By Emma Amaize, Dapo Akinrefon, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Emmanuel Elebeke
LAGOS — Strong voices from various groups and notable persons in the actvist community and civil society organisations rose in condemnation of a ruling by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, yesterday, granting a request by the Department of State Services, DSS, to detain the convener of #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore, for 45 days.
Trial judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, said the DSS was at liberty to apply for renewal of the detention order at the expiration of the 45 days, and adjourned till September 21, 2019 as the return date.
Pan-Yoruba, Igbo and South South socio-political organisations, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF; erstwhile Political Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr. Akin Osuntokun and former Minister of State for Education, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi flayed the court order secured by the Federal Government to hold on to Sowore.
They called on the Federal Government to tread with caution on the issue of Sowore and #RevolutionNow.
Also, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, described the court order authorising the DSS to hold on to Sowore for 45 days as bad news for genuine democracy.
This came as the All Progressives Congress, APC, called on Nigerians to reject the toxic messages and criminal antics of some individuals and partisans, who have embarked on a campaign of calumny against the government and are calling for a forceful takeover of government, describing them as cowards and enemies of Nigeria.
Sowore, an activist and publisher of Sahara Reporters, was the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the last general election.
He was picked up in Lagos in the early hours of Saturday, August 3, 2019 by DSS operatives for calling for a nationwide revolutionary protest over alleged maladministration by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government.
The protest which held in various parts of the country last Monday, met stiff resistance from security agencies, with some of the protesters arrested and subsequently arraigned in court for engaging in unlawful assembly. Some journalists covering the protest were also assaulted.
However, the DSS, after it transferred Sowore to Abuja on Sunday, approached the high court with an ex-parte application for leave to detain him beyond the statutorily allowed 48 hours after his arrest.
The security agency, which based its application on the provision of section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, urged the court to allow it to retain the respondent in custody for 90 days, pending the conclusion of its investigation.
Meanwhile, after listening to the motion moved by counsel to the DSS, Mr. G. Abadua on Tuesday, Justice Taiwo, reserved his ruling, saying he needed time to watch the video exhibits.
At the resumed proceeding, yesterday, Justice Taiwo disclosed that one of the videos marked as exhibit SSS-1, revealed a meeting Sowore held with leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu.
According to the judge, Sowore had in the second video, said he would join forces with members of the also proscribed Islamic Movement of Nigeria, IMN, otherwise known as Shiites, to bring down President Buhari’s government.
Justice Taiwo who is sitting as the vacation Judge of the court, noted that though facts the DSS presented in the affidavit it attached in support of its application, could still be considered as mere allegations, he would be failing in his duties not to grant the detention request.
He said he will grant the application only to the extent of allowing the DSS to keep Sowore in custody for only 45 days to enable it conclude its investigation.
In arriving at his decision to grant the application, the court said it took into consideration the case of Asari Dokubo Vs Federal Republic of Nigeria, to the effect that the right of personal liberty of an individual as guaranteed under section 35 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, is not absolute.
Justice Taiwo nevertheless, observed that facts the DSS presented before the court in the ex-parte application was “one-sided” since the respondent was not opportuned to confirm or deny them.
“The facts are allegation of commission of a crime by the respondent which in line with the constitution must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
“The applicant has stated that investigation is still ongoing and yet to be concluded.”
The court held that though Sowore was entitled to his personal liberty, the nature of the offence of terrorism for which he is being investigated had been defined to include “a grave affront to peace of the society with attendant unsalutory psychological effect on members of the society to live in perpetual fear.
“The facts presented by the applicant are allegations against the respondent which must be proved at the appropriate place and time,” Justice Taiwo added.
Maintaining that the section under which the detention request was brought “is directory,” the judge said he granted the application only to the extent of allowing the DSS to conclude its investigation.
He said the security agency could return for an extension of the detention order after September 21.
It is bad news for genuine democracy — Ozekhome
Reacting, Chief Ozekhome, SAN, said: “The court-ordered detention of Sowore on the application of the Federal Government is bad news for democracy and human rights, especially because the application was made and granted ex parte. (behind Sowore’s back).
