A group under the aegis US Nigeria Law Group, has petitioned the United States government against the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, alleging repression of opponents, subversion of judiciary and constitution among others.
In a letter addressed to the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, US State Department, dated February 7, 2019 and signed by Emmanuel Ogebe, the group faulted President Buhari’s style of administration while highlighting systematic efforts to denigrate the Judiciary & Rule of Law in Nigeria.
It further dismissed the president as vindictive and authoritarian autocrat who removes any judge not found to be doing his bidding.
SEE THE FULL LETTER:
THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE
US STATE DEPARTMENT
February 7, 2019
Dear Assistant Secretary Nagjy,
REPRESSION OF OPPONENTS, SUBVERSION OF JUDICIARY/CONSTITUTION & AND ELECTION THREATS TO WESTERNERS BY NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT – EARLY WARNING & ACTION
During your testimony before Congress in December, you expressed the opinion that there might be pockets of violence during Nigeria’s February elections. Based on a recent pre-election assessment, we wish to highlight to you systematic efforts to denigrate the Judiciary & Rule of Law in Nigeria by the Gen. Buhari administration weeks to the elections as well as incitement, provocation and threats of violence.
A. SUBVERSION OF THE RULE OF LAW BY ABUSE OF JUDGES AND THE CONSTITUTION
The President Buhari administration has assaulted the judiciary and eroded the rule of law on a multiplicity of levels too numerous to elaborate.
On Friday January 25th, the Gen. Buhari removed a constitutionally appointed head of a co-equal arm of government (the Chief Justice) unconstitutionally and then appointed a new head of the judiciary unconstitutionally usurping both the statutory and constitutional functions of the National Judicial Council and the Senate. This occurred in my presence as I was the Nigerian Supreme Court in Abuja as it unfolded.
Below are the details of the self-incriminating and deeply indicting recent statements by the president himself admitting to his crass manipulation of the judiciary:
“It is no secret that this government is dissatisfied with the alarming rate in which the Supreme Court of Nigeria under the oversight of Justice Walter Onnoghen has serially set free, persons accused of the most dire acts of corruption, often on mere technicalities, and after quite a number of them have been convicted by the trial and appellate courts. Since there is nothing the Executive Arm can do after the apex court of the land has spoken on any matter, several of these individuals walk free among us today, enjoying what are clearly the proceeds of the corruption which for so long has defeated the efforts of this nation to develop and prosper.” – Buhari January 2019 (on punishing the CJN for not ruling the way he wants.)
Permit me another exhibit:
“Don’t talk even of the US Ambassador (Justice Nsofor.) That one he wrote a minority judgement on my behalf so I paid him back (laughs)”. – Buhari (on rewarding a judge for ruling the way he wants.)
The sum total of these two confessions made last month are that President Buhari is a vindictive, authoritarian autocrat who punishes judges who do not do his bidding and rewards those who do. His hatred for Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen is predicated on this fact which is “no secret” and not really about asset declaration. Since he is “dissatisfied” and “there’s nothing the executive arm can do” he has done the worst which is to get rid of the “problem” Justice. Gen Buhari himself has established his clear personal animus against Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen on the basis of his professional duties as a judge. This fact is overwhelming established.
Chief Justice Onnoghen has only been Chief Justice for less than 2 years. A review of that time frame shows that the only notable such case he handled was the senate president’s own asset breaches. On appeal, the Supreme Court ultimately decided in favor of the senate president – Gen Buhari’s foe. This obviously drew the ire of President Buhari for which now Justice Onnoghen is paying the price by his own admission.
The question then arises, is the punishment and rewards of judges system based on their rulings as espoused by Gen Buhari not itself the very essence of corruption?
Do these actions not only amount to manipulation and interference with the judiciary but as a dire warning to intimidate judges to vote pro regime?
The swearing in of a new Chief judge by Gen Buhari and his swearing in of 250 election tribunal judges within 24 hours is troubling in this regard as it sends a message to the judges that those who rule for Buhari will be favored and those who don’t will be persecuted.
