O you who believe, be persistently firm for Allah, witnesses in justice and do not let hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do. – Holy Qur’an, Surat Maida, 5:8
This week I have decided to venture into one of those zones you just know will cause you some discomfort, but not going there will be worse than the consequences of going. Three related developments are responsible for my taking on issues today over which I expect a lot of flak. The first was the strong critique of the Nigerian judiciary which President Buhari laid publicly right before its top echelons at a conference, reeling out its ills, weaknesses and liabilities in the fight against corruption. The second was a document dripping with passion and indignation written to the public by the only surviving son of Sheikh Ibrahim El- Zakzaki, leader of the Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria(IMN),pleading for his father to be allowed access to better medical facilities, his family and lawyers because, he is going blind and his incarceration is illegal. The third is the latest attempt by Colonel Sambo Dasuki(rtd),the former National Security Adviser to gain legal reprieve from detention. You could add the case of Nnamdi Kanu and Boko Haram suspects who are not being processed for prosecution to this list. At the risk of receiving painful reactions and sundry insinuations, we must not walk away from these issues. The day we all walk away, we not only abandon those for whom we should speak up, but we abandon our rights to live under the humanizing qualities of justice and the right to correct what is wrong.
Thirty two years ago, a tough, Nigerian reform-minded military head of state was overthrown by fellow military officers. The nation moved on under its new rulers and their guns and fresh narratives that cast him as a national villain. He was incarcerated without a single day in court. If tears were shed for him by Nigerians, they certainly failed to change his circumstances. Released to pick the pieces of his life in his hometown, he nursed his feelings largely privately. A few years later, the urge to return to the service of the fatherland brought him back seeking for a position of authority to affect lives of fellow citizens. Three times he contested for the presidency of his nation.
Each time, using the entire gamut of the judicial process, he challenged the bitter sense of injustice which he felt his defeat represented. Every time he walked out to offer to serve, the number of Nigerians who walked out with him increased. They shared the sense of injustice done to him and to their aspirations to have an honest leadership which cared about the poor and the weak. Eventually, the sheer weight of his persistence and the mass of support behind him tilted the balance in favour of a just and fair electoral system which made him president.
Even at his most generous disposition, President Buhari will say he has been at the receiving end of great injustice at many stages of his life. His virtual political life dealing with the Nigerian judiciary and his current position as the leader sworn to uphold the rule of law must have contributed to the courage it took to look the top leadership of the nation’s judiciary in the eyes and say, you are not good enough for what Nigerians need today. It is his fate today that President Buhari will be the custodian of our rights to have a justice system that limits the shortcomings of the judiciary, and be leader of a nation in which all citizens receive at least the most minimal of justice to which they are entitled.
A man whose life shows many scars of injustice and the pains of impunity should be unquestionably the champion of justice and compassion. When, like President Buhari, he is also placed at a leadership position by the God he will be accountable to, and the votes of citizens who believe he can do justice, the imperatives to diligently police the difficult boundaries between political expediency, national security and the exacting demands of the rule of law will be even more challenging. The plea made by the son of Sheikh El- Zakzaki for his father to be allowed greater access to good medical facilities, his lawyers and family should be seriously considered by President Buhari.
The accusation that he is being detained against his will by a Nigerian state that claims it is doing so in his own interest should be a matter that a president who recently upbraided the judiciary takes a very close look at. It may challenge the best resources of the Nigerian state, but if El- Zakzaki and Col Sambo Dasuki and Nwanku Kanu are entitled to bail, or have medical reasons which demand that they be allowed access to them wherever they can find them, it is the duty of the federal government to avail them such rights and opportunities for medical attention. It demeans our claims to live as a civilized nation under a leadership sworn to uphold the rule of law,to have a citizen detained because the state cannot or will not prosecute him.
The temptation to be indifferent to the fates of El- Zakzaki, Dasuki and Kanu, and even suspected Boko Haram detainees are strong. There are many, in fact who will rejoice and encourage the continuation of their current experiences and status. They will be wrong. What they should rejoice at is the end of a judicial process which finds them guilty, and punishes them appropriately. El- Zakzaky’s IMN has acquired a status in the public domain that justifiably frightens many Nigerians.
The IMN declined to participate in the proceedings of the Commission, but El-Zegzagi is pursuing the cause for his freedom through the Nigerian judicial system. If the claims that he will go blind without better medical attention is valid; if there are unwarranted restrictions to visits by his family and lawyers; if there are no legal grounds to keep him under protective custody, President Buhari should act and affect his conditions and circumstances in the interest of justice. Neither national security nor justice are served by denial of rights of citizens who can and must be made to account for their alleged crimes. There must be hundreds of Boko Haram suspects in various detention centers. If there is evidence against them, Nigerians should see them being prosecuted.
Since the explosion of the allegations on diversion of funds meant for purchase of weapons to political purposes, the name of Sambo Dasuki has become synonymous with the worst excesses of President Jonathan’s administration. He should be processed, along with all others who are suspected of participating in these diversions, through the legal system. If he is found guilty, he should be made to pay for his crimes. Until then he is entitled to justice as a citizen.
If there are no legal grounds to keep him in detention, his right to bail and access to medical attention must be respected. Kanu’s adventure to break up Nigeria is well known to most citizens. Is it the case that the entire Nigerian security assets cannot monitor and limit the damage of a man (or three men) on bail and receiving medical attention? Is keeping these three men in detention serving major national security interests or those of justice? If they are, surely the government can find a balance between the need to know and the right to know, so that Nigerians are assured that justice is being done to citizens as well as detainees?