FLASHBACK: 12 times Buhari spoke about rule of law, promised to respect human rights

NIGERIA’s Department of State Services (DSS), an intelligence agency operated under the presidency, has refused to release Saharareporters’ founder Omoyele Sowore on bail despite a court order instructing it to do so.

Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court had, on Tuesday, ordered the agency to release Sowore who was arrested at about 11 pm on August 2 by its operatives and detained for 45 days.

On Thursday, the court threatened to convict the DSS Director-General, Yusuf Bichi, of contempt if Sowore is still held in detention. The DSS, despite this, refused to be served the court order the following day.

The Saharareporters’ founder is not the first victim of the federal government’s disregard for court judgements. Under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, prominent Shi’a Muslim leader Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, and IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu have also been kept in detention in spite of court orders.

Meanwhile, President Buhari, who has just returned from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, has made several commitments to democracy, fundamental human rights, and the rule of law, both home and abroad. When he came to power in 1983 as a military ruler, one of the reasons he, gave for the coup was the Shagari administration’s disrespect for “most of the checks and balances in the constitution”.

Also, addressing the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Buhari paid tribute to sacrifices made by millions all over the world “in defence of freedom, tolerance and the rule of law”.

“In Nigeria, we have made significant strides to put our own house in order. We will work tirelessly to uphold due process. The rule of law remains the permanent, unchanging foundation of the world order,” he told other heads of state.

“Freedom, tolerance and the rule of law are universal values and underline the best that this General Assembly represents. And that binds us all.”

The ICIR compiles excerpts from 11 other speeches delivered by Nigeria’s president mostly within the last five years, where he pledged loyalty to the ideals of rule of law, freedom, and democracy.

Speech at Brookings Institution, 2005

(Titled “Nigeria: Democracy and Conflict Resolution”, a speech delivered at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution, Washington DC.)

As a system of governance, democracy provides for constitutionalism and consultation. In other words, it calls for respect for the popular will, separation of powers and the application of effective checks and balances on the exercise of that power. All this is supposed to be done within the context of the rule of law and assured equality of all people before the law which is guaranteed and applied by a judiciary that is independent.

Formal declaration for the presidency, 2014

We in APC are resolve to bring change to Nigeria. We plan to do things differently. We plan to put priority on: Protection of lives and property, pursuing economic policies for shared prosperity and immediate attention on youth employment … Last, (but not the least or final) respecting the constitutional separation of powers between the executive, legislatures and judiciary and respecting the rights of citizens.

Acceptance speech, 2014

As such, I make these five pledges regarding the government if we are elected next February; a. We will govern Nigeria honestly, in accordance with the constitution b. We will strive to secure the country and efficiently manage the economy…

Inaugural speech, 2015

There is now a national consensus that our chosen route to national development is democracy. To achieve our objectives we must consciously work the democratic system. The Federal Executive under my watch will not seek to encroach on the duties and functions of the Legislative and Judicial arms of government. The law enforcing authorities will be charged to operate within the Constitution. 

… It is only when the three arms act constitutionally that government will be enabled to serve the country optimally and avoid the confusion all too often bedevilling governance today.

… As far as the constitution allows me I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch.

Independence Day Speech, 2015

I would like to end my address this morning on our agenda for change. Change does not just happen. You and I and all of us must appreciate that we all have our part to play if we want to bring change about. We must change our lawless habits, our attitude to public office and public trust. We must change our unruly behaviour in schools, hospitals, market places, motor parks, on the roads, in homes and offices. To bring about change, we must change ourselves by being law-abiding citizens.

Speech at US Institute for Peace, 2015

The Government that I lead is committed, and will do whatever it takes, to free Nigeria from the menace of terrorism. No matter how long it takes, we will reclaim every inch of Nigerian territory that is under the control of Boko Haram. We shall continue to do these within the framework of the rule of law and in compliance with our international and domestic human rights obligations.

… Ladies and Gentlemen, the fight against corruption is a full-time job that the Federal Government will carry with sustained resolve. I have always maintained zero tolerance for corruption. I am even more committed to fighting this number one enemy decisively because I am convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that the much-needed impetus for our country’s survival is held back by corruption. I will not allow this to continue. Again, as with every action of the government that I lead, we would be fair, just, and scrupulously follow due process, and the rule of law, as enshrined in our Constitution.

… The Federal Government is well aware that building a strong economy will help us build a prosperous, stable, and secure country; a nation where democracy will thrive, businesses will flourish, and where citizens can live and pursue their dreams with dignity and freedom under the protection of the law. 

Speech at Chatham House, 2015

(Titled “Prospects for Democratic Consolidation in Africa: Nigeria’s Transition”.)

It is much more important that the promise of democracy goes beyond just allowing people to freely choose their leaders. It is much more important that democracy should deliver on the promise of choice, of freedoms, of security of lives and property, of transparency and accountability, of rule of law, of good governance and of shared prosperity. It is very important that the promise embedded in the concept of democracy, the promise of a better life for the generality of the people, is not delivered in the breach.

Statement at 71st UNGA session, 2016

Nigeria has continued to combat terrorism based on the established rules of engagement and in conformity with international best practices. I take this opportunity to reaffirm Nigeria’s commitment to human rights norms and International Humanitarian Law in our efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism. I also wish to restate the assurance that the Federal Government of Nigeria is employing all our judicial tools to investigate and treat reported cases of human rights violations.

Independence Day Speech, 2016

In fighting corruption, however, the government would adhere strictly by the rule of law. Not for the first time I am appealing to the judiciary to join the fight against corruption.

Speech at 20th Anniversary of ICC, The Hague, 2018

Our cooperation with the Court is borne out of our strong belief in the respect for the rule of law and human rights, and in our firm commitment to the sanctity of fundamental freedoms at international and domestic levels, as ingrained in the objectives for establishing the Court.

Speech after receiving certificate of return, 2019

I, therefore, want to assure that we will continue to engage all parties that have the best interest of Nigerians at heart. Our Government will remain inclusive and our doors will remain open. That is the way to build the country of our dream; safe, secure, prosperous, and free of impunity and primitive accumulation by those entrusted with public offices.

The hard work to deliver a better Nigeria continues, building on the foundations of peace, rule of law and opportunities for all. We will roll up our sleeves afresh, and give it our all. We have no other motive than to serve Nigeria with our hearts and might, and build a nation which we and generations to come can be proud of.

'Kunle works with The ICIR as an investigative reporter and fact-checker. You can shoot him an email via aadebajo@icirnigeria.org or, if you're feeling particularly generous, follow him on Twitter @KunleBajo.

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