“What was the extreme urgency in the matter (usually the main ground for granting ex parte orders) that the Judge couldn’t order the government (who in any case was already detaining Sowore) to put him on notice?
“The court could also have ordered Sowore to show cause why he should not be detained for 45 days. I think it was discretion wrongly exercised, not having been exercised judicially and judiciously. In any event, sections 39 to 43 of the Criminal Code and section 410 of the Penal Code which criminalize treason, envision a dire situation where an intention to overthrow a government, or overawe the President or Governor of a State (called “mens rea”) is accompanied and have carefully itemized their grievances in writing?
“By overt acts (called “actus reus”), such as stockpiling and possession of arms and ammunition to physically carry out an insurrection, coup d’état, or to use Sowore and his group’s terminology, revolution.
“Does this amount to treason or treasonable felony? Do you announce a “revolution”, if not for the mischief of some people deliberately reading the word literally rather than figuratively?
“Didn’t President Buhari in 2014 call for a “revolution” in Nigeria during campaigns for presidency? Didn’t Chief Bola Tinubu in 2011 call for a “revolution”? Were they interpreted literally to mean actual overthrow of the then government of President Goodluck Jonathan?
“Didn’t Nigerians understand this to mean a peaceful change of government through the ballot box? Why are we suddenly stretching it? Didn’t the APC leadership, including Sowore himself, literally shut down Nigeria in January, 2012, during massive protests against the attempt by the then Jonathan administration to remove the so called oil subsidy?
“Did this government not later hike it from N97 to its present 140 naira a liter? So much for duplicity and double standards.
“Do mere uttered words, “we will cause a revolution” by Nigerians who are singing, dancing and carrying placards on the streets, shouting “aluta continua, victoria acerta,” without more, constitute treasonable felony?
“Especially by Nigerians who are protesting against bad governance and unarmed IPOB, detaining hapless El-Zakzaky, detaining social-media raving, but unarmed Sowore, etc? We are surely practicing dictatorship and absolutism under the thin veneer of democracy in Nigeria today.
“There is nothing democratic about the present government’s genre of democracy. It is a complete farce and total ruse. God help Nigeria, even as the people should gird their loins for tougher days ahead.
“Nigerians should protest and demonstrate peacefully on Nigerian streets against the harsh and anti-people policies of this government. Not to do so is to cheaply capitulate to coercive intimidation and abdication of their sovereignty to their very elected and selected agents in government.
“Didn’t we, Civil Society and labour leaders, during successive military hunts and also during Obasanjo’s presidency, serially call for “revolution”, without any arms and ammunition?
“What happens to our citizens’ fundamental rights to freedom of speech, Assembly and Association as guaranteed by sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights?
“What happens to the Court of Appeal decision in IGP V ANPP, where it was held that no Nigerian requires Police permit to demonstrate and protest peacefully on the streets of Nigeria?
“To me, what all this boils down to is an intolerant government that is gravely and pathetically allergic to respect for and tolerance of criticism, the rule of law, individual fundamental rights, political choices, plurality of voices, dissenting opinions and independence of the Judiciary.
“Is it not ironic that the same government that never obeys court orders (Dasuki, El-Zakzaky, et al), always run to the same courts to obtain ex parte orders whenever it pleases them and satiate their massive egos.”
Tread with caution—Ohanaeze
Spokesman of Ohanaeze, Chuks Ibegbu said: “The Federal Government should be careful how it handles the Sowore Revolutionary agitation as it has many battles at its disposal now. Good governance at all levels will curb different agitations in Nigeria and politicians should stop looting public funds and develop the country to standards they see in other lands.
“The judiciary and DSS have to be cautious when interpreting situations like that of Sowore. Agitations that are for a better Nigeria must be differentiated from violent revolutions. We should differentiate between a peaceful clamour for change and a violent revolution. Agitations for positive change can dovetail to violent Revolutions by the actions and inactions of power wielders.
