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Rule Of Law: For Nigeria, National Security Once Again Trumps The Rule Of Law

Rule Of Law: For Nigeria, National Security Once Again Trumps The Rule Of Law AUGUST 02 , 2021 | EASTERN PILOT Report By: Chris Olaoluwa Ogu...

Rule Of Law: For Nigeria, National Security Once Again Trumps The Rule Of Law


Report By: Chris Olaoluwa Ogunmodede |

Last month, news emerged that Nnamdi Kanu had been arrested and repatriated to Nigeria to face charges of terrorism and unlawful possession of firearms, among other alleged offenses related to his role as the leader of the separatist group Indigenous People of Biafra, or IPOB. Kanu was first detained by Nigerian security forces back in 2015, but was released on bail two years later. His whereabouts had remained unknown since a raid by security forces on his home in 2017. According to Nigeria’s attorney general, Kanu was arrested this time with the help of Interpol, reportedly in Kenya at the behest of the Nigerian government, although the Kenyan government strenuously denies any involvement.

Roughly a month after Kanu’s second arrest and return to Nigeria, reports emerged that Sunday Adeyemo, an advocate for the creation of an independent Yoruba republic who is popularly known as Sunday Igboho, was arrested at an airport in neighboring Benin. Adeyemo was detained while trying to travel to Germany, again reportedly at Nigeria’s request. He was declared wanted by Nigeria’s secret police after being accused of harboring plans to wage a violent insurrection against the Nigerian state.  

While the facts of the cases involving Kanu and Adeyemo are not analogous, they both highlight troubling habits of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, including its heavy-handed use of state authority to quell dissent and muzzle movements for self-determination, its disregard for judicial rulings and international norms, and its willingness to apprehend fugitives outside of its domestic jurisdiction.

The Buhari administration’s problems with the rule of law are well-documented. It has routinely defied Nigerian and regional courts, usually under the guise of national security. In 2019, Buhari removed the then-chief justice of Nigeria’s Supreme Court without due process, three weeks before a general election. Press freedoms in Nigeria have worsened in the six years since Buhari took office. Security forces continue to act with impunity, as last year’s #EndSARS protests demonstrated. Recently, the government banned Twitter in Nigeria after the social media platform deleted several of Buhari’s tweets for violating the platform’s policies on ”abusive behavior”; the country’s top legal association has since filed a lawsuit against the ban.

Many Nigerian legal experts argue that in the case of both Kanu and Adeyemo, the Nigerian government is standing on shaky legal ground, as its claims and demands do not stand up to the scrutiny of domestic and international law. In the case of Kanu, a lawyer writing in a Nigerian daily accused the Nigerian government of resorting to extraordinary rendition with the connivance of Kenya, an act that violates international law. For Buhari, the charge represents yet another uncomfortable reminder of his stint as military ruler in the 1980s, when his regime infamously attempted to kidnap and repatriate an influential former minister who was hiding out in London.

Adeyemo’s lawyers claim that Nigerian authorities were aiming to replicate the kind of swift operation they carried out with Kanu when Adeyemo was arrested in Cotonou. But unlike Kanu, Adeyemo has not been formally charged with any crimes. His lawyers now maintain that under the extradition convention of the Economic Community of West African States, of which both Nigeria and Benin are members, Nigerian authorities cannot attempt to repatriate Adeyemo without making an initial request for his extradition and prosecution in Nigeria. They also argue that the convention protects those facing political persecution, a category into which they say Adeyemo fits. Furthermore, they claim that Adeyemo’s campaign for Yoruba self-determination is protected under the African Union’s African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Under the ECOWAS extradition convention, which is binding on Benin, only a court can decide the extradition request. So far, a Beninese appeals court has ordered that Adeyemo remain in detention there. But there are reports in the Nigerian press that the Nigerian government has sent diplomatic communications to Benin about extraditing Adeyemo. Nigeria’s ambassador to Benin, who reportedly played a key role in his arrest there, is also alleged to have sent a letter to the local authorities requesting his extradition.

The episode bears all the familiar hallmarks of Nigeria trying to strong-arm a country jokingly referred to by some as “Nigeria’s 37th state” into doing its bidding. For Nigeria, these kinds of extrajudicial regional collaborations are routine. Nigeria is used to making demands of its smaller neighbors and getting its way, even at the expense of court rulings, international norms and diplomatic protocol, and this flexible approach to the law can go both ways. In 2018, the Nigerian government deported a group of Cameroonian dissidents, after they were held for weeks in an undisclosed detention facility reportedly by Nigerian security operatives.

Nigeria now seems willing to go the extra mile to apprehend Kanu and Adeyemo because, well, it can. There are unlikely to be international consequences for Nigeria violating norms and laws it is ostensibly bound by. The African Union will not stand up to a powerful member state trampling on the union’s own human rights charter. And there will almost certainly be no rebuke from ECOWAS, which is dominated by Nigeria. The organization is headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, and Nigeria’s financial contributions in the past 16 years represent more than 40 percent of ECOWAS’ total funds.

Put simply, whatever Nigeria wants in the region, it usually gets. Adeyemo’s legal arguments notwithstanding, it would hardly be a surprise if the same pattern holds in Nigeria’s most recent demands of Benin.

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