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Tuesday 21 July 2015

Ex-NSA: Lawyers differ on treasonable felony allegation against Dasuki

MIXED reactions are trailing the actions taken by the Department of State Security (DSS) against two former President Goodluck Jonathan’s aides, erstwhile National Security Adviser (NSA) Col. Sambo Dasuki and his Chief Security Officer (CSO) Gordon Obuah.

Jonathan had, in an ominous prediction in the twilight of his administration, said that people who worked with him would face persecution just as lawyers have disagreed over the treasonable felony allegation made against Dasuki by DSS.

Homes of Dasuki in Asokoro, Abuja as well as in his home state, Sokoto were on Thursday night subjected to thorough searches by DSS operatives.

That was about the same day that Obuah was also detained and has since been held incommunicado.

Expressing divergent views on the matter, human rights groups, politicians and lawyers, however, called for caution.

A former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope yesterday called on President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure Nigerians are furnished with full details why officials of the DSS invaded Dasuki’s residence.

Babatope, who expressed shock over the development said the raid does not in any way speak well of the security agents, nor does it portray the Buhari-led administration well “until they tell Nigerians the whole truth behind the action.”

While saying that he hopes the raid was not part of the ‘departmental political situation’ currently going on in the country, Babatope averred that “A person of Dasuki’s status ought to have been treated with more dignity and respect under a democratic setting where there are laws and regulations guiding issues other than being traumatised the way the DSS officials handled the matter.

According to him: “Until they come out with the reasons, I do not see what Dasuki has done to deserve what happened to him. I heard some people saying the siege to the former NSA’s residence was as a result of what happened during the 1985 coup. If that is the case, my plea with the ruling government is that they should not play politics with past events.”

Also, Advocacy for Societal Rights Advancement and Development Initiative (ASRADI) has also condemned the harassment of Dasuki as well as the detention of Jonathan’s former CSO.

In a statement signed by its Executive Director, Mr. Adeolu Oyinlola, ASRADI strongly condemned what it called “the Gestapo-style adopted by operatives of the State Security Service who invaded the residences of the erstwhile National Security Adviser in Abuja and Sokoto.

“We also wish to place on record the Gestapo-style adopted by operatives of the State Security Service who invaded the residences of the erstwhile National Security Adviser in Abuja and Sokoto.

“We demand the immediate, unconditional release of Mr. Obuah or his swift arraignment if he has done any wrong.

“ASRADI condemns in the strongest possible terms, any attempt to grant omnibus powers to the Department of State Services, DSS.

For, what is the remit of the anti-graft agencies if DSS appropriates the right to investigate suspected or alleged fraud or embezzlement?

“Why would the DSS be involved directly or otherwise in matters relating to petitions that are before election tribunals?”

Also, Obuah’s family yesterday raised concerns over his failing health and consequently demanded that he be released from the custody of the DSS where he has been held since last Thursday.

A statement in Abuja by Obuah’s family lawyer, Mr. Andrew Itsekiri, ‎ accused DSS of illegally detaining the former CSO and demanded his immediate and unconditional release. They also asked the DSS to charge him to court if he has done any wrong.

The statement reads: ‎”We can tell the public categorically that as we write, he has not been confronted with any allegation, neither was he given an opportunity to respond to any allegation before he was taken into custody.

“His ordeal began about a week preceding his eventual arrest last week Thursday when the Director General, Lawan Daura sadistically on a daily basis requested that he should report to the DSS headquarters to respond to allegations known only to Daura and throughout which he repeatedly failed to disclose them to him, despite repeated demands by the erstwhile CSO.

“On each of the seven days preceding his arrest, he would report to the DSS headquarters at about 8 a.m. in the morning and only released to go back home at about 11p.m. without being confronted with any allegation.

“At a stage, Daura requested from him if he, Lawan, should investigate the imaginary allegation or if a junior officer should and the consistent response of the erstwhile CSO was for him to at least know the allegation, if any, to enable him respond . Lawan Daura never confronted him with any petition until he was taken into custody when he reported last Thursday. As we write this, nobody can access him including family members, friends and his solicitors.”

Also a statement by a legal practitioner with Zeran Legal Services, Onochie Onwuegbuna Services, claiming to represent Obua and made available to The Guardian, is calling for his immediate release “as he has not been informed of the facts and grounds of his detention in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”
According to the statement, the family believes that “he is being harassed and detained in furtherance of what seems to be a well-calculated witchhunt, unlawful harassment, gross violation of fundamental human rights of certain “marked” individuals who served and held offices in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan in order to implicate them by all means over phantom crimes or offences.”