“This is a heterogeneous and pluralistic society but nobody should think that what can happen in a homogenous society cannot happen in a heterogeneous one. But my fear is that we are so ethnically biased and religiously blinded that such acts can be misinterpreted and conflate to sectarian “katakata’.
“You saw what happened in the first republic. A revolutionary coup carried by all sections of Nigeria to restore sanity was tagged an Igbo coup and you saw the heinous result which we are still having the scar till date. Our politicians are funny. They can pitch the people against each other when their privileges are threatened. Nothing is wrong with peaceful Revolution but we must factor our peculiarity as a nation.”
Misplaced show of unnecessary force by FG — PANDEF
PAN Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the mouthpiece of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger Delta on its part, described the Federal High Court, Abuja authorization to DSS to detain Sowore for 45 days as a misplaced display of superfluous power by the Federal Government.
National Secretary of the regional group, Dr Alfred Mulade, told Vanguard, “This is sheer display of tyranny and oppression. What a responsible government should do is to see this planned protest as a wake-up call, to fix the myriad humongous security and development issues bedeviling the nation.
“These are issues that had been raised several times at different fora by several concerned bodies and personalities in this country, and which, fortunately the 2014 Conference Report captured.
“Obviously and seriously, securing a detention order against Mr. Sowore, who is merely dramatizing the state of affairs and disillusionment of the Nigerian people, is a misplaced show of unnecessary force by the Federal government.
“Protest is a universal ingredient for democracy. And, in the instant case, it is coming at a time when voice of reason have expressed the deepest concern about the state of insecurity and woes in this country, which have never been so precarious, polarized and divided, since the Civil War,” he said.
Afenifere flays order
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said: “Afenifere views with great concern the 45-day detention without trial granted the DSS by a Federal High Court on Sowore over his call for a protest on Monday.
“The order represents a new phase in the orchestrated conscription of the democratic space in Nigeria. We are aware of that obnoxious provision in the Terrorism Act, but it can never assume superiority over the Constitution which stipulates that a citizen cannot be detained for more than 48 hours before being charged to court.
“Sowore was arrested before he could commit an offence and the DSS seems to want to go shopping for evidence to prosecute him. Having failed to allow him to commit the offense, before he was peremptorily arrested, the DSS should free Sowore or charge him to court so that the judicial process can take its course.
“As it is, he is only being held illegally using the legal process. Our advice to government is that it should understand and act in conformity with the democratic tenets in dealing with the rights of Nigerians.”
Osuntokun flays FG
Also reacting, Mr. Osuntokun said: “The DSS and the entire security apparatus of the government are a difficult act to follow. It is difficult to see what the fuss is all about. They are very slow and tardy in responding to real situations of security crisis but very swift and aggressive in dealing with trivia. Would it not have made better sense to seek court injunction to stop Sowore from going ahead with the protest- if truly they believe the intent was to commit treason?
Why not put him in a situation in which he becomes legally liable by disobeying a court order?
“ And then, there is something called humour- which can sometimes prove more effective and cheap in defusing social and political tension. Routine intelligence would have revealed to government that there is no real potential of threat in all this.
“And even if there is any threat, it still would have been better strategy to engage with the protest in a friendly manner. They are blowing this out of proportions. Well, lucky Sowore, the Nigerian government has succeeded in making him the central issue of contemporary Nigerian politics.”
Gbagi advises FG to tread cautiously
Gbagi, a criminologist and lawyer, who spoke to Vanguard in Warri, Delta State, said: “The circumstances of this matter is volatile and as such the government must tread very carefully as any step contrary to the intendment of the constitution will open a floodgate of abuse, suppression and this is not good for a nascent democracy such as ours.
“First, it is pertinent to emphasize that by virtue of Section 1(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), and the decision of the Supreme Court in MARWA & ORS V. NYAKO & ORS (2012) SC, the Constitution is supreme and as such, the fundamental human rights of a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is absolute to such extent allowed by the same Constitution.”
