Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has described as “a reckless demonstration of official impunity” a reason adduced by the Presidency for its continued detention of Shi’ite leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky.
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr. Falana said it was the first time in Nigeria’s history that a democratically elected government would openly justify a citizen’s detention in defiance of a valid court order.
“Even under the neo-tarzanist Buhari/Idiagbon military junta, court orders which directed that victims of the obnoxious Detention of Persons Decree No 2 of 1984 be released from illegal custody were complied with,” said Mr. Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria.
“But under a democratic government Mr. Shehu wants Nigerians to believe that El-zakzakys are held in ‘protective custody’ after the federal high court had declared such detention illegal and unconstitutional.
“Or has Mr. Shehu suddenly become so power drunk to the extent that he can conveniently set aside the judgment of the federal high court?”
Mr. El-zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, and his wife, Zeenat, have been in detention since December, 2015, following the killing of members of his Shi’ite sect by soldiers in Kaduna.
More than 300 members of the sect and one soldier died in the violence which began after the sect members allegedly blocked the passage of the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai.
Mr. El-zakzaky has remained in the custody of the government despite several court rulings ordering his release.
On Tuesday, Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President, said the Shi’ite leader was still in “protective custody” for his own safety.
“El-zakzaky is held for his own good,” Mr. Shehu had told State House correspondents.
“If you set him free, what do you think will happen on the streets? He is not in a typical prison condition. He has the company of his wife and children. They can leave if they want. There is overall public good weighing against his release.”
Mr. Falana said Mr. Shehu’s statement was a sharp departure from the Presidency’s earlier claims that Mr. El-zakzaky constituted a threat to national security.
“Is Mr. Shehu not aware that Elzakzaky has lost one of his eyes in the dungeon of the State Security Service and may lose the other eye due to denial of urgent medical treatment?” Mr. Falana continued.
“Why has his request to travel abroad for medical attention at his own expense been refused by the federal government?”
Mr. Falana called for the immediate and unconstitutional release of Mr. El-zakzaky, as well as Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser who is also in the government’s custody despite several court rulings granting him bail.
“Since neither President Muhammadu Buhari nor Acting President Yemi Osinbajo could have authorized the contemptuous statement issued on behalf of the Presidency, Mr. Shehu Garba should be called to order and restrained from further exposing the Federal Republic of Nigeria to ridicule before the comity of civilized nations,” said Mr. Falana.
“However, since the federal government continues to proclaim loudly that it operates under the rule of law it cannot be operated to treat court orders with disdain. To that extent, El-zakzaky and his wife must be released from the illegal custody of the State Security Service since the federal high court has dismissed the official claim that they are held in ‘protective custody.’
“A government which is desirous to secure conviction of persons charged with criminal offences cannot treat the orders of the same court with disdain and impunity.”