Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, says President Muhammadu Buhari is hiding under the cloak of national interest to justify his disobedience of court orders.
While speaking at the annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA in Abuja, Buhari had said the rule of law is subject to national interest.
The president had said: “Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest. Our apex court has had cause to adopt a position on this issue in this regard and it is now a matter of judicial recognition that; where national security and public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights of those allegedly responsible must take second place, in favour of the greater good of society.”
Buhari’s comment drew criticisms from various Nigerians, including Falana and Mike Ozekhome, a constitutional lawyer, who said national interest is used by tyrannical governments to push their dubious agenda.
Most of the president’s critics saw the his comment as justification for the continued detention of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, Shiite leader, Sambo Dasuki, former national security adviser and others, despite court rulings ordering their release.
Speaking during a Channels TV programme on Thursday, Falana said though the constitution gives room for breaching human rights, there are established grounds for this to happen.
He added that one of those grounds, being national security, is not at the disposition of the president but should be determined by the court.
Falana said: “When you talk of national security, you are talking of the security of the nation; of the entirety of our people, and the constitution is clear on that. All the human rights enshrined in chapter four of the constitution, including the right to life, can be breached. But the conditions to breach them are outlined in the same constitution.
“For instance, the law allows you to kill in self defence. In the case of liberty, for El Zakzaky and his wife, the defense of the government initially they are detaining them for state security, and the court said, where are the facts? The court later ordered that him and his wife be released and you cannot keep detaining them based on that.
“The attempt to hide under the purview of national security to justify disobedience of court orders is a problem.”
The senior advocate of Nigeria added that disobedience to court orders is an indirect way of “inviting anarchy and chaos”.
“The constitution provides that all persons and authorities in Nigeria must comply with the decisions and judgement of competent courts so when a government says, ‘I am not going to obey court orders’, such a government is inviting anarchy and chaos,” he said.
“And mind you, the rule of law transcends court orders. Once you give the impression that we operate above the law, you are inviting anarchy and chaos, and that is what is going on.”