“More particularly, the Constitution under Section 39(1) guarantees the right to Freedom of expression. However, in this case and circumstances, our focal point of enquiry should be: What are the utterances of Sowore? What are his conducts? Does 1 & 2 above constitute security threats to the corporate existence of Nigeria?
“Given the circumstances under review, you cannot, on the basis of your rights, call for the supplanting of a democratically elected government save for plesbicite, periodic elections or by a process of impeachment duly initiated and perfected by 1/3 majority of the National Assembly.”
SERAP seeks UN intervention over attacks on journalists, protesters
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, following the brutality meted on journalists and protesters during Monday’s #RevolutionNow protest, has invited the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, to “urgently convene a special session on Nigeria over arbitrary arrests and repression by officers of the Nigeria Police Force and other security forces of ‘RevolutionNow’ protesters, organisers, activists, and journalists who covered the protests on Monday across the country.”
“Concern over suppression of freedom of expression, attacks on journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders by several state governments, as well as the intimidation and harassment of Amnesty International in Nigeria, including by a group of apparently paid protesters that continues to besiege the organisation’s office in Abuja, preventing it from carrying out its activities, and giving the organisation ultimatum to leave Nigeria.”
A letter by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, said: “There are serious violations of the rights of Nigerians to liberty, personal security, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and media freedom and a Special Session is urgently needed to help stem the attack on human rights and contribute to UN efforts to prevent further abuses including arbitrary detention and excessive use of force.”
“The human rights situation in the country has drastically deteriorated, with the authorities at the Federal and State levels violating human rights and refusing to obey court judgments. The Human Rights Council should heed the rising chorus of concerns by Nigerians, journalists, human rights defenders, activists, and lawyers, and urgently convene a Special Session on the growing human rights crisis in the country.
“Consistent with its mandate to prevent human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies, the Human Rights Council should address the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in several states of Nigeria as a matter of priority.”
Buhari doesn’t hear Nigerians, says Sowore’s lawyer
Meanwhile, Inibehe Effiong, one of the lawyers advocating the release of Sowore from custody of DSS, has said that “despite using taxpayers money to treat ear infection abroad,” President Buhari does not listen to the cries of the people.
Speaking at a stakeholders’ meeting on corruption organised by ActionAid Nigeria in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, yesterday, Effiong criticised the president for backtracking on his electoral promise of stopping medical tourism abroad.
“The worst disease affecting our nation today is corruption But the good news is that this disease is not incurable,” he said.
“Today, we have a president, who as part of his election campaign, made a promise to Nigerian that the era of going overseas for medical treatment will be over. Unfortunately today, the president is on record for going to the UK to treat infection.
“Despite using Nigeria tax payers’ money to treat ear infection, the president is not hearing the cries of the people.
“The government, as part of election winning strategy, claimed that it was sharing $322.5 million of Abacha loot to Nigerians. I don’t know how they define poor Nigerians.
“You know what worries me most, when the government said they were sharing Abacha loot to poor Nigerians, up till today, the list of beneficiaries have not been disclosed. You cannot use corruption to fight corruption.”
HURIWA accuses FG, court of abuse of powers
Rights group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, has faulted the decision of the Federal Government to successfully obtain an ex-parte order from a Federal High Court anchored on the Anti-Terrorism Act against the leader of the Revolution Now protest movement Sowere.
In a by its coordinator, Mr. Emmanuel Onwubiko said the action of the Federal Government to institute the charge against Mr. Sowere only for planning to call for a nationwide civil protests devoid of violence whereas the same government is actively dialoguing with armed bandits in Zamfara and has on many occasions freed arrested hardened terrorists of the Boko haram terror networks and armed flank herdsmen under the deceptive guise of being deradicalised, amounted to a flagrant breach of the constitutional oath of office sworn to by president Buhari and is a violation of section 15(5) of the constitution which obliges government to eschew abuse of power, describing the action as the height of executive recklessness and abuse of power.
HURIWA noted that since the presiding judge has the discretionary powers of bail, he ought to have exercised that in favour of Mr. Sowere who is totally non-violent since even section 36(5) of the constitution which is higher in status to the anti-terrorism Act stated unambiguously that: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proven guilty.”
