In a dramatic fashion, operatives of the Department of State Service, DSS, on Friday, forcefully re-arrested the convener of RevolutionNow protest and pro-democracy activist, Omoyele Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare (aka Mandate). Operatives of the secret service swooped on the defendants immediately trial Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu adjourned their trial till February 11.
They were arrested at the premises of the Federal High Court in Abuja, barely 12 hours after they were released from detention on the order of the court. Pandemonium ensued after plain-clothed security operatives accosted Sowore and Bakare as they were stepping out of the courtroom. Sensing the foreboding danger, Sowore, who regained his freedom Thursday evening after he had spent about 124 days in custody of the DSS, quickly ran back into the courtroom as Justice Ojukwu was about to commence proceeding on another case before her.
Following a mild commotion between in-house officers of the Nigerian Police Force that are attached to the court and armed agents of the DSS that attempted to bulldoze their way into the courtroom in pursuit of the defendants, Justice Ojukwu quickly adjourned all cases in her docket and retired to her chamber for safety.
At that juncture, DSS operatives stormed the courtroom and grabbed Sowore as he made feeble attempts to resist them, alleging a subterranean plot to eliminate him in custody. In the aftermath of the scuffle, Sowore fell to the floor and was dragged and pinned to a chair by his adversaries, even he repeatedly gasped for breath. His lead counsel and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, immediately rushed into the Judge’s chamber to plead for her intervention.
Falana also sought the intervention of the prosecution counsel, Mr. Hassan Liman, SAN, who had earlier told the court in the course of Friday’s proceeding that he was not aware of any plot to re-arrest the defendants. Determined to withstand his planned re-arrest, Sowore refused to be dragged out of the courtroom, blaming his ordeal on his refusal to accept some offers that were allegedly extended to him in detention. Speaking to newsmen inside the courtroom, Sowore said some persons vowed to him that he would not walk out of detention alive. “This might be my only word on the record before they kill me; this is an attempt to assassinate me in court.
They came with guns and they tried to shoot and they dragged me down in front of a judge after I have been granted bail. “I said it that these are a bunch of lawless people and they were reluctant to respect the order of the court. Now they have shown it to the whole world.
“They tried to break me in prison, sent delegations to me, offering all kinds of things and I refused and they promised that I will not walk out of their detention alive and that is what they have come to implement today.” Sowore, who was the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the last general election and publisher of an online news outlet, Sahara Reporters, urged Nigerians not to be afraid of dictatorship, saying there was a need for some people to make the sacrifice for the Country to work.
He added: “What is important for Nigerians to know is that I am not going to give up until every Nigerian benefit from a country that is theirs and I have made it very clear. “Nobody in Nigeria should be afraid, it is our country and some people have to make the sacrifice for this country to be a country of rule, law and of dignity; and this also involves even judges. If suspects who have been given bail are not safe in court, the judges themselves are not safe.”
As at the time Sowore was speaking to newsmen, over 100 armed security personnel comprising of both the DSS and Police, surrounded the court premises, with Police armored tank positioned at the main entrance to the high court complex which is beside the Federal Ministry of Justice Headquarters. After a standoff that lasted over one hour, Sowore and his co-defendant eventually surrendered themselves to the DSS at the behest of their lawyer, Falana, SAN.
Though their supporters and pockets of lawyers, tried to resist the arrest, however, armed DSS operatives, some of them hooded, bundled the defendants out of the court premises in a commando-style at about 10:45 am, albeit with Falana’s Jeep. The defendants had insisted they would not enter any of the vehicles DSS brought to convey them back to its headquarters. Consequently, even though DSS allowed them to join Falana’s vehicle, they ensured that it was not only driven by their operative but was flanked by their own escort vehicles.
In his reaction, Falana described what transpired at the court as pure “gangsterism”, saying his clients would fight back accordingly. He alleged that it was the Director-General of the DSS, Yusuf Bichi that gave his boys the instruction to “abduct” Sowore in the court premises. Falana alleged that the agency had already concluded plans to file a fresh set of charges against the defendants. “The Director-General of the State Security Service had ordered that Mr. Sowore be abducted in the premises of the Federal High Court. You will recall that I did inform the court that the order for their release was obeyed yesterday and that there are new moves to file a new charge.
