‘Only Buhari’s security paramount to him’
A lawyer and activist, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), in this interview with SIMON UTEBOR, says the regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) has a hidden agenda to cow Nigerians through harassment and intimidation
The recent attack on the court to rearrest Omoyele Sowore by the Department of State Services has received huge criticisms across the country and internationally. What do you think about it?
Well, I was challenged as a lawyer, as an activist and as a democrat to witness the horrific invasion of one of the most sacred institutions of democracy during my lifetime. It has challenged me to continue to be a lawyer and I am sure the same thing has happened to virtually all lawyers.
Of course, the statement made by the Nigerian Bar Association clearly represents our view that the executive has become totally lawless. We have experienced this in the past when the same DSS invaded the hallowed chamber of the National Assembly and it was condemned. It is now happening to the hallowed chamber of the judiciary and court of law. So, having invaded the National Assembly and the court, there is nothing left for us as Nigerians to continue to hold on to as evidence that we are practising democracy.
I believe that what we are witnessing now is only a dress rehearsal of what is yet to come. I believe there is a hidden agenda; I believe that this regime is up to something that most Nigerians will not accept. And so, it needs to silence people, put fear in people, bring laws to regulate people’s speech, and intimidate and harass them. So, my reaction is that the invasion of the court by operatives of the DSS when the judge was sitting and conducting judicial proceedings is a setback for our democratic experience and it is a return to the dark ages of military jackboots and dictatorship, which we have overcome in this country.
We have defeated this before in the past, including the same leader we have now, and others who were worse than him. I am sure that Nigerians will defeat this again. It will not thrive. Even though I am bothered that this is happening, I am not scared; we believe that in the course of time, Nigerians will overcome this challenge.
Retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said the DSS does not need to take instructions from his principal. Do you think the DSS was acting on its own or following Buhari’s instructions?
I believe that if you look at the antecedents of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), it is a case of a leopard that is not able to change its spots. In 2015, some people tried to dress him in borrowed robes and described him as a born-again democrat, packaging him to London, but it did not take so long for people to truly see him.
On May 29, 2015, when he read a speech in Abuja in which he said “he belonged to everybody and belonged to no one”; that is what is playing out now. Buhari has no allegiance to the people of Nigeria; he does not believe that the rule of law can thrive in this nation.
That was evidenced by his reaction to the elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, when he openly said that those who were dissatisfied should go to court, knowing the judiciary had been humiliated, traumatised, bastardised and starved of funds. It was easy for him to be taunting the people of Nigeria with the lame duck judiciary, which has been totally crippled by this particular regime through the disobedience of court orders, invasion of the houses of judges, and removal of the Chief Justice of the Federation of Nigeria through unorthodox means and general profiling of all judges all over Nigeria as a means of scaring them.
I believe the DSS is directly responsible to the President being part of the executive. All law enforcement agencies of Nigeria are part of the executive and the President being the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria should take responsibility for the actions of any agency of government, especially the DSS. And we are worried that we are in a democracy where we now relate with the agency that ordinarily should not be heard.
We have been contending with the military, which has taken over our lives – Operation Python Dance, Operation Positive Identification, etc. Virtually, the military has taken over the lives of Nigerians. As if that is not enough, the DSS has now become an open terror to us in this country and I hold retired Major General Buhari directly responsible for the atrocities of the DSS and other agencies of government that are directly reporting to him.
An agency that should be working underground, conducting intelligence like a secret service, should not be seen. It is totally condemnable and reprehensible.
Buhari’s old habits as military head of state appears to outweigh any promise he made to Nigerians to be democratic. What responsibilities do Nigerians have in saving this democracy?
Well, for me, we have come to a time in our nation when we need to stand up to tyranny, to oppression and to lawlessness. It is when the good people sit down, stay aloof and do nothing that evil can thrive. The best way to get rid of a dictator is to challenge him and I am calling on Nigerians, in particular, Professor Wole Soyinka. He cannot afford not to let his voice be heard and he has a history in this country for challenging impunity and dictatorship. He should lead a protest openly in Abuja. Nigerians are waiting and we will support him.
I call on Soyinka to rise up to the occasion on behalf of Nigerians and declare an open sit-at-home protest as protest against this regime so that we can shut down every system until Buhari gets back to respect the rule of law, which people voted for in 2015 and 2019. If we leave this regime to its antics, we will get worse.
