political crucifixion?

Detention of Buhari-era officials dents Tinubu’s democratic credentials, say activists

By Eniola Akinkuotu

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Posted on August 15, 2023 06:00

Nigeria’s suspended Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele.
Nigeria’s suspended Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele. REUTERS

For over 60 days, Nigeria’s suspended Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele and the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa, have been in detention.

Godwin Emefiele, the suspended Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, was granted bail last week by a Federal High Court after his arraignment for alleged illegal weapon possession. However, armed officials from the Department of State Services (DSS) re-arrested Emefiele outside the courtroom, sparking outrage.

The court had granted Emefiele bail of N20m ($26,315) and ordered that he be held in prison custody in the interim, but DSS agents clashed with prison officers, before forcefully taking Emefiele and speeding off with him in their vehicle.

Videos of the incident drew condemnation from rights groups. The Nigerian Bar Association denounced the “disgraceful and unlawful conduct” of the DSS. Emefiele has filed a case seeking to halt further prosecution.

The currency redesign by the former CBN chief caused naira shortages, nearly costing Tinubu the election. His arrest elicited praise from Nigerians seeking payback for the economic hardship that resulted from the naira fiasco.

Bawa’s travails

Emefiele is not the only one in detention. Abdulrasheed Bawa, the suspended boss of the EFCC, has also been in custody for two months, even though he is yet to be formally charged with a crime.

Bawa, who was investigating Tinubu for corruption before his victory at the polls, is reported to have ‘abused his office’ alongside Emefiele.

However, details of the precise allegations levelled against him have never been made public.

This is just pure political witch-hunt and a disregard for the rule of law

“The president should not be engaging in lawlessness by disobeying court orders and detaining people for no just reason. Nigerians deserve to know what Bawa has done and if you believe he is corrupt, take him to court. It is against his fundamental human right to keep him in detention without charge,” Pelumi Olajengbesi, a human rights activist, tells The Africa Report.

Sources close to Bawa say he is still seeking a political solution hence his decision not to sue the government just yet.

DSS reacts

The DSS has apologised for the conduct of its officers who arrested Emefiele, but says suspects can be re-arrested during investigations.

“The service immediately applied and obtained a detention order from a magistrate court, so Emefiele is legally detained,” the agency said in a statement.

In the previous administration, the secret police detained former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki for over three years as well as the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky.

Omoyele Sowore, an activist and prominent online newspaper publisher, was also detained for five months and re-arrested inside a courthouse in defiance of court orders.

In his inaugural speech, Tinubu vowed to ensure that Nigeria is “impartially governed according to the constitution and the rule of law”.

His history as a pro-democracy activist in the mid 90s, which saw get arrested by the military junta and subsequently forced into exile, made many to believe that as president, he would ensure that rights are respected and court orders are obeyed.

However, Tinubu has remained silent on the prolonged detention of both Bawa and Emefiele.

“This is just pure political witch-hunt and a disregard for the rule of law. We have to hold Tinubu responsible for anything the secret police are doing because they report directly to him,” Inibehe Effiong, a Lagos-based human rights activist, tells The Africa Report.

Effiong adds that the secret police have become a willing tool in the hands of the Nigerian presidency. According to him, it needs a complete overhaul and the head of the organisation ought to be sacked.

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