……Buhari’s administration is characterised by many instances of injustice and illegality that Mr Tinubu should not emulate.
In his farewell speech to the United Nations General Assembly last September, President Muhammadu Buhari urged the annual gathering of world leaders to uphold “justice, honour, integrity, ceaseless endeavour, and partnership”.
Contrary to his call for justice, the actions of the Nigerian leader since he assumed office as democratic president in 2015 have been characterised by many cases of injustice and illegality. The brazen violations of citizens’ rights and liberties by the Buhari administration are well-documented.
The killing of Shiite members
Less than a year after he assumed office in December 2015, the Nigerian Army, which Mr Buhari superintends as Commander-In-Chief, extra-judicially killed over 350 members of a Shiite minority group, IMN. The victims included women and children.
The army said its clash with the Shia sect members who had erected a makeshift roadblock near a mosque resulted from an assassination attempt on the then Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, whose convoy was passing by.
Shiites holding a procession
After dispersing the Shiite members on the road, the army went on to carry out attacks at the Hussainniya Baqiyyatullah mosque and religious centre, at the home of the Shiite leader, Ibrahim Al Zakzaky, in the Gyellesu neighbourhood and at the sect’s burial ground, Dar Al-Rahma, over two days.
Soldiers quickly buried the bodies in mass graves without family members’ permission, making it difficult to determine an accurate death toll. Apart from killing hundreds of the Shiites, the army also arrested scores of them including their leader, Mr El-Zakzaky, and his wife Zeenah. Both of them spent nearly six years in illegal detention before a Kaduna State High Court eventually acquitted the couple and ordered their release in 2021. The Nigerian government reluctantly released them but is still holding on to their passports, depriving them of the opportunity to travel to their hospital of choice abroad for medical treatment of their health conditions worsened by long incarceration.
Mr Buhari did not condemn the massacre of the Shiites. One of his spokesmen once described the incident as “a military affair.”
To date, no soldier or commanding officer has been prosecuted for the massacre while Mr Buhari later appointed Mr Buratai an ambassador after the latter retired from the army.
“There has to be some remedial measures that must be taken expeditiously by any new administration and that will include redressing the grave wrong that has been done to the members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria who have been continuously and brazenly murdered by the Nigerian state without any recourse or trial,” said Inibehe Effiong, a Lagos-based human rights lawyer.
“I expect any rule of compliant government to implement the report of that judicial panel and hold the soldiers who were involved accountable; those who have retired should be arrested and tried for murder,” Mr Effiong told PREMIUM TIMES.
Illegal dismissal of military officers
In one of Nigeria’s worst cases of arbitrariness, disregard for the court and shabby treatment of her heroes since Mr Buhari, a former major-general, became president, senior army officers illegally dismissed seven years ago are still hoping the authorities will comply with the law and ensure justice in their case.
The Nigerian Army under Mr Buratai, the army chief between 2015 and 2021, left communities bloodied and traumatised after war-grade shootings targeting unarmed, defenceless, and innocent civilians. The massive extra-judicial killings which were widely reported, have elicited condemnations and formed dark patches of blood, blotting the image of the army.
Past Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official webpage of the Nigerian Army]But apart from the extra-judicial killings, which remain unpunished, Mr Buratai who served under Mr Buhari has a record of arbitrariness and disregard for the law and court orders.
On 9 June 2016, the Nigerian Army under Mr Buratai forced 38 senior officers out of service by compulsorily retiring them. Most of the affected officers were illegally punished. Among the officers were some of the country’s best in the war against terrorism. The senior officers were illegally removed from service without any indictment or query as the law provides, PREMIUM TIMES reported.
About six of the affected officers have won the cases they initiated to challenge their forced retirement by the military. In ordering their reinstatement, the National Industrial Court has six times held that the military acted unlawfully.
“What we have seen in the Buhari regime is that court orders are consistently flouted,” Mr Effiong said. “We have seen how the government has treated similar situations differently. We have also seen gross disregard for the rights of the citizens. That is against the spirit of the rule of law which is not ought to be practised in a democratic dispensation,” he added.
PREMIUM TIMES has repeatedly called the attention of the Buhari government to this matter. But authorities have continued to ignore the court and its decisions.
This matter is one of Nigeria’s worst cases of arbitrariness, disregard for the court and shabby treatment of her heroes since Mr Buhari, a former brigadier general, became president.
One of the officers, Ojebo Ochankpa, died in 2017 while awaiting justice. Their statutory appeal for redress to President Buhari within 30 days of their sacking, and other letters subsequently, have neither been acknowledged nor replied to, according to a report published by PREMIUM TIMES.
