Following the re-arrest of convener of RevolutionNow Movement, Omoyele Sowore, by the Department of State Services, DSS, at the Federal High Court Abuja, last Friday, Amnesty International Nigeria, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, and other civil society groups have threatened to embark on mass action, if the Federal Government failed to release him unconditionally within 14 days.
The groups issued the ultimatum at a World Press Conference in Abuja yesterday to express their concern over the perceived assault on the judiciary and right to free speech in the country.
The CSOs also called for the release of all illegally detained persons in DSS custody.
They said the exercise of power by the DSS to the extent of invading the court for the purpose of effecting an arrest was worrisome.
The groups also called for an investigation of the officers who violated protocol in Sowore’s rearrest as well as the circumstances that led to incident in court last Friday.
The civil rights groups urged President Muhammadu Buhari to show accountability as President and Commander-in-Chief and address the nation on his commitment to the rule of law and human rights.
“If these demands are not honoured within 14 days, we call on patriots to join us as we occupy the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, offices across the country, as it is legally mandated to protect rights and it reports to the Presidency,” the CSOs said.
In her speech, Biola Akiode-Afolabi, Chairperson of Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, explained that the planned mass action was a fight for the soul of the country.
She said: “It is about the soul of our nation. It is gradually becoming a style of the government to desecrate courts with a lot of impunity without minding the implications of its actions on the people.”
According to Auwal Rafsanjani of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, the Federal Government must apologize to Nigerians over the embarrassing situation that played out in court during Sowore’s re-arrest
He said it was a moral obligation on the civil society to ensure that governance was sanitized and that those in power took responsibility for the actions and inactions of government agencies.
On his part, Deji Adeyanju of Concerned Nigerians, said it was disgraceful that President Buhari had not hidden his intentions to subjugate rule of law to national security.
He said mass action in Nigeria was inevitable if the Buhari-led government continued to demonstrate this position through the flagrant disregard of valid court orders on the illegal detention of Sowore and other notable personalities, including Shiites leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, and former National Security Adviser, NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, retd.
On the allegation that Sowore violated one of his bail conditions by addressing the press after his release from security custody last Thursday, Yemi Adamolekun of Enough is Enough Nigeria (EiE Nigeria), said the DSS ought to have returned to the Federal High Court to seek vacation of Sowore’s bail, if it believed the activist acted in ways that contradicted the law and threatened the peace of the nation.
“The DSS cannot accuse Sowore of violating his bail condition and arbitrarily exercise the powers to re-arrest him with a valid order of the court,” she stressed.
On the claim by Femi Adesina, a presidential aide, that less than 100,000 Nigerians were worried by Sowore’s re-arrest, Idayat Hassan of Centre for Democracy & Development, CDD, described it as blanket statement, stressing there was no empirical evidence to the claim.
“Adesina who said millions of Nigerians are not bothered by Sowore’s re-arrest did not carry out a survey. There is simply no data to his claims. There is no evidence that suggest that less than 100,000 Nigerians are not worried by the DSS’ invasion of the court to effect Sowore’s second arrest.”
Similarly, the presidential candidate of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, ANRP, in the 2019 elections, Tope Fasua, described Adesina’s statement as unfortunate, saying even if a mere 100,000 Nigerians trooped out to protest an issue, the government with all its might may be unable to manage the situation.
He said: “What we have seen so far is gross abuse and wastage of taxpayers’ money, using so many security operatives, vehicles, and resource to pursue Sowore whom the government had been unable to prove a case against in court.’’
On the allegation that Sowore sought to topple the government because he was rejected at the 2019 presidential elections which President Buhari won, Fasua said: “We have lost our sense of history in this country.
‘’Gani Fawehinmi ran for Presidency in this country and continued to criticise government till the day he died. Similarly, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti also ran for the Presidency and continued to do the same, even in death through his music.”
Other notable activists represented at the press conference were Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International (Nigeria), Lanre Suraj, (HEDA), Kola Ogundare, Socio-Economic Right And Accountability Project, SERAP, and Jaye Gaskia, Take Back Nigeria, TBN.
Meanwhile, senior legal practitioners in the country, yesterday, flayed what they described as continuous desecration of the judiciary by the President Buhari-led government, insisting that the recent re-arrest of Sowore, within the precinct of the Federal High Court, Abuja, was the height of impunity.
The lawyers, in separate interviews with Vanguard, condemned Sowore’s re-arrest, barely 12 hours after he was released from over 124 days detention by the Department of State Services, DSS, saying it depicted a total lack of respect to the authority of the judiciary as an independent arm of government in the country.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Mohammed Abeny, who was embittered over the incident, said the judiciary fared much better under the military junta, alleging that most Judges currently adjudicate under the influence of fear.
He said: “The judiciary has suffered unprecedented disruption under this regime that is so called democracy. Even under the dictatorship of General Abacha, was the judiciary so desecrated?
“Whenever court order was given under Abacha, he obeyed but here we are, a supposed democracy, with the Executive flouting with impunity the orders of court.
“What happened to Sowore has been criticized particularly from the point that it happened in the precincts of the courtroom. A courtroom is a sacred place which forbids somebody from being arrested within the court premises. But this area has been much over-flogged by critics and those who saw what happened as a sort of insult to the judiciary.
“I want to look at it from another angle. Why was it even necessary to re-arrest Sowore after he was granted bail? Within 24 hours or less after his release he was re-arrested. This is a man who has been in their custody for over 100 days.
