Can a Leopard Change Its Spots?

Nigeria's President and former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari has arrested former National Security Advisor and nemesis Sambo Dasuki for alleged illegal possession of firearms and money laundering.

Mr. Dasuki has been prevented from traveling to London for cancer treatment by President Buhari in violation of a Nigerian court order.
And thereby hangs a tale.

A military dictator who is elected President remains a military dictator.

The United States should be entreating President Buhari to comply with the Nigerian judicial decree and to insure that any trial of Dasuki satisfies international standards of due process. Otherwise, relations with the United States will sour.

During his service as National Security Advisor, Mr. Dasuki collaborated with the United States to strengthen Nigeria's counterterrorism capabilities against Boko Haram, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Last March, Dasuki and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan accepted the peaceful transfer of power to President Buhari, a landmark in African political history.

Dasuki, however, had previously been instrumental in the 1985 ouster of then military dictator Buhari, who himself had parachuted into power in 1983 by overthrowing the civilian government of Shehu Shagari. Mr. Buhari's dictatorship featured human rights abuses and scorn for self-government. Among other things, he imprisoned Fela Kuti, Nigeria's greatest and most influential musician on concocted currency charges. And he imperiously lectured Nigerians that military coups would be superfluous if the people elected the right civilian leaders.

Like all dictators, Buhari fumed over his fall from power and Dasuki's role. He yearned for revenge. He brooded for years outside the main corridors of power in Nigeria. But last March, Buhari ascended to the presidency by defeating the incumbent Goodluck Jonathon, who had appointed Dasuki.

Buhari did not tarry in taking revenge. He quickly placed Dasuki under house arrest. He confiscated his passport. He charged him with firearms and money laundering violations. He sought a secret trial to prevent independent scrutiny.

He opposed Dasuki's pretrial application to the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja for permission to receive urgent medical treatment for cancer in London.

Last week, Justice Adeniyi Ademola granted the application. The Justice explained that an accused is presumed innocent before trial, and that a citizen's health is paramount before the law. Accordingly, Buhari was ordered to release Dasuki's international passport to enable him to travel for a three-week medical treatment.

Dasuki had been released by the trial court on personal recognizance. But Justice Ademola now demanded that Dasuki produce a surety who would write an undertaking to produce him on the next trial date. Boni Haruna, former two-term Governor of Adawama State, signed as a surety. Buhari immediately retaliated by subjecting the former Governor to arrest and interrogation by the Department of State Service.

Like a military dictator, Buhari has flouted the Federal High Court order. Dasuki remains under house arrest unable to seek treatment in London for his potentially life-threatening cancer. Even if Dasuki were acquitted, there is reason to believe Buhari would disappear him into a dungeon. He has already exhibited contempt for Justice Ademola.

Last July, President Buhari visited the United States to meet with a cavalcade of political stars: President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch. He delivered an address at the Peace Institute. There, he unwittingly demonstrated his plan to brandish government to assist his friends and destroy his enemies in his answer to a question from Dr. Pauline Baker: "I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%."

President Buhari, nevertheless, departed the United States under a halo. He made promise after promise that he was a leopard that had changed its spots. But his maltreatment and persecution of Dasuki and sneer at a court order proves otherwise.

Would Buhari peacefully transfer power if he loses the next presidential election?

The United States should inform Mr. Buhari that affording Dasuki the safeguards of the law under international standards and renouncing judicial manipulation is imperative to avoid estrangement.