Senior lawyer Femi Falana was locked in a verbal war with the Department of State Services (DSS) on Wednesday night over the continuous detention of #RevolutionNow activist Omoyele Sowore, despite Sowore meeting the bail condition prescribed by the court.
The DSS, facing attacks by human rights activists, lawyers and journalists and the government owned National Human Rights Commission, stuck to its earlier excuse that it has not released Sowore because the appropriate persons, his sureties, were yet to turn up to take him.
It was a strange proposition, said Falana who once faced trial for treasonable felony, along with Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome Kuti in 1992 and granted bail without fuss.
In a statement on Wednesday, Dr Peter Afunanya, DSS spokesman was adamant that it was only appropriate that those who stood as sureties for Sowore should come for him.
His press statement also rebutted reports the operatives of the agency shot at protesters at its Abuja office on Tuesday to demand Sowore’s release.
He accused Falana (SAN) for allegedly mobilising ‘miscreants’ to subvert the DSS instead of advising his clients, supporters on the right process.
“Despite serial and unwarranted provocations, the service, as a professional and responsible organisation, did not shoot at the so called protesters. It could not have done so.
“For emphasis, the service reiterates its avowed readiness to release Sowore once the processes are concluded. It maintains that the appropriate persons have still not turned up to take delivery of Sowore.
“While all those that have so far shown up are not directly concerned with the matter and therefore unqualified, many others have either chosen to grandstand or politicise it to achieve hidden interests.
“In the last few days, the service has continued to witness deliberate campaigns of calumny, threats and aspersions against it. It will not, for any reason, join issues with its mudslingers. The media is called upon to be neutral and remain champions of the truth.
“It is only appropriate that those who stood surety for Sowore present themselves and have him released to them. It is even more disappointing that Femi Falana, who is a senior lawyer, would wrongly guide his client and supporters.
“He is rather playing to the gallery and mobilising miscreants to subvert the service and other state authorities. He has excellent relationship with the DGSS. But in the circumstance, he has refused to reach out to him over the case like he had on previously related ones.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the service restates its commitment to the rule of law and particularly respect to the court. It, therefore, calls for calm but states that it will not be intimidated or harassed into hasty actions.
“It reassures the public that it will not waste a second to release Sowore if the proper processes are followed. And Falana, sure, knows what these are.”
Falana trashed the agency’s stand and accused it of constituting itself into an appellate court.
According to him, the the Federal High Court attached no condition for the release on bail of Sowore.
“On November 6, the Bailiff of the Federal High Court wanted to serve the order of court for the immediate release of Messrs Omoyele Sowore and Adebayo Bakare on the State Security Service (SSS). Under the pretext that the management had closed for the day the Court Bailiff was asked to serve the order at 10am on November 7.
“In the company of four members of the defence team the Court Bailiff served the order on that day. After the four lawyers had waited in vain for hours the SSS asked them to go and that they would be contacted on phone to pick up the two detainees after consultations.
“But the SSS never contacted the lawyers. To our utter dismay, the SSS issued an incendiary statement on November 8 wherein it was claimed that no one had shown up to receive both detainees. Yesterday (Tuesday), two members of the defence team, family members and friends of both detainees reported at the headquarters of the SSS. Some journalists were also there to witness the release of both detainees.
“Instead of releasing both detainees to their lawyers and family members the SSS fired teargas and shot into the air. In the process, the lawyers, family members and friends of both detainees were physically attacked by masked security operatives.
“Some of the journalists were seriously injured. Having proved beyond any reasonable doubt that members of the defence team, family members and friends of the two detainees had reported in the headquarters of the SSS to receive them the story has now changed.
“The SSS has now said that “It is only appropriate that those who stood surety for Sowore present themselves and have him released to them.”
“From the latest statement it is crystal clear that the SSS has no scores to settle with Mr. Bakare. Hence, the SSS has decided not to invite his own sureties to collect him. It is hoped that the SSS will release him without any further delay.
“With respect to Mr. Sowore, we wish to state, without any fear of contradiction, that the SSS has apparently constituted itself into an appellate court over the Federal High Court. For the avoidance of doubt, no condition is attached to the order of court for the release of both detainees.
“Therefore, the SSS is aggravating the felony of contempt of court by asking sureties who had been verified by the trial court to report in its office for an illegal verification.
“In view of the reckless insinuations of the SSS, I am compelled to point out that my colleagues and I did not risk our lives for the purpose of substituting military dictatorship for civilian autocracy. It is pertinent to point out that suspects who were presumed innocent under the defunct military junta were not exposed to the crude intimidation that has become the lot of Sowore and Bakare.
“Even when five of us were charged with treasonable felony in May 1992 we were released after we had met the bail conditions. On that occasion, the SSS never asked our sureties to report after they had been verified by the trial court. I demand for nothing less for my clients under the current political dispensation which ought to be anchored on the rule of law.
“Finally, I confirm that I have an official relationship with the DG of SSS. But since the commencement of the case of Sowore and Bakare the DG has refused to pick my calls while I have since become a persona non grata in the office of the SSS.
“With respect to the baseless allegation that I am playing to the gallery by demanding for the release of my clients in line with the valid and subsisting order of a competent law court, I shall take appropriate action under the law. Meanwhile, the SSS should release our clients from illegal custody and should stop exposing the country to unwarranted ridicule.”