In the days to come, people will be disappearing on the streets; in the days to come, media houses will be shut down; in the days to come, detention centres will be filled up and judges, as predicted by the Governor of Ondo State (Rotimi Akeredolu), may be arrested while even sitting in their robes. I think that those who know this regime have warned us enough. Nigerians should rise up to challenge the impunity we are currently witnessing but I am specifically calling on Prof Wole Soyinka to rise up to the occasion, to lead us – we are waiting. Nigerians are ready to confront this dictatorship.
With the National Assembly totally pocketed, judiciary totally traumatised, we now have on our hands a full-blown civilian dictatorship and we must brace for the challenge.
What term does the law have for a democratically-elected leader who disobeys court orders and is operating like a military man?
I believe that if we are all students of history; we know that when a civilian regime gets to a position when it assumes military dictatorship, it is marking the end of its days. What I see going on in Nigeria is that power is gradually slipping off the hands of Buhari, even though he has never been in control of governance, and people have questioned whether he even has an understanding of democratic ethos that we are practising.
But with what is going on currently, we have the conviction that the days of dictatorship are marked in Nigeria and I believe that if we all rise up – Nigerian Bar Association, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, National Association of Nigerian Students, all lovers of democracy, civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations – and say no, it will be no. We fought former Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha, in this country; we fought General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.) in this country, and so it will not be an exception to have Buhari terrorising people who voted him into office, locking up people indefinitely, clamping upon the judiciary and refusing to comply with orders of courts. I believe the law is enough to take care of this situation and I call on judges in particular, to wean themselves of the self-imposed timidity, and rise courageously to defend our constitution.
No judge should entertain any charge against Sowore in any court in Nigeria and we are waiting for any judge who will entertain any subsequent charge from a regime that has refused to obey the order of a court. We will call on the NBA to blacklist that judge and remove his name from the history of Nigeria. I believe that we have got to a stage when we must speak truth to power. I commend and encourage all judges across Nigeria to stand up and be counted to be on the side of the people.
Would you describe the actions of this regime under General Buhari as illegal?
Right from the period when Buhari addressed Nigerians on May 29, 2015, I have had no illusion that he would go through any legal system of governance. You can see from the history of this regime how election has taken a back seat – all the elections conducted so far were marred by violence and inconclusive elections. Anytime the ruling party was likely to lose, INEC could be forced to declare it as inconclusive. By the time the result would come out, it would favour the regime at all costs.
So, what we are witnessing is a situation whereby the executive under retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari has arrogated all powers to itself and we now have to contend with a maximum ruler, who is not operating by the rule of law and does not give a damn about what the people think about his action.
So, I believe that with what is going on now, those of us who have been saying that there is nothing in this regime to give us hope for a better future, have now risen up to defend that view. So, we can only call upon all Nigerians – in the markets, churches, mosques, schools, wherever they are – to stand up and be counted to resist illegality. Enough is enough.
Before his regime, Buhari after losing elections in the past protested and at some point even called for a revolution like the one seen in Egypt where lives were lost. How would you react to this vis-a-vis what is happening to Sowore now?
You will remember that before the 2015 elections, the All Progressives Congress, ably led by Lai Mohammed, held the Goodluck Jonathan administration to a ransom with propaganda and lies on a daily basis and indeed, Buhari led an open demonstration in Kano against that particular government. At a particular time, Buhari led people of his tribe to the late Governor Lam Adeshina in Oyo State, threatening that they should not implement any law against herdsmen.
The leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife have been held in detention in violation of court orders granting them bail. Do you think such actions taken by the Buhari regime are in the country’s interest?
I do not think that there is anything that Buhari has embarked upon that supports national interest, national cohesion. In fact, like no other regime in the history of this nation, our country has never been this divided along ethnic, religious and tribal lines. We have never seen it like this. We have witnessed this regime dividing our people against themselves, family, husbands and wives, businesspeople and so on. I don’t think that there is anything being done that is in the interest of national security. It is the security of Buhari that is paramount to him, not the security of Nigerians.
By the account of Amnesty International, over 20,000 people have lost their lives in the course of terrorism going on in the North-East, a war he claimed he would lead from the front. But he has been running to foreign countries and hiding in Aso Rock since he came to power. There is nothing we have gained in respect of the battle between herdsmen and farmers other than the slaughtering people, leading to inflation, closing of borders and causing people to suffer. So, there is nothing we enjoy from this particular regime led by Buhari. There is high unemployment rate and factories are closing down. The darkness we witnessed during the past administrations in terms of power supply has got worse; power companies have continued to behave the way they like and they have not been able to caution them, hence there is no improvement in power supply at all.