Onwuegbuna said the woes of his client started a few days before he was finally detained, when the Acting Director General of the DSS summoned Obuah to his office on several occasions without being allowed to see him for three days.

“It was on the fourth day that the DG informed him that there was a petition against him without telling him the contents of the alleged petition or the identity or the petitioner.”

According to the statement, there is great concern now over Obuah’s health, saying: “Our client is hypertensive and diabetic to the knowledge of his employers, the DSS as a result of which he has been on daily medications to manage these very severe ailments.

‘‘Since his detention, he has completely been denied access to these medications. Our client has also been denied access to members of his family, his doctor and his lawyers and even more worrisome is the information obtained by his family that he has not eaten or drank water ever since he was detained.

“The actions of the DSS and our client’s subsequent detention constitute undue harassment and gross violation of his fundamental rights and respect for the dignity of his person and personal liberty as guaranteed by Sections 31 and 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Our client is at present, languishing in the custody of the DSS without access to his medication, food, water and drugs or to any member of his family, doctors or his lawyers.

‘‘In the circumstance, we hereby call on the DSS to immediately release him as he has not been informed of the facts and grounds of his detention in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”

Similarly, Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) has condemned the invasion of the Abuja and Sokoto homes of the former NSA.

A statement yesterday in Abuja by CASER Executive Director, Frank Tietie, said the siege on his houses, two days after the President had thanked him for his services to the country while he served as NSA, was most undeserving.

Another group, Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), however, commended Buhari’s determination to wage war against corruption.

Chairman of the group, Olanrewaju Suraju, in an interaction with journalists at the weekend at Falana Chambers, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos, stated: “We are delighted with what seems like a renewed vigour and effort by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to combat corruption, as illustrated by the resent wave of arrests and prompt arraignment for trial of some former state governors and other political figures, implicated in corruption practices.

According to CASER: “Courts have often warned security agents against the unprofessional practice of derogation of citizens’ rights before fishing for evidence to justify such violation of the fundamental rights of liberty and privacy.

“While we accept that the DSS by a valid search warrant is authorised to search the house of the former NSA under our criminal procedure, a search warrant does in any way confer grounds to put the former NSA under any form of arrest.

“In fact, the former NSA had the right to leave the house while the search was being conducted. He also had the right to be present during the search or to appoint two persons as witnesses while the search was being conducted. To have subjected him to questioning and the restriction of his movement even when he wanted to observe sacred Muslim prayers are clear violations of his fundamental rights,” he said.

“This new administration of President Buhari must desist from jettisoning the level of refinement attained in our criminal justice system. Particularly, the DSS, which has in recent times in the preceding administration, been quite cautious on citizens’ rights and had established an interface with the public which sought to represent it as an agency for the maintenance and preservation of Nigerian State.
CASER, therefore, urges the former NSA to take immediate steps towards enforcing his fundamental rights as a bona fide citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, lawyers have reacted on the allegation of treasonable felony leveled against Dasuki by the DSS, differing in their views of what the criminal code says on the issue.

A distinguished constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) said treasonable felony is not a constitutional issue but in criminal code.

According to him, it is usually associated to people who want to change the government unconstitutionally.

He said that as an outsider, “I wouldn’t know the facts upon which the DSS is making its allegations. What I know about Dasuki is that he was the one who proposed the postponement of the general elections. As the leader of the security team of the whole country, he galvanised all other security agencies to throw their weight behind him, to say that they cannot guarantee security if the elections were to go on.

“There might be something else that we don’t know. Having an armoured vehicle of a private passenger-type that is not of the military is not a crime. Having the private armoured or bulletproof vehicle that a private person can buy if you have the money is quite legitimate. But having the military type even for an NSA would definitely be illegal. Such should not even be in his compound. I really doesn’t want to assume facts that I don’t know.”

Another Port Harcourt-based SAN, Mr. Beluolisa Nwofor noted that from what he read in the newspapers, Dasuki is still under investigation.

“He has not been charged for treasonable felony. Until the investigating team have concluded their investigation, it would be premature to delve into the matter. First of all, nobody is above the law. If anybody is suspected of any crime, the person would be investigated and if there is a prima facie evidence against the person, he would be prosecuted in the court of law. So, if they suspect him of any crime, they should prosecute him and he would be entitled to defend himself. So, it is part of our criminal laws”, he stated.

