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Sowore And The Big Showdown With Government

It was a sigh of relief for many of his admirers and followers when the convener of the #RevolutionNow movement, Omoyele Sowore, was released on bail by the Department of State Services (DSS) on Thursday December 5, 2019.

Nigerians were, however, shocked when some officials of the DSS stormed a Federal High Court in Abuja to re-arrest the SaharaReporters publisher just two days after he was released from their detention.
The drama that played out at the court generated a lot of reactions and anger from members of the public, with many accusing the DSS of disrespecting the judicial arm of government. To some, the DSS without knowing it, through its acts, keeps helping Sowore to push his agenda for #RevolutionNow.
Explaining what happened in court that fateful Friday, Counsel to Sowore, Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) stated that, “When I informed the court that fresh charges were being filed against our clients and that they could be re-arrested; the prosecution denied any such plan.
“As soon as the case was adjourned, the DSS pounced on Sowore and caused a disruption of the proceedings of the court. Having taken over the court room, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu hurriedly rose and asked the Registrar to adjourn all other cases.”
The presidency also tried to deny the knowledge of the incident by claiming that the DSS does not take instructions from the president. In the statement by Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Public Affairs, Garba Shehu, the presidency described Sowore not only as a person of interest, but also that it “should not surprise anyone that the DSS is after him.”
Part of the statement reads: “The presidency notes some of the insinuations in the media about the arrest by the Department of State Services (DSS) of the agitator, Omoyele Sowore. However, it should not surprise anyone who has followed his actions and words that Sowore is a person of interest to the DSS.
“Sowore called for a revolution to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nigeria. He did so on television, and from a privileged position as the owner of a widely-read digital newspaper run from the United States of America.”
Earlier, the president’s Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, claimed that the attempt at forceful removal of Sowore from the courtroom was a drama acted by his supporters to make the Buhari administration look bad, adding that there was no such thing.
In dismissing this, Falana, said: “If Sowore’s supporters subjected him to such brutalisation in the presence of DSS operatives, why were they not arrested for contravening the provisions of the Anti-Torture Act, 2017? Or were the DSS operatives expecting the supporters of a defendant wanted by the state to kill him in their presence?”
While revealing that the DSS came to the court with no warrant of arrest and detention order, Falana noted that although “this country was ruled by military dictators for about three decades, at no time did security operatives invade court premises to arrest political activists inside a court room.”
In an apparent show of different approaches and understanding of issues, the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, denounced the invasion of the court by the DSS. He made his feelings known by rejecting an award from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism as Anti-Corruption Defender.
Prof. Osinbajo was announced as the recipient of the Integrity Specialty of the Anti-Corruption Defender Award for his “invaluable work of overhauling the Lagos State Judiciary, facilitating far-reaching reforms in the administration of justice in the state, his work of promoting integrity in the civil society and business in Nigeria and his consistency as a strong voice for promoting integrity in the country.”
But, in a letter by his Special Assistant on Media, Laolu Akande, Osinbajo stated, “However, two reasons explain my absence. First is that I am currently in Abu Dhabi for an international meeting under the auspices of the government of the UAE where I am the keynote speaker.
“Second, in view of the developments on Friday in the Sowore’s case, I think it would be insensitive and inappropriate to attend the ceremony.”
The view of many Nigerians is that the Federal Government is needlessly detaining Sowore and thereby making him hero.
“Imagine the number of people, both in Nigeria and outside Nigeria, who have reacted since that court invasion incident happened. They have all condemned the actions and have all demanded that the government release Sowore unconditionally. What does that tell you? The government keeps making him very popular by the day,” said Gbenga Soloki, a public affairs analyst.
Senator Bob Menendez, a ranking member of the United States Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, condemned the re-arrest of Sowore in a statement. Menendez, who had been involved in attempts to pressure the government, promised US intervention in the matter over Sowore’s case.
He said, “I am outraged by the blatant harassment of Omoyele Sowore, an activist and journalist whose only crime appears to be exercising his right to free expression.
“In a concerted effort to secure his release on behalf of the Sowore family living in New Jersey, my office has been working closely with the State Department as Mr. Sowore’s case languished following his arbitrary arrest back in August.
