Nigeria's Buhari under fire for remarks on rule of law

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari came under fire on Tuesday from the opposition, lawyers and civil society groups for placing national security above the rule of law.

Buhari, a former military dictator in the 1980s but who was elected in 2015 and is seeking re-election in February, said the "rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation's security and national interest."

The 75-year-old made the remarks at the opening of the Nigerian Bar Association's annual conference in Abuja on Sunday.

"Where national security and (the) public interest are threatened or there is a likelihood of their being threatened, the individual rights.. must take second place, in favour of the greater good of society," he said.

But the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the rule of law should not be compromised.

"Our national interest is thoroughly embedded, protected, expressed and enforced only under the rule of law... and there is no (way) how Nigerians can allow an individual to superimpose or override the constitution with his personal whims and impulses," a party statement said.

The PDP said Buhari should also be made to "answer for the litany of human rights violations in Nigeria, including documented disobedience to court orders, extra-judicial and arbitrary executions, unlawful arrests and political detentions."

 'A dangerous proposition' 

Lagos lawyer Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa said the rule of law was sacrosanct.

"The rule of law limits and interposes upon the rule of self all forms of arbitrariness and is thus preferable to the whims and caprices of individuals," he said, warning that a stance like Buhari's should be avoided, particularly in the light of February's election.

"It is a dangerous proposition as we approach 2019. Taken to its proper interpretation, it may be taken to be an advance notice to the people of Nigeria, to brace up for likely threats to their rights and liberties, in the coming days."

Buhari's remarks also drew flak from the Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) lobby group.

"President Muhammadu Buhari cannot use national security or national interest to justify his government's disobedience to orders of court directing it to either grant bail to specific citizens or commanding it to perform specific acts," it said.

Buhari has been accused of using his anti-graft crusade to crack down on perceived political opponents.

Many political figures, including former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki are languishing behind bars despite several court orders for their release.

The criticism followed a Financial Times report that US President Donald Trump told close aides he never wanted to meet "lifeless" Buhari during his recent visit to the US.

The Nigerian presidency has dismissed the report, insisting Buhari was fit.

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