Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, has described the comment of Garba Shehu on the detention of Ibrahim El-Zakzaky as a demonstration of official impunity.
Speaking with journalists on Tuesday, Shehu said El-Zakzaky, whom a court ordered his unconditional release, was not in detention but in protective custody.
He added that the cleric was being held for his own good.
But in a statement on Wednesday, Falana asked if Shehu had become power drunk.
The lawyer said the detention of El-Zakzaky was the first time in the history of the country that a democratically elected government would hold a citizen against the order of a court.
“In a reckless demonstration of official impunity Mr Garba Shehu, the senior special assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on media and publicity purportedly issued a statement yesterday on behalf of the presidency to justify the illegal detention of Sheikh Ibraheem Elzakzaky and his wife, Hajia Ibraheema Elzakzaky,” he said.
“In the incendiary statement, Mr Shehu claimed that the valid and subsisting order of the federal high court made on December 2, 2016 would not be obeyed by the federal government on the dubious ground that the Sheikh is in ‘protective custody’ while the justification for holding the wife is that she is taking good care of her husband in the illegal custody.
“According to Mr Shehu, ‘El-Zakzaky is held for his own good. If you set him free, what do you think will happen on the streets? He is not in a typical prison condition. He has the company of his wife and children. They can leave if they want. There is overall public good weighing against his release.’
“In the chequered history of Nigeria, this is the first time that a democratically elected government has openly justified the detention of any citizen in defiance of a valid and subsisting order of a competent court of law.
“Even under the neo-tarzanist Buhari/Idiagbon military junta, court orders which directed that victims of the obnoxious Detention of Persons Decree No 2 of 1984 be released from illegal custody were complied with. But under a democratic government, Mr Shehu wants Nigerians to believe that the El-Zakzakys are held in ‘protective custody’ after the federal high court had declared such detention illegal and unconstitutional. Or has Mr Shehu suddenly become so power drunk to the extent that he can conveniently set aside the judgment of the federal high court?”
The lawyer said the presidency claimed before that the couple could not be released on the grounds that they constituted a threat to national security, but that it is now saying they are in protective custody.
“When reminded that the federal high court had dismissed such unsubstantiated allegation Mr Shehu turned round to say that ‘El-Zakzaky is held for his own good’. Is Mr Shehu not aware that El-Zakzaky has lost one of his eyes in the dungeon of the State Security Service and may lose the other one due to denial of urgent medical treatment? Why has his request to travel abroad for medical attention at his own expense been refused by the federal government?” he asked.
He asked that Shehu be called to order because he could not have made the comment on behalf of the government.
“Since neither President Mohammadu Buhari nor Acting President Yemi Osinbajo could have authorised the contemptuous statement issued on behalf of the presidency Mr Shehu Garba should be called to order and restrained from further exposing the Federal Republic of Nigeria to ridicule before the comity of civilized nations,” Falana said.
“However, since the federal government continues to proclaim loudly that it operates under the rule of law it cannot be permitted to treat court orders with disdain. To that extent, El-zakzaky and his wife must be released from the illegal custody of the State Security Service since the federal high court has dismissed the official claim that they are held in ‘protective custody’.”