“While we continue to seek immediate answers about Sowore’s treatment and conditions in jail, I will be further engaging directly with US Ambassador, Mary Beth Leonard, in Abuja to raise this case at the highest levels of the Nigerian Government so that the Buhari administration gets the message that we are committed to defending Sowore’s rights and securing his release. This blatant miscarriage of justice is symptomatic of closing political and media space in Nigeria,” Mendez added.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, in his reaction, said Nigeria is a sovereign nation and will not be bothered about the reports from the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union as regards human rights abuses.
“We are not answerable to the US, the UK or the EU. We are Nigeria, a sovereign country. Those countries and entities have issues of their own. Let them deal with their issues. Let Nigeria also deal with her internal issues. We are not answerable to them.
Also, a pan-Yoruba organisation, the National Association of Yoruba Descendants in North America, called on President Buhari to immediately release Sowore, and others who have been granted bail by the court but still being held by the government.
The organisation, also known as Egbe Omo Yoruba of North America, frowned at the continuous disregard for court orders by the Buhari’s administration, thereby calling on him to release the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki; leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Ibrahim El- Zakzaky and Olawale Bakare.
In a statement by its National President, Durojaye Odimayo Akindutire, the group condemned the invasion of a court room by officials of the DSS and the subsequent re-arrest of Sowore.
Egbe Omo Yoruba noted that it is particularly disgraceful that the actions of the DSS agents took place in the court room in utter disdain for the rule of law.
According to the statement, “We have observed with great alarm the Nigerian government’s arbitrary exercise of power as well as its selective obedience to law – choosing which lawful order of the court to obey and ones to disobey. When our laws don’t apply equally to all citizens, including elected and unelected officials, we are as a nation teetering on the brink of collapse.
“We call on the Buhari administration to start retracing its steps by obeying lawful orders emanating from our courts and releasing forthwith those affected by these orders – Omoyele Sowore, Olawale Bakare, Col. Sambo Dasuki and Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky.
“We support the suggestion of sanctions by Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez as a way of bringing the Nigerian government to order. We are encouraged by other individuals and groups that are standing up to be counted on the side of obedience to lawful court orders.
“We also call on all Nigerians to stand strongly for freedom by resisting lawfully the government’s direct attack on free speech as represented by the unpopular hate speech and social media bills, which contains many provisions that do not meet international human rights standards.”
Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption and a staunch supporter of President Buhari, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), also condemned the DSS over the re-arrest of Sowore.
Sagay, who was not impressed by the explanation given for the re-arrest of Sowore, blasted the DSS, saying the agency had failed to give a clear reason for the act.
He added that the secret service owed Nigerians an explanation for invading the premises of a Federal High Court in Abuja to re-arrest Sowore. He, however, exonerated the President, saying the DSS doesn’t need the approval of Buhari before doing their job.
Sagay said, “I agree that the DSS (operatives) have their job. They don’t need the approval of the Presidency to do their job. So, no one should blame the Presidency for anything the DSS does.
“However, the re-arrest of Sowore looks bad on the surface in the sense that the man was released a day earlier and he was in court the next day to answer the charges and he is arrested.
“I feel that Nigerians are entitled to an explanation. It’s not something you can do and keep quiet. It’s not alright. There is something wrong in that. They could have a good reason but they should tell us what that reason is.
“They cannot be quiet about it and if they are justified, I will be the first to say yes, but they cannot do it and keep quiet and expect everybody to accept it,” Sagay stated.
On his part, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka slammed the DSS, just as he called on all civil society organisations in Nigeria to unite and give a coordinated response against the government of President Buhari for violating the rights of citizens.
The Senate has also mandated its committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal matters to investigate the reported invasion of a Federal High Court, Abuja, by operatives of the DSS, after a point of order was moved by the chairman of the committee, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele.
Bamidele, who noted that Nigerians had raised a lot of concern in different quarters on the issue, explained that the leadership and members of the judiciary were particularly concerned about the development.
He said the nation’s judiciary believed that the court room was meant to be a sanctuary and therefore, urged the Senate to act on it as representatives of the people.
Bamidele said, “I rise to draw the attention of this Senate to a matter that has been in public domain and especially, as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, the reported alleged invasion of the courtroom, again, by alleged officials of the Department of State Services.