Aviation has collapsed virtually. Air Nigeria that he introduced later became an object of fraud, which he was not able to manage. The educational system is in shambles. The road network is terrible.
Violence has been on the increase in terms of kidnapping to the extent that divisional police officers who are supposed to protect lives and property are now paying ransoms to kidnappers.
Talking about border closure, do you support the shutting down of the country’s borders?
The closure of the borders is totally unreasonable. You don’t have the capacity to produce anything and then you want to shut yourself out from outsiders. There is hypocrisy in the closure of borders because we just signed a trade agreement with other African nations saying that we would open ourselves up for integration globally and following that, you closed the borders. Why did you sign the agreement if you knew you were not going to honour the agreement?
I think that the border closure is totally senseless and does not bear any economic sense beyond the propaganda we are being fed daily that petroleum consumption has gone down. There is no data to support this.
Like El-Zakzaky and Sowore, a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), has been held in detention in 2015 in defiance of court orders and ECOWAS appellate court declaring his incarceration as illegal. What do you think about that?
The case of Dasuki is a loud testimony of the intolerance of this particular regime and indeed Buhari himself. It has since transpired that there had been some form of altercation between them in the past, and that this experience constitutes retaliation. I don’t think people should use public office to settle personal scores. If somebody is alleged to be involved in corruption, the best place to try that allegation is the court of law.
You bring your charges and allow the person to have his day in court. But you arrested somebody, locked him up, and he was granted bail. But as he was arrested again and fresh charges were filed. You accused somebody of being involved in terrorism and that he wanted to overthrow the government, yet there was no evidence. All that you saw in his house were guns that were made for farming and games and because of that, he has been held in custody since 2015.
I believe that there is no pretence from this particular regime that it is lawless – there is no pretence that the regime totally constitutes itself into a hindrance to democratic improvement and engagement. It is only for Nigerians to insist that our constitution should prevail.
Many Nigerians have argued that the anti-graft war is targeted at perceived opponents of Buhari. Do you share their sentiments?
For me, really, one of the major points of support for this regime has always been a cry against corruption. We had thought that there was indeed a genuine desire to recover our wealth from wrong persons and use them for development purposes.
But you cannot fight corruption except through the gateway of judiciary. The salaries of judges have remained the same; there has been no funding for the judiciary. So, the general tendency is that the anti-corruption slogan was just meant to buy and steal the confidence and support of the people of Nigeria, but there was no genuine desire to actually fight corruption because if you really want to fight corruption, you will ensure that money is not in the hands of people who are in power. But today, this is what is going in the country: the Niger Delta Development Commission, whose budget is over N300bn per annum is being run by an interim management committee contrary to the fact that the Senate had already screened and approved a particular board, which has not been allowed to operate at all. So, I believe that if you are fighting corruption, it should be a total war, especially for those who are in charge of funds because there is a limit to what you can trace in the hands of those who are no longer in power. We have been chasing them since 2015, by now the focus should be on those who are in power.
As military head of state, Buhari used the National Security Organisation, which is what DSS was then known, to arrest and detain people arbitrarily. Do you think that is what he is re-enacting now?
I believe the current setup of the DSS is probably even worse than that of the NSO we had in the days of Major General Buhari as a military dictator. The DSS we have now is populated by people from his tribe, and I believe they are only answerable to him and their loyalty is to him, not to Nigeria and Nigerians.
The DSS we have now is an agency that will arrest journalists and keep them in custody for two years without trial and raid the houses of judges with impunity. I believe generally, Nigeria is being taken back to the days of dictatorship, when secret organisations were being made to terrorise people and impose fear on them as a means of silencing any form of dissent. It means a hidden agenda is about to unfold and I think that is what is playing out in terms of the way the DSS has been unleashed on the people of Nigeria as contrary to its operation as a secret agency.
Nonetheless, we have had worst situations in history. Adolf Hitler did everything to eliminate all Jews, it did not work; Mobutu Sese Seko did everything possible in Zaire, it did not work; Pieter Botha did everything in South Africa to silence the black majority, it never worked. Dictatorship has never triumphed over the people in any history and it will not happen in Nigeria.