On the issue of possession of arms, Nwofor said whether he is a former president or whatever, nobody is above the law. His words: “There is no law known to me that says a former National Security Adviser is entitled to possess firearms. Firearms Act requires that if you must possess firearms, you must be licensed, except you are among the security forces, that is to say that you are a member of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If you are retired, and you are a former national security adviser and you are found with a firearm, you have to have a licence for that because the laws of the land are very clear on this.”

But the fiery Lagos lawyer and human rights advocate, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa said he read with much disdain the press statement made against the former National Security Adviser to President Jonathan, Dasuki, that he was arming himself to overthrow the government of Buhari.

According to him, it is just simply laughable, as it is becoming clearer by the day, that it is a vindictive administration. “Even before he was sworn in, Buhari had launched a revenge mission against AIT, given the very offensive documentary that was run against Buhari during the campaigns. Next has been Mrs. Marilyn Ogar, who was summarily demoted, by the DSS, for her role during the campaigns too.

“From the available records now, Buhari seem to be nursing a grudge against Col Dasuki, for a similar fate that Buhari suffered in the latter’s hands, some years back.

“But quite apart from running a government of vendetta, there is no way that Buhari can convince Nigerians that only a single individual, like Col Dasuki, can plan to overthrow a government. Which is why the allegation is laughable. The fact of the presence of armoured cars in somebody’s compound, cannot in itself, signify an intention to plan a coup, even though Buhari should know better, since he has been part of the business of planning coups and overthrowing democratic regimes, in the past. But we are now in a democratic regime, and there can be no justification whatsoever, for invading the houses of a citizen of Nigeria, in such Gestapo manner, as to deny him access to his family and his lawyers”, he stated.

He noted that it was becoming a dangerous fashion for Buhari’s administration to be trampling on the rights of individuals. His words: “Few days after he was sworn in, officers of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), stormed the house of Senator Buruji Kashamu, in an attempt to enforce an illegal extradition. Presently, the former chief security officer to President Goodluck Jonathan, is under arrest and is being denied access to his family, lawyers and doctors. This is totally unacceptable.

“Whereas we support wholeheartedly, the war against corruption, that is being prosecuted by the Buhari administration, such must be done under and within the ambits of the law. To this extent, I can find no justification for the illegal invasion of the residence of Col Sambo Dasuki.

“The DSS, in carrying out this invasion, should name the co-conspirators, provide evidence of the likely coup plot and show us proof that indeed such is seriously being planned, beyond throwing empty and shallow allegations and brandishing armoured cars, as evidence of a likely coup.

“I advise the Buhari administration to settle down to the business of serious governance, name his cabinet and give Nigeria a true sense of direction, as contained in his campaign promises, rather than chasing shadows and running a government of excuses and propaganda. The war against corruption is becoming meaningless, in a regime that is spending a whooping N2.3b just on a single trip to the United States of America.”

But another SAN, Femi Falana, in a statement yesterday, justified the search of Dasuki’s house by the DSS, saying: “The fundamental rights to personal liberty and privacy of the home of every Nigerian citizen are constitutionally guaranteed. As fundamental rights are not absolute, they may be breached  in accordance with a procedure permitted by law. Hence, by virtue of section 146 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, the residence of any citizen can be searched with a warrant duly signed by a Judge, Magistrate or Justice of the Peace. Section 149 thereof imposes a duty on any person residing in any building which is liable to be searched to allow  “free and unhindered access to it and afford all reasonable facilities for its search.”
The statement continued: “The DSS operatives came in two trucks with a search warrant from a Magistrate Court. The warrant gave them the power to search for ‘illegal weapons and any incriminating item.

It is pertinent to point out that the law requires the owner or occupier of any house or apartment to allow a search once a search warrant signed by the appropriate authority is produced by law enforcement personnel.

Without any legal basis whatsoever, Col. Dasuki breached the law when he refused to allow the DSS officials “free and unhindered access” to his residence for several hours last Thursday.

His house was not illegally raided but lawfully searched, pursuant to a warrant issued by a Magistrate. Since we operate a neo-colonial legal system which confers special privileges on people of influence, Dasuki was treated with dignity in the circumstance.

In other words, the DSS personnel would have executed the warrant, rather forcefully,  if the search involves the home of an “ordinary” citizen. Indeed, the special status extended to members of  the ruling class has also been demonstrated in the decision of  the DSS to place the retired Colonel under “house arrest” in a country where the flotsam and the jetsam are regularly railroaded to jail even when they are not associated with any “incriminating evidence”, the statement said.

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