By: Abdulmalik Adetola
On June 10th, 2023, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, was arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms and terrorism financing, along with his associates, for conspiracy and procurement fraud amounting to N6.9 billion. Subsequently, Abdulrasheed Bawa, the Chairman of the EFCC, was taken into custody by the Department of State Services on June 14, shortly after the president suspended him. Godwin Emefiele has spent 134 days in detention up to today, while Abdulrasheed Bawa has spent 131 days in detention without a proper or fair trial, casting a resounding shadow over the principles that underpin the Nigerian constitution and the very essence of democracy. Thus, it is crucial to investigate the constitutional grounds that require the release and fair trial of these well-known individuals, as they are still being detained without legal authority.
The detention of these two individuals is devoid of a democratic process
In reality, law enforcement agencies, acting as agents of the state, have the power to promote a more orderly and well-run society by deterring and exposing criminal activity, apprehending offenders, and enforcing the law. However, frequently, suspects’ fundamental rights are violated as these agencies carry out their official duties. The fundamentals of arrest and detention are being obnoxiously abused in Nigeria by individuals who are supposed to be “lawmakers and enforcement agents,” trampling on the liberty rights of Nigerians. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) guarantees, in Section 35, the right of every person to their personal liberty, except when such liberty is encumbered, restrained, or controlled by due process of the law, such as the execution of a court order or judgment. This means that it is justifiable to arrest a citizen who is lawfully carrying out their duties if there is a reasonable suspicion of them committing an offense, but the suspect needs to be brought to justice as soon as possible. Therefore, the prolonged detention of Emefiele and Bawa is devoid of the sanctuary of due process and constitutes a serious contravention of this constitutional tenet, running counter to the very essence of the rule of law.
Violation of Constitutional Rights
The emphasis on fairness, openness, and democratic values is clearly outlined in Nigeria’s constitution. In addition to raising questions, the ongoing arrest of Godwin Emefiele and Abdulrasheed Bawa without due process calls for a response based on the nation’s constitution. It serves as a reminder that the values of justice, openness, and adherence to the law must be upheld in democracies. The core foundations of democracy are at stake in the demand for their freedom and a fair trial. Consequently, any violation of a citizen’s guaranteed fundamental right, no matter how brief, will attract penalties under the law. However, in cases where a person’s detention is unconstitutional, as in the case of Godwin Emefiele and Abdulrasheed Bawa, any subsequent arraignment of that person before a court of law cannot and will not cure the illegality or unconstitutionality of the arrest and detention of the suspect, as provided in Section 35(6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which states that “Any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and a public apology from the appropriate authority or person; and in this subsection, ‘the appropriate authority or person’ means an authority or person specified by law.”
Breach of Legal and Constitutional Standards
The government repeatedly engages in arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pretrial detention. Astonishingly, under President Bola Tinubu, state personnel continue to act with impunity, disregard for court rulings, and engage in arbitrary imprisonment. These practices are remnants of previous authoritarian regimes in Nigeria. Emefiele was held for 40 days, and Bawa was in the custody of the DSS for 47 days, which is a blatant violation of the constitutional requirement that no one be held for longer than 48 hours without being prosecuted in court. It is also imperative to note that The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, in Section 493, prescribes only 56 days as the cumulative lifespan of a remand Order. In this regard, this clearly shows that the continued detention of the former CBN Governor and the EFCC Chairman is clearly unlawful and authoritative. It only signifies a strategy of punishing individuals who may challenge or not support the administration.
In light of this, it is imperative to call for the release and lawful trial of these individuals. Nigerians are entitled to know the precise rationale for the accusations and the detention of Emefiele and Bawa. Suspicions about the government’s hidden agenda are only heightened by its unwillingness to present hard proof or accusations. Every person has the right to a fair and public hearing, as well as the right to be quickly and fully informed about the nature and basis of any claims made against them, as stated in Section 36(1) of the Constitution. Transparency is required under the constitution; it is not just a personal preference.