Houses of judges were raided by the DSS in 2016; did you sense that there was danger at that time?
Yes, I have no doubt that the judiciary has always been the target of this particular regime because immediately Buhari came into power, he declared openly that judiciary was his headache – he didn’t believe in due process, he did not believe in rule of law and that has been demonstrated by his aversion to reforms in the judicial sector.
So, the invasion of the houses of judges by the DSS was meant to send a signal to all judicial officers that it could be anybody’s turn and I believe currently, most judges write their judgments with the fear of the DSS and other agencies secretly monitoring their movements, activities, their telephone conversations, and finances just to ensure that they do the bidding of the government.
Not only that, the Chief Justice of Nigeria denied the fact that there was autonomy for the judiciary when he said if there was no funding for the judiciary, it could not be independent. He said this at the NBA conference in Lagos in August. He said it again during the swearing-in of new Senior Advocates of Nigeria in Abuja in September.
He said the judiciary was not independent and not autonomous because they went cap in hand to get funds. So, the executive is using funding as a means of controlling the judiciary and the reason is very simple: 80 per cent of cases in our courts are meant to determine the impunity and excesses of the executive. So it is not in the interest of the Buhari regime to allow the judiciary to function because an effective judiciary will check lawlessness and impunity. I am sure that judges themselves, having seen through the chicanery of this regime, will stand up to defend our people and constitution.
Hate speech bill, which is believed to be aimed at insulating public officials from criticisms, is being proposed. What do you think about it?
I believe that that bill is dead on arrival. There is a judgment from the ECOWAS court which has been served on the National Assembly that the bill cannot survive.
Second, the bill cannot stand in the face of our constitution. Section 39 of our constitution guarantees the freedom of speech to every Nigerian, to impart ideas and receive ideas without interference. Section 22 of our constitution allows the media, especially the mass media, to hold government accountable to the people. The Freedom of Information Act allows Nigerians to query, inquire and investigate the activities of government. It is too late in the day for anybody to dream of any hate speech bill. It will never work. If and when the National Assembly abandons their responsibilities to Nigerians to pass such bill, we will go to court.
The Buhari regime has been accused of favouring the North in various appointments. Do you have any contrary views?
I don’t think we need any more evidence other than the appointments going on at present where most security chiefs are from a particular section of the country. Look at the recent appointments of commissioners of police and AIGs; we recorded 13 from the North-West and there was only one from the South-East region.
I believe that this regime is lopsided and it is not complying with Section 14 of our constitution which speaks about federal character in order to reflect and ensure that all sections of this country are carried along in appointments and infrastructure development. There is a constitutional violation in terms of appointments and I believe that this particular regime is based on nepotism and tribalism, and this has been confirmed by prominent leaders even in the North. That is unfortunate.
What do you have to say about the police clampdown on innocent citizens particularly during peaceful protests?
I believe that the police authorities in Nigeria have continued to follow the body language of retired Major General Buhari and have turned our laws upside down. Look at the contradictions in respect of recruitment and discipline of police officers, and the war between the Police Service Commission and the Inspector General of Police.
Things are falling apart with the Nigeria police, and the issue of bribery, trampling on the rights of people, and issue of corruption are most rampant in the Nigeria Police Force. It is happening right in the face of the number one champion of anti-corruption. I believe the police in Nigeria have not changed.
If you go to Cross Rivers State, for instance, you will see that the governor there is doing exactly what Buhari is doing to Sowore by putting journalists in detention and forcing them to undergo secret trial against the constitution of our land. I think it’s unfortunate.
What does the law say about peaceful protest? Is it compulsory to get permits from the police?
Not at all; Section 39 of our law gives every citizen unquestioned right to protest. We have tested this in the court in the case of Dr Arthur Nwankwo, when he was arrested on alleged sedition. The Court of Appeal said clearly that with the coming to force of the 1999 Constitution, every Nigerian is entitled to protest, and various decisions have followed since then up to the Court of Appeal that Nigerians do not require police permits in order to express themselves.
Therefore, I urge all Nigerians to speak up through the social media, traditional media, and protests but they must be peacefully done. Nobody can be prosecuted for holding a peaceful protest. Our law permits it, the court has upheld it, and it is illegal for the police to ask anybody to obtain permit in order to exercise their constitutional right to protest.