The United Kingdom has said it is closely following the continued detention of Convener of the #RevolutionNow movement, Omoyele Sowore while calling on the Nigerian government to respect the fundamentals for democracy.
Mr. Sowore was rearrested by operatives of the Department of State Security Service (DSS) on Friday at a Federal High Court in Abuja, a situation that has sparked reactions from many.
The British High Commission in Nigeria, in a tweet, called for the respect for the rule of law, stating that the ideals set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be upheld.
“As we celebrate #HumanRightsDay, we encourage all political, state and non-state actors to uphold the ideals set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed 71 years ago today.
“We are following closely the continued detention of #Sowore. Respect for the rule of law and free and responsible speech is fundamental for #democracy.
“The UK is committed to defending and strengthening human rights worldwide and, as we conclude #16DaysofActivism2019, working to end gender-based violence.”
The UK is committed to defending and strengthening human rights worldwide and, as we conclude #16DaysofActivism2019, working to end gender-based violence.
— UK in Nigeria🇬🇧 (@UKinNigeria) December 10, 2019
The Federal Government had filed a seven-count bordering on treasonable felony and money laundering against the former presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in September.
#RevolutionNow Protest, Arrest And Detention
Mr. Sowore who has been very critical of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, called for a series of planned protests against bad governance in the country in August, tagged #RevolutionNow.
He was however arrested by the DSS in Lagos.
Spokesman of the commission, Peter Afunaya, said that the DSS acted within its constitutional powers to arrest and detain the activist for threatening the unity and peaceful co-existence of Nigeria.
Mr. Afunaya added that the call for revolution poses a national security threat.
The DSS filed an application at the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, to detain Mr. Sowore for 90 days, pending the conclusion of its investigation.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo however granted the DSS, 45 days to detain Mr Sowore, informing the security agency that they can return to court to ask for more days.
Meanwhile, Mr Sowore challenged the court order in an application on the premise that it breached the fundamental rights provision of the 1999 constitution, after being in detention illegally for an initial four days before the ex-parte order was granted.
The Federal Government finally filed a seven-count bordering on treasonable felony and money laundering against Mr Sowore and Olawale Bakare, also known as mandate, a day before the expiration of the detention order on September 21.
The prosecution accused Mr Sowore and his co-defendant of conspiracy to commit treasonable felony in breach of section 516 of the Criminal Code Act by allegedly staging “a revolution campaign on September 5, 2019 aimed at removing the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
The prosecution is also accusing them of committing the actual offence of reasonable felony in breach of section, 4(1)(c) of the Criminal Code Act, by using the platform of Coalition for Revolution, in August 2019 in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, to stage the #RevolutionNow protest allegedly aimed at removing the President.
The government further accuses Sowore of cybercrime offences in violation of section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention) Act, by “knowingly” sending “messages by means of press interview granted on Arise Television network which you knew to be false for the purpose of causing insult, enmity, hatred and ill-will on the person of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The Federal Government, through the DSS requested to detain Mr Sowore for another 20 days after the expiration of the 45 days initially granted.
After listening to arguments from the prosecution and defense counsels, Justice Taiwo Taiwo said there was no order detaining Sowore and he should be released with some conditions which included; depositing all travel documents and he should be produced whenever the court needs him.
According to Counsel to Mr Sowore, Femi Falana, despite meeting the bail conditions, his client was yet to be released. This prompted the defense counsel to file a contempt suit against the Director-General of the Department of State Service, (DSS) Yusuf Bichi, for allegedly disobeying a court order granting him bail.
The DSS however denied claims that the service refused to obey the court order, but stated that counsel to Mr Sowore was yet to perfect the conditions for his release.
In October, at the resumed hearing of their bail application, Mr Sowore was granted bail in the sum N100 million and two sureties in like sum, while Mr Bakare got bail in the sum of N50 million and a surety in like sum.
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu noted that they must both deposit their travel documents with the court and stay within Abuja.
Where there is a violation of the bail conditions, the judge threatened that the court would not fail to revoke the bail.
However, counsel to Mr Sowore filed a motion seeking a variation in the bail conditions, stating that the bail conditions were not met 17 days after the court had issued the order, due to the stringency of the conditions.
