By Samuel Ogundipe
The decision of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, to disregard the two separate court rulings ordering it to end its days-long siege to the home of an Ogun State senator-elect, Prince Buruji Kashamu, has continued to generate reaction and anger of many Nigerian legal practitioners and civil rights activists.
Operatives of the NDLEA, masked and hooded, in the early hours of Saturday, May 23, stormed Kashamu’s private residence in the highbrow Lagos suburb of Lekki, breaking his gates and vandalizing his doors and furnaces, in an apparent attempt to gain entry into the building so as to effect his arrest.
The agency said its acting on a request for Kashamu’s extradition it received from the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria. The Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Bello Adoke, said the extradition request is in order, hence the attempt to arrest Kashamu is “within the confines of the law.”
Mr. Kashamu managed to lock himself into a room in the building, refusing to submit himself to the anti-narcotics officials on the grounds that the NDLEA did not come with legible warrant of arrest as well as a subsisting court ruling which had ordered the authorities to desist from arresting him.
Mr. Kashamu had, in January 2014, secured a court order which barred any agency of the federal government from arresting him in a suit he filed to quash his extradition to the United States.
On Tuesday, a Federal High Court judge, Ibrahim Buba, ordered NDLEA to vacate Kashamu’s house. But this ruling was brushed aside by the agency on the pretext that it has not received or processed the content of the judgement.
On Wednesday, the substantive suit was heard at the court during which presiding judge, Okon Abang, issued a cease and desist order against the NDLEA.
The judge found that the NDLEA has breached the law by attempting to arrest Kashamu in defiance of an active court order against such actions.
Abang, therefore, awarded a sum of ₦20,000 tort to Kashamu.
The judge based his ruling on a judgement previously reached after a lengthy trial in the United Kingdom. The trial, which lingered for five years, ended in the acquittal of Mr. Kashamu.
“In those circumstances, there’s no prima facie case against the defendant and I propose to discharge him,” said Judge Timothy Workman, CBE, in his final ruling on United States extradition request against Kashamu, on January 10, 2003.
Despite these rulings, the NDLEA maintained the siege at Kashamu’s house, maintaining that no court can bar it from carrying out its operational duties.
“We have a valid warrant of arrest and we don’t believe any court can stop us from doing our legal function,” NDLEA’s spokesman, Mitchel Ofoyeju, said Wednesday. But he quickly added that “our legal department will look into this ruling and advise accordingly.”
Prince Ajibola Oluyede, counsel to Senator-elect Kashamu, said the NDLEA violated his client’s privacy without a valid warrant of arrest in order to abduct him. He said the NDLEA did not show any warrant throughout the weekend and has not been able to secure one since Monday.
Yusuf Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the NDLEA will be “setting dangerous precedence” if it continues the siege in “total disregard of a subsisting court order.”
He advised NDLEA to study the papers of the judgement and swiftly follow the decisions contained therein.
A foremost human rights activist, Mr. Nelson Ekujumi, said the action of the NDLEA is “barbaric and criminal,” adding that since the NDLEA is itself a creation of the law, “it is forbidden for the agency to disregard the ruling of a court of competent jurisdiction.”
Mr. Ekujumi, Director of the Committee for the Protection of People’s Mandate, added that his call on NDLEA to leave Kashamu’s house is based on the generally accepted legal doctrine of every individual being innocent until proven guilty.
“Kashamu is innocent until proven guilty, so I don’t know why the NDLEA operatives are carrying out illegal actions on behalf of the United States,” he said. “The extradition request is lawful due to an existing extradition treaty between the United States and Nigeria, but the evidences against Kashamu must still be tested in our own courts before we begin to talk of extraditing him.”
“Our democracy is built on the rule of law and not the rule of might,” he added.
Mr. Victor Okhai, a criminologist with decades in practice, said the action of the United States and NDLEA is becoming suspicious.
“Mr. Kashamu has been all over the place alleging that he is a target of a U.S. orchestrated adoption, owing to the latest development in which NDLEA is brazenly disobeying our own courts to satisfy America, it appears the man has valid cause to be worried.”
He added that the refusal of NDLEA to vacate Kashamu’s property despite two consecutive judicial pronouncements to that effect shows that the agency is “acting out a script.”
“Obviously these people have been idled for a while and they believe this is an opportunity to remind the incoming administration that they’re still functional. They’re only playing to the gallery,” he added.