It is ironic and tragic that Gen Buhari openly brags that Nigeria’s Ambassador to Washington is actually a payoff for a judgment. It is clear that the subversion of the Chief Justice and the constitution is also a subversion of the electoral process because of the significant role of the judiciary in electoral review in Nigeria.
2. BRAZEN FORGERY & ABUSE OF COURT PROCESS BY EXECUTION OF FAKE JUDGMENT
The Buhari administration perpetrated a hoax on the nation and democracy by executing a fake judgment to wit:
– The president executed the judgment of a court that did not sit;
– enforcing a prayer on a motion never moved;
– implementing a relief of suspension that was never ordered
– on a party who was never served said order.
As a reminder, the court orders that truncated the June 12, 1993 elections and precipitated a prolonged national crisis were actually obtained in court sittings. General Buhari’s so-called Tribunal order is even worse as there was no known sitting but mere fabrication by a “ghost court” session which is alien to Nigeria’s jurisprudence and jurisdiction.
Nothing can be based on such an obvious fraud and everyone involved by commission or omission, complicity or complacency, aiding and abetting, before and after the fact must be held to account. If Gen. Buhari is allowed to procure a fake judgment to justify his manifestly unlawful acts, rigging the elections will be a walkover for him.
In view of previous reports from justices that they were approached by a serving minister and principal campaign promoter of Gen Buhari that he had sent him to ask the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the ruling APC in several Gubernatorial matters whereupon the recalcitrant justices were then arrested in 2016, we alert the international community of Gen Buhari’s persistent and sustained onslaught on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
The electoral intent is clear – that procuring the judiciary is the regime’s insurance policy for failing to secure the elections.
3. FRAMING & FRAUDULENT CHARGES AGAINST OPPONENTS
Following the visit of top presidential challenger ex-VP Atiku Abubakar to the US recently, we are deeply concerned that the Nigerian Government declared its intention to interrogate him upon his return on trumped up charges.
We had previously condemned the Buhari regime’s campaign to criminalize Mr Atiku vicariously via the US legal system and the weaponization of US visa process.
Following the disastrous failure of this international campaign of calumny, the FGN framed up charges overnight against the former VP faster than they did the current CJN. FGN’s agents framed Chief Justice Onnoghen in 72 hours from Wed-Friday. VP Atiku was framed in 24 hours – from the moment he set foot in US on Thursday to the announcement of the “crimes” in a press conference on Friday January 18.
We are especially alarmed that the Buhari regime announced the investigation against VP Atiku when he was in US visiting Congress and the USIP under your office. We are alarmed that the government of Nigeria continues to flagrantly disregard all entreaties to stop harassing critics and opponents and actually attacks them for meeting with US authorities.
It is equally apparent that the Buhari regime has chosen to continue repression of critics despite Congress raising concerns during the hearing on Nigeria entitled, “Nigeria at a Crossroads: The Upcoming Elections” held on December 13, 2018, aforementioned.
Specifically Rep Smith informed you that the sub committee was in possession of a memo by the Nigerian embassy targeting a human rights lawyer (myself) for testifying before them. Concerned at the apparent repression of “opponents” of the Buhari regime, the Chairman asked whether the US government was engaged with Nigeria on these violations of citizens’ rights just for holding “contrary” views.
The Nigerian embassy’s secret memo said, ”Mr. Ogebe derives pleasure from trash-talking Nigeria on social media, in the Chambers of the United States Congress and other public places across the United States.”
More worrisome, the Charge d’ affaires (Acting Ambassador) of Nigeria Hakeem Balogun made the following chilling request, “Going forward, to prevent Mr. Ogebe, who is a Nigerian citizen, from making further derogatory comments that are inimical to the image of Nigeria, Government may consider taking punitive action against him, including withdrawal of his privilege to carry a Nigerian passport.”