The trial judge, after listening to the arguments, varied the bail conditions regarding the payments of N50 million bail security by the sureties.
Justice Ojukwu also reduced the bail bond for Mr Bakare to N20 million and one surety in like sum.
The trial of Mr Sowore began in November after meeting the bail conditions.
Counsel to Mr Sowore stated that his clients would be freed soon, despite the refusal of the DSS to grant them access to the defendants.
The DSS, through its spokesperson Peter Afunaya, however denied knowledge that the defendants had perfected the bail conditions.
He confirmed the receipt of a court order for the release of Mr Sowore, but stressed that no person has turned up to take delivery of him.
This prompted Mr Sowore’s legal team along with family members to visit the Headquarters of the Service to receive the convener of #RevolutionNow protest.
Marshal Abubakar said after putting calls across to some high-ranking DSS officials, they were told to wait as the persons who could authorise Mr Sowore’s release were unavailable.
The DSS, after the visit of Mr Sowore’s legal team, still insisted that it is ready to release him, but the appropriate persons have not turned up to get him.
“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,” the DSS said in a statement by its spokesperson, Mr Peter Afunanya.
The DSS argued in its statement on Wednesday that those who have so far shown up are not directly concerned with the matter and, therefore, unqualified.
Afterwards, Mr Afunaya posited that only the persons who stood as sureties for Sowore can secure his release from the DSS custody.
Mr Sowore and his co-detainee, Mr Bakare each filed a suit of N500 million in damages against the DG DSS and the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, following their continued detention in DSS custody.
According to the suits, the arrest and physical assault of the duo by operatives of the DSS in Lagos and Osogbo on August 2 and 5, as well as their continued illegal detention by the security agency, constituted a violation of their rights.
Meanwhile, a Federal High Court in Abuja threatened to jail the DG of the DSS, Yusuf Bichi over the continued detention of the defendants.
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu warned that unless the DSS Director-General obeyed the order of the Federal High Court ordering him to release the defendants, he would be guilty of contempt of court and will be liable to be committed to prison.
At this point, the defendants had been granted bail twice, but were yet to be released by the DSS.
24-Hour Ultimatum, Release And Rearrest
In December, a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the DSS to release the defendants within the next 24hours.
Justice Ojukwu stressed that the DSS had no justifiable reason to continue to hold the defendants in custody, after she signed the warrants for the release of the defendants from custody.
She said the matter would not continue, adding that since today’s matter is adjourned at their instance she will award a cost of 100000 against the prosecution.
The DSS later released both defendants at exactly 7:15pm to their counsel on the same day the order was given by Justice Ojukwu.
Mr Sowore alleged that the DSS threatened to kill him after his release, stressing that he was told that he will not walk out of their detention alive.
After several hours, his counsel, Femi Falana, insisted that the arrest will not be carried out in the court premises, while urging all operatives of the DSS to step outside the court, where Mr Sowore was later accompanied by Mr Falana to the DSS office in Abuja, where he was arrested and eventually detained.
In his reaction, Mr Falana criticised the DSS for rearresting Mr Sowore barely 24 hours after their release, stressing that they were only invited for questioning.
Meanwhile the DSS stated that Mr Sowore was taken into custody for allegedly resorting to call for violence, a forceful takeover of government and suspected transnational illegal activities.
In a statement by its Public Relations Officer, Peter Afunanya, the agency stressed that Sowore is facing trial, not as an activist, journalist or politician.
On why he was rearrested, the DSS alleged that Sowore resorted to “acts inimical to security” shortly after being released from its custody.
It added that only Sowore was rearrested while his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, was not picked up by its operatives.
Mr Falana accused the Federal Government of resorting to media trial, stressing that it is embarrassing that it is yet to prove its case in a competent court of law.
The Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, who raised the matter during plenary, described the occurrence as an abuse on the sanctity of the court room.
He said the reported invasion of the courtroom by DSS operatives can be seen as one arm of government attempting to overpower another, which will spell doom for the country’s democracy.
The DSS denied invading the courtroom during Mr Sowore’s rearrest.