Emphasising “service exigencies” and that the “military must remain apolitical and professional at all times,” the then army spokesperson, Sani Usman, now a retired brigadier-general, on 10 June 2016, released a statement, disclosing what could have constituted the “serious offences” that warranted the compulsory retirement of the 38 officers.
FILE: Nigerian Soldiers on duty. [PHOTO CREDIT: The Guardian]“It should be recalled that not too long ago some officers were investigated for being partisan during the 2015 general elections,” Mr Usman said. “Similarly, the investigation by the Presidential Committee investigating Defence Contracts revealed a lot. Some officers have already been arraigned in court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).”
PREMIUM TIMES checks indicate the army violated its own rules in the ways the officers were disengaged.
The Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service for Officers whose paragraph 09.02c (4) was relied upon to remove the officers, originates from the Armed Forces Act. The section cited by the army provides that an officer may be compulsorily retired “on disciplinary grounds i.e. serious offence(s)” without defining what constitutes “serious offences”.
But the principal law – the Armed Forces Act – establishes all actions that constitute offences in the military. The Act prescribes steps to be taken in punishing offenders, and a review shows no section empowers the Army Council to arbitrarily punish or compulsorily retire officers for any offence. In fact, the Army Council, in Section 11(a-f) of the Act, has no power to retire any officer on disciplinary grounds without compliance with the steps prescribed by law.
However, an investigation by this medium, involving a review of service rules and interviews with officials with direct knowledge of the matter, showed the army violated its own laws by dismissing the majority of the officers.
Contrary to the claim by the army, our investigations showed that only a few of the affected officers were queried, tried and indicted. Others had their careers abruptly cut short for reasons that smacked of high-level arbitrariness, pettiness, witch-hunting and partisanship by authorities of the army.
“In a democratic dispensation, the law must always be supreme because the law is the foundation upon which government comes into existence in a democracy,” Mr Effiong said.
“But, in a country like ours which is not a democratic country in a real sense. We continue to see a situation where the law is disregarded and therefore, a new government must be deliberate in ensuring adherence to the rule of law and that the processes and procedures prescribed by law are followed.”
Sowore, Dasuki’s detention
In another instance, the Nigerian government arrested Omoyele Sowore in August 2019 on allegations of plotting to overthrow the government by organising a protest. Mr Sowore was deprived of freedom for several months despite securing a court order for his release.
The Nigeria secret police, the SSS, also files charges of fraud and treasonable felony against Mr Sowore. There was also an additional claim that Mr Sowore “insulted” the president.
At the peak of the desperation to keep Mr Sowore against a court order, SSS operatives, on 6 December 2019 invaded the courtroom to rearrest the activist shortly after the trial judge ordered his release from custody.
Mr Sowore is certainly not the only victim of the Buhari administration’s highhandedness. Several citizens, including Ahmed Dadiyata; journalist Jones Abiri, and others have fallen victim to the government’s iron fist.
After four years of detention by officials of the SSS, Sambo Dasuki, the erstwhile National Security Adviser, regained his freedom on the same day as Mr Sowore.
Former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki
Mr Dasuki, a retired Nigerian Army colonel, was held by the SSS since December 2015 when he was arrested on allegations that he diverted $2.1 billion from funds meant for the war against terrorism.
He denied wrongdoing and is yet to be convicted. Since his arrest and arraignment, Mr Dasuki had been granted bail at least seven times by various courts, with the SSS refusing to heed all the orders until December 2019.
The killing of IPOB members
Again in 2015, the Nigerian Army extrajudicially killed at least 17 unarmed pro-Biafra supporters in Nigeria’s south-east, PREMIUM TIMES reported.
An on-the-ground investigation by Amnesty International confirmed that the Nigerian army gunned down unarmed people ahead of planned pro-Biafran commemoration events in Onitsha, Anambra state. Evidence gathered from eyewitnesses, morgues and hospitals confirms that between 29-30 May 2016, the Nigerian military opened fire on members of the Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB), supporters and bystanders at three locations in the town.
An investigation by PREMIUM TIMES portrayed an even larger scale of wrongdoing. That heavy-handed clampdown on the IPOB members is believed to be one of the reasons the group became radicalised.
Nobody was prosecuted for the killings.
“There has to be redress for all the killings that have taken place in the country, people have to be held accountable,” Mr Effiong told PREMIUM TIMES.
“I will also expect as an act of good faith that the federal government will withdraw the appeal they have filed at the Supreme Court for Nnamdi Kanu to continue to be detained because the judgement of the court of appeal is very sound and profound and any government that truly cares about rule of law and democracy will not hesitate to implement it.”