“If, indeed, he committed any offence, that period is more than enough for them to frame any charges against him. He was granted bail based on the fact that there was no prima-facie case established against him. My worry is, what did he do after he was granted bail, after his release, to warrant his re-arrest whether in the courtroom or outside the courtroom.
“Why will people calling themselves the DSS commit such atrocity by re-arresting him in defiance of existing court order? That is my concern.’’
On his part, a constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Jideobi Johnmary, said: “I have always known that the present government is a huge danger to democratic ethos in more ways than one but I never knew it would come to this bottom of obscenity when state forces would have the temerity to invade and disrupt the proceedings of a properly constituted court at the headquarters of the Federal High Court in the nation’s capital territory in a bid to carry out a specie of arrest considered an aberration in law, in view of the venue of the said arrest.
“It raises the abiding question which is: how many more impunity and unprecedented desecration and disdain for the Judiciary would the present government commit that would be sufficient to rouse the stakeholders in the nation’s Judiciary to robustly rise to the occasion, stamp their feet authoritatively on the ground and make the statement that the nation’s Judiciary would no longer countenance state-sponsored impunity?
“Lawyers and the journalists who rose to defend the sanctity of democracy must be commended. However, history would be most unkind to all the stakeholders who have shamefully elected to keep mum or sit on the fence in this perilous and dark hour of our democratic experiment.
‘’In the face of this grave atrocity, all those who keep mum to preserve their offices, government contracts, government relationships, government briefs, life and limbs and or such other political backlashes will never ever know peace!
“Evil which they promote by their chilling silence will surely overtake them and abide forever and never depart from their homes. Above all, as had been said by the National Human Rights Commission, all the men and officers of the DSS who are found wanting or complicit in this atrocious attempt at overrunning the Nigerian Constitution must quickly be brought to account for the greatest incitement for crime is the hope or certainty of escaping punishment.”
Similarly, another constitutional lawyer, Chief Nkereuwem Akpan, said: “First, it must be stated clearly and for the avoidance of doubt that there is no limit to the number of times a person may be arrested for questioning so long as an offence is alleged to have been committed by him.
‘’There’s a caveat to this general rule, however, and would occur where for instance there is a valid order of court precluding same in respect of a subject matter already a subject of adjudication before the court.
“In the instant case he can be lawfully arrested upon a valid warrant (or without a warrant depending on the nature of the offence). Second, the next question will necessarily be the place and venue of arrest.
“There is no provision in any law for the time being permitting the arrest of suspected offenders inside the courtroom or even within the four walls of the court premises.
“In fact, the extant and sacrosanct provisions of section 43 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2015 expressly prohibits an arrest inside the court room
“I am unable to wade into or discuss the political implications of the current travails of men like Sowore, Dino Melaye, Bukola Saraki, Olusegun Obasanjo or Lamido Sanusi etc.their injuries are self-inflicted and I am content to let them stew in it.’’
Human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, equally condemned the action of the DSS in re-arresting Sowore within a court premises.
He said: “When a government that is supposed to respect and protect institutions, citizens’ rights and rule of law, invades and desecrates the sacred precincts of a court of law, then we are in trouble.
“When the same DSS invaded Judges’ homes in October, 2016, terrorizing hapless Judges and their families, many uninformed Nigerians hailed the misadventure as a sign of fighting corruption. I had vehemently disagreed then, citing section 36 of the 1999 Constitution and section 7 of the ACJA that inure in us our humanity and human dignity and respect.
“I had warned then of a possible descent into anarchy and chaos if the masked DSS goons were not immediately restrained and halted on their tracks. Friday’s disgraceful and atrocious outing by the DSS is the clearest exemplification of a rudderless state in search of a redemptive deus ex machina.
“A government that is short on tolerance to criticism, plurality of voices and opposition and which serially violates citizens’ rights and disobeys court orders is a ready recipe for organised disenchantment.
‘’Our constitutional democracy should be one modeled on the rule of law and not on the rule of the thumb of a benevolent ruler, even if dictatorial, tyrannical, absolutist and fascist.’’
Also reacting yesterday, Yoruba socio-cultural and political organisation, Afenifere, described the re-arrest of Sowore in court as a coup against the jiduciary.
Publicity Secretary of the Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, said: “lf there is any sign Nigerians need to know that the country has slipped into the abyss of totalitarian rule, it is the unfortunate statement by the Presidency on on the re-arrest of Sowore inside the court last Friday.
“A truly democratic regime would have condemned the barbaric conduct of the DSS in court, with a promise to investigate it.
“But the Presidency ignored the sacrilege of desecration of the temple and went after Sowore whom it describes as a ‘person of interest’ to the Gestapo. Does it occur to them that what DSS did on Friday was a coup against the judiciary and worse than the unstaged revolution of Sowore.’’
Reacting in a similar manner, former Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF, Chief Olu Falae, said: “There would be serious consequences for every undemocratic action taken by every government.
“This undemocratic action should be condemned and stopped forthwith. If not stopped, there would be consequences for our nascent democracy.
In his reaction, former governor of Oyo State, Dr Omololu Olunloyo, said it was unfortunate that the government that was supposed to enforce and guard the law, did not obey it.
“I think the government is saddled with the responsibility of enforcing the law and it is supposed to obey the law.”
Also reacting, Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Diran Odeyemi, said the party was not surprised with the action of the Department of State Services, DSS, as it reflects the intolerant nature of President Muhammadu Buhari.
He called for a collaborative effort to tackle the dangers that confront the nation’s democracy, condemning the federal government for issuing a statement in defense of the action of the DSS operatives.