“It is one issue that has raised a lot of concern in different quarters in Nigeria. The leadership and members of the judiciary are particularly concerned about this development. They believe, like the rest of us do, that the courtroom is meant to be a sanctuary; but, for us as Senate, we cannot begin to take a position or analyse the issues based on conclusion without facts that we consider incontrovertible.
“Yet, much as we cannot just jump into conclusions, it is also a fact that we cannot pretend not to know that Nigerians are concerned about this development.
“The reason I have chosen to come under Order 43 is so that I will not generate any controversy or even make the Senate to begin to debate or engage in a debate over an issue in respect of which we still need to have incontrovertible facts and evidence.
“In view of this, I just want to say that as elected representatives of the people in whom Nigerians — including the judiciary — must find their voice that we mandate our Committee on National Security and Intelligence to interface with the relevant security agencies.
“They should look into this matter, investigate what happened and report back to the Senate on this matter.”
In response, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, asked Bamidele’s panel to start legislative action on the issue and submit its report next week.
Lawan said, “Distinguished colleagues, you know Order 43 does not allow for any debate and since this is a matter that affects the Judiciary, we rather mandate your committee to find out what happened.
“So, I would suggest that our committee on judiciary investigates, finds out what actually happened and then report back to us in one week.”
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami had since taken over the case against the Sowore from the DSS. This was contained in a statement by Malami’s Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Gwandu.
The statement referred to a December 11, 2019 letter sent on behalf of the AGF by the Solicitor-General of the Federation, Mr. Dayo Apata (SAN), to the Director-General of DSS, Yusuf Bichi, directing the security agency to “promptly forward all the case files” to the AGF office.
Falana afterwards, asked Malami to withdraw the criminal charges against Sowore and his co-accused, Olawale Bakare.
Falana, who said in a statement that there was no evidence to convict the duo of Sowore and Bakare, alleged that the DSS is still determined to prosecute his clients despite a directive by the Minister of Justice, asking the security outfit to hands off the case.
While noting that the court invasion by the DSS was what prompted the AGF to take over the prosecution of his clients, Falana insisted that despite the AGF’s directive, the DSS was still bent on fishing for evidence to file fresh charges against his clients.
“Convinced that the pending case would collapse like a pack of cards, the DSS is currently fishing for evidence to nail Sowore. In spite of the directive of the AGF to hands over the case, the DSS subjected Sowore to a four-hour interrogation yesterday (December 12, 2019).
“The entire interrogation pertained to Sowore’s alleged links with the proscribed Boko Haram sect, IPOB, and IMN which he vehemently denied.
“At Sowore’s instance, a member of the legal defence team, Mr. Abubakar Marshal, witnessed the marathon interrogation. The plan is to charge Sowore with terrorism as a follow-up to the unsubstantiated allegations of a presidential media aide.
“In the light of the foregoing, we urge the AGF to file a nolle prosequi motion to end the macabre dance which has exposed the country to avoidable embarrassment.
“But, in view of the violent invasion of the court by the armed operatives of the SSS the AGF has decided to sack the external prosecution team and have the case prosecuted by the Department of Public Prosecution,” Falana added.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters held a public hearing on Thursday, where it gave a 24-hour ultimatum to the DSS, the office of the AGF, Abubakar Malami, and counsel for Sowore, to submit written testimonies of the alleged invasion of a Federal High Court in Abuja by security agents.
Others expected to submit the written testimony are: the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu; Office of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and the presiding judge at the time of the alleged invasion, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu.
According to the committee, all parties must submit a written account of what happened within 24 hours, adding that their memorandum would enable them to give report to the Senate.
Bamidele, the Chairman of the committee, explained that they were unable to proceed with the scheduled investigative hearing following the death of Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu.
He said: “We are not able to proceed with the hearing because we lost one of our colleagues yesterday. He was on the floor of the Senate two days ago. We need to show concern for the departed soul.
“Therefore, avail us with memorandum within 24 hours. We have contacted the Office of the Chief Judge of the High Court to give us perspective of what happened, including the presiding judge.
“We will like to have the memoranda before the close of work on Friday.” Present at the public hearing were the Director- General of DSS, Yusuf Bichi; the Solicitor-General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, and representative of the lawyer to Omoyele Sowore, Femi Falana (SAN).”
It is hoped that the intervention of the Senate would go a long way in bringing an end to the continued incarceration of Sowore.

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