Nigeria isn’t a vassal state, but an independent Republic!
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.