As you know this is a criminal offense and is conduct incongruent with their diplomatic status. 18 USC 1505 provides in pertinent part that, “Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede” or retaliates for testimony in Congress is guilty of a crime (USC 1513).
THREATS TO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY & SUSPICIOUS FOREIGN INVOLVEMENT IN BUHARI CAMPAIGN
Finally we wish to raise concern over the direct involvement of foreign officials to promote Gen Buhari’s reelection. While the Buhari regime bristled when queried by the US and others on the unconstitutionality of the CJN’s ouster over “foreign interference”, the neighboring country of Niger sent a delegation of 60 officials to Buhari’s campaign. As far back as 2011, our fact-finding missions found evidence of citizens of Niger being imported across borders to vote in Nigerian elections for Buhari and were implicated in post-election violence by Gen Buhari’s party that claimed hundreds of lives. The overt material support from a foreign government is a glaring indicator of advanced plans to infiltrate Nigeria with foreign voters while bona fide Nigerian citizens abroad are denied the opportunity to vote.
Worse still, we are gravely concerned by remarks made by the APC ruling party stalwart and Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai who after condemning the petitions sent to the US, the UK, the EU, Germany and France by the opposition, calling on the foreign countries to prevail upon Buhari not to derail the nation’s democracy, reportedly said, “Those that are calling for everyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that will come and intervene. They will go back in body bags. Because nobody will come to Nigeria and tell us how to run our country.”
Mr El-Rufai’s comments are deeply troubling and should not be taken lightly for several reasons:
Mr. El-Rufai infamously admitted on national TV that his government had traveled abroad and paid money to Fulani herdsmen who killed people in Kaduna state during the post-election violence of 2011 rather than bring them to justice
Mr. El-Rufai has in a deeply divisive and potentially explosive move picked a Muslim running mate in utter insensitivity to the conventional wisdom of balancing a Muslim and Christian ticket in a religious divided state with a history of ethnoreligious conflict. By his action, El-Rufai has primed the pump for internecine violence in Kaduna state undermining years of peace-building efforts.
Last month it was resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress—
(B) condemn(s) in the strongest terms the use of speech that incites violence, and (urge to)refrain from any rhetoric or action that seeks to demonize or delegitimize opponents, sow division among Nigerians, or otherwise inflame tensions; (C) seek to resolve any disputes over results peacefully, including through the legal sys-
tem as necessary; ”.
We respectfully submit that the actions of the Buhari regime and El-Rufai seek to “demonize and delegitimize opponents (namely ex-VP Atiku) sow division among Nigerians, or otherwise inflame tensions (namely the controversial removal of Chief Justice Onnoghen, and the imposition of a Muslim Muslim ticket contrary to B above)“ and threaten the opportunity for peaceful election resolution “through the legal system” contrary to C above.
It is humbly submitted that:
the documents proving my persecution by the Government of Nigeria for testifying in Congress before the Subcommittee,
the statements by GON against VP Atiku as he visited the US Congress and USIP
the statement by Gen Buhari justifying his removal of the Chief Justice for not ruling in his favor
the death threats to members of the international community per Mr El-Rufai show an egregious and pernicious pattern of repression by this regime of human rights lawyers, political opponents, justices and even international observers who won’t do his bidding.
We request your urgent intervention to send a strong signal to the Nigerian government that lawlessness, impunity, incitement, threats, repression and intimidation will not be tolerated.
Only last month you stated that, “We, and other democratic nations, will be paying close attention to actions of individuals who interfere in the democratic process or instigate violence against the civilian population before, during, or after the elections.
We will not hesitate to consider consequences – including visa restrictions – for those found to be responsible for election-related violence or undermining the democratic process. Under U.S. immigration law, certain violations may also lead to restrictions on family members.”
We urge that all those culpable in the above be immediately subject to targeted sanctions by the US government to preempt a build up to violence.
Thank you for your urgent attention.
US NIGERIA LAW GROUP