HURIWA said the judge cannot therefore, be heard saying that he can’t exercise his discretionary powers to grant bail to Omoyele SOWORE who as far available information is concerned is a nonviolent agitator for good governance.
“Judges are granted judicial discretion to grant or refuse bail. This means that the issue of bail is at the discretion of the judge. This is by virtue of section 118, 119; 120; 123 and 125 of the criminal code Act of 1016, cap 38 (1988); 2NWLR (Part 78) 602 @610 and section 120 of Criminal Procedure Act.
“HURIWA is shocked at the granting of the prolonged detention of Sowore. Are we no longer living under a constitutional democracy? Why keep a citizen for more than a month when the constitution recognizes that he is innocent until proven guilty?
“We are shocked at the rate of institutionalization of injustice and unfairness by president Buhari who on one hand has authorized dialogues with armed bandits and terrorists who have killed over 27,000 Nigerians, whereas he has instructed DSS working under him to file charges of terrorism against a blogger and an activist, Sowore, who is alleged to have expressed the determination of his platform named “Revolution Now” to stage a nation-wide civil protests to agitate for fundamental changes in the state of insecurity in Nigeria.”
Proponents of forceful takeover of government are enemies of Nigeria —APC
The APC, while reacting to the recent arrest of Sowore by DSS and court order secured to detain him, said the action must be seen for what it is, “a legal and timely action by our security services to protect our democracy and protect the country and its citizens against any action that threatens our collective peace and safety.
“Predictably, some desperate individuals, sore losers, and their sympathisers are acting in vain trying to pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians. Of course, the disgruntled presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alh. Atiku Abubakar is expectedly the patron and cheerleader of the unpatriotic elements who would rather bring our country down for being rejected at the polls.
“The desperate attempt to politicise a legitimate action by the security agencies and futile effort to spread falsehood to create chaos in the country are clearly irresponsible actions. We call on Nigerians to look at the issue of Sowore’s arrest dispassionately devoid of the skewed narratives and sentiments being propagated by these individuals.
“Sowore arrived the country recently and openly threatened a revolution against a constitutionally recognised and legitimate government. Should the DSS and other security services have dismissed the declaration and the underlying implications as a non- issue? No intelligence/security agency worth its calling takes issues like this with levity.
“From elections to governance and general conduct, the President Buhari-led administration has demonstrated its adherence and defence of the rule of law over politics and sundry interests.
“Again, on the safety of Nigerians, the current government has been decisive in addressing any action that threatens the country’s unity, peace and our democracy. Sowore’s arrest is another testament to our unshaken resolve in this regard.
“The right to a civil protest is a given, however it should not be construed to mean the same thing as a revolution to forcibly take over government. This makes it necessary to put the act of a revolution in context, at least by the proclamation made by Sowore and his co-travelers. Revolution means to forcibly overthrow a government through rebellion, revolt, insurrection, mutiny, uprising, insurgency, coup.
“ Nigeria is not a banana republic, we are a country with a democratically-elected government, governed by laws. Our laws are clear on Sowore’s actions. It is treason. No one should be allowed to get away with any attempt to destabilize this country.
“We must remind ourselves that the same Sowore who attempts to lead a revolution had a legal opportunity during the 2019 Presidential election as a candidate to sell his governance ideas, if any, to the electorate. He failed woefully in that attempt, coming a distant sixth with 33,953 votes compared to the winner, President Buhari, who polled over 15 million votes.
“Sowore and some of his co-losers have now resorted to an illegal and misguided plot to destabilise the country. Their plan is dead on arrival.
“We reiterate that our laws are clear on all criminalities and Nigerians expect that the enforcement of relevant laws should apply to every Nigerian, irrespective of class and status. This government would not be found wanting where it is required to take decisive actions.
“Finally, the effects of instability being championed by these cowards and enemies of Nigeria are disastrous. The same proponents of a forceful takeover will be the first to flee the country with their loved ones while the ordinary Nigerian suffers the disastrous consequences.”