“The prosecution team said in the open court that no such information was available to them. But here we are now and the court is being prevented from carrying out its normal duty because there was a move to forcefully take him away from the court. “As officers of the court we are going to take appropriate steps, as a matter of fact, we have a sister case in court No 5 where we are also challenging the illegal detention of our client by the state security service. “But I can assure you, what is going on will not go away unchallenged. We either run this country on the platform of the rule of law or we resort to gangsterism, which is what is going on.
“But we are not going to allow it because we fought against military dictatorship including General Muhammadu Buhari and defeated all of them. “Under a democratically elected government, we are not going to allow anybody, no matter how highly placed, to put the rule of law or to treat the rule of law with disdain. “Having complied with the order of a court, what is therefore required is for the state security service to allow our clients to enjoy their limited freedom because both of them have been restricted to Abuja and Osogbo, respectively. So there is no basis for this fascists approach”, Falana told newsmen. On his part, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Liman, SAN, maintained that DSS duly complied with the 24-hour ultimatum the court gave for the defendants to be released from detention.
“As I said in the open court, in compliance with the order of the court which granted bail to the defendants, the DSS, that is the Federal Republic of Nigeria, released Mr. Sowore and Bakare yesterday (Thursday)”, Liman told journalists. When he was asked by Falana to tell newsmen if the defendants were not being re-arrested, the prosecution counsel simply walked away.
Sowore and Bakare are answering to a seven-count treasonable felony charge the Federal Government preferred against them. They were in the charge marked FHC/ ABJ/CR/235/2019, accused of conspiracy, money laundering, cyber-stalking and insulting President Buhari.
Though the defendants perfected all the conditions they court gave for their bail, the DSS declined to release them, claiming that no surety came forward to receive them. Dissatisfied with the development, Justice Ojukwu, on Thursday, handed the security agency 24 hours to release them from detention. The court equally awarded a cost of N100, 000 against the prosecution over its failure to comply with its order that the defendants should be furnished with some of the proof of evidence against them. Justice Ojukwu said she would not take further steps in the matter until her order was obeyed.
At the resumed proceeding on Friday, Falana, notified the court that his clients were released to him on Thursday. “My Lord, at about 5 O’clock yesterday, I received a call from my respected colleague to send our lawyers to receive our clients. I am happy to tell you that our clients were released and the N100, 000 costs were also paid. “On account of this, on behalf of our defendants, we wish to express our profound appreciation for your leadership and for standing up for integrity and for standing for the rule of law in Nigeria. “I also thank my colleague for impressing it on his client to obey the court order. I hope my learned friend will allow the defendants to get their freedom notwithstanding the charges,” Falana submitted. While commending the DSS for obeying the Court order, Justice Ojukwu stressed the need for the rule of law to always prevail in the country.
“It is obvious that the DSS has demonstrated its commitment to the rule of law. No one is above the law”, she added, saying “the DSS has earned the respect of Nigerians for this”. Her encomiums for the security agency came before the subsequent re-arrest of the defendants in the court premises. It will be recalled that though the defendants were initially granted bail on October 4, Justice Ojukwu, in a ruling on October 21, varied some of the conditions it gave for the release of the defendants on bail. The duo initiated contempt of court proceeding against the DSS boss after he declined to okay their release from custody.
They are demanded N1billion for alleged gross violation of their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, was cited as a respondent to the suit. Specifically, the defendants contended that their rights to personal liberty, the dignity of the person, fair hearing, family life, freedom of association and freedom of movement were violated. They further prayed the court to compel the two respondents to issue a public apology to them that will be published in five national dailies. DSS had filed an application for permission of the court to transfer them a correctional facility, an application the defendants vehemently opposed. Sowore was arrested on August 2 in Lagos and later transferred to Abuja for prosecution, after he called for a nationwide protest against perceived maladministration by the President Buhari-led government.
Despite his arrest, the protest was held in various parts of the country on August 5, with security operatives clamping down on some of the participants.
Ikechukwu Nnochiri I Vanguard