Wife of Omoyele Sowore, the convener of the RevolutionNow protest and publisher of Sahara Reporters, Mrs Ope Sowore, has sent a message to President Muhammadu Buhari that she and her children are waiting for the return of her husband.
She said she had no clear roadmap on how to handle the situation but that she had sent appeals to the United Nations and had been working with Amnesty International and many other organisations to help raise awareness and “hopefully help to secure the release” of her husband.
Officials of the Department of State Services had on Friday invaded the Federal High Court in Abuja to rearrest Sowore, who was released alongside his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, on Thursday after they had spent over three months in the DSS custody.
The DSS had also defied the court order that granted them bail, even after meeting their bail conditions and in spite of several appeals and protests to secure their release.
Sowore was arrested on August 3, 2019 over a planned protest, which he tagged ‘RevolutionNow’. The DSS accused him of planning to overthrow the government with his planned protest, the basis upon which he had been detained.
Meanwhile, less than 24 hours after they were released, Sowore was rearrested by about 15 DSS officials after the close of Friday’s proceedings, which the judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, had adjourned till February 11.
Before the fresh arrest, a stampede occurred as Sowore and his supporters tried to resist the officials of the DSS. The ensued commotion made court officials, lawyers, journalists and others to run for safety. The development disrupted the proceedings, which Justice Ojukwu was conducting after Sowore’s case was adjourned.
The judge was therefore forced to suspend sitting, directing that the remaining cases on her list for the day be adjourned.
Speaking to one of our correspondents on the telephone on Friday, Sowore’s wife said, “I’m concerned about what happened to my husband. It’s less than 24 hours that the Nigerian government has basically turned around and shown a gross abuse of power. I am praying and hoping that it will be resolved so that he can come home to meet me and the children.
“No clear roadmap or script on how to handle a situation like this. The reason why there is rule of law is because it protects people’s basic rights and the fact that Buhari and the DSS have refused to do that is a matter of great concern.
“We are currently working with many international organisations to help advocate on his behalf and we have sent several urgent appeals to the United Nations.”
I can’t eat, sleep, Sowore’s mother laments
Sowore’s mother, Esther, expressed shock over the rearrest of her son on Friday, adding that her son’s continuous stay in the custody of the DSS had affected her health.
Speaking during an interview with the CNN on Friday, she said, “I cannot eat. I cannot sleep. It is affecting my health. It has been four months now. I plead with Buhari again in Allah’s name, I plead with him to release my son.”
DSS wanted to kill me – Sowore
Meanwhile, Sowore, in an interview with Channels Television during the invasion, alleged that the DSS invasion was an attempt to kill him, but that he would not give up.
He said, “It 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 had been granted bail.
“I said it yesterday (Thursday) that these are a set of lawless people and that they were reluctant to respect the order of the court. Now they have shown it to the whole world. What is important for Nigerians to know is that I am not going to give up until every Nigerian benefits from a country that is theirs and I made it very clear to them.
“They tried to break me in prison; they sent delegations to me, offering all kinds of things but I refused and they promised that I would not walk out of detention alive. That was what they came here (the court) to implement today.
“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 dignity and this also involves judges. If suspects who have been given bail are not safe, then the judges themselves are not safe and that was why the judge had to retire hurriedly into her chambers.”
Falana says invasion barbaric
Speaking on the development, Sowore’s lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), described it as a “horrendous, bizarre and barbaric contempt of court” never witnessed under “even the most brutal of past dictators that had ever ruled Nigeria.”
He added, “Under the military regime, the so-called enemies of the government would not be arrested in the web of the court which is considered a sanctuary. The military regimes would always show some respect for the court and would only arrest after the person left the court premises. What we have witnessed today is alien to Nigeria.”
Falana said at a meeting which Justice Ojukwu called to be held in her chambers with him and the prosecuting counsel, Hassan Liman (SAN), the judge “expressed dismay” over the development as she said “she was made to flee her court”.
Meanwhile, Falana said he had not been informed about the reason for his client’s rearrest, adding that his legal team would meet Saturday to determine the next line of action.
I’m not aware of basis for Sowore’s fresh arrest – FG’s lawyer
Dr Hassan Liman (SAN), hired by the Federal Government to prosecute Sowore, has said he was not aware of the basis for the rearrest of Sowore.
Responding to Saturday PUNCH’s enquiry more than eight hours after the incident happened, Liman said he was not aware of any plan to institute fresh charges against Sowore.
He said, “I am not aware of any plan to file fresh charges against Mr Sowore. I am not aware of the basis for the fresh arrest, but I believe the Service (DSS) will address that accordingly.”
Control your ‘dogs of disobedience’, Soyinka tells Buhari
There was outrage on Friday by prominent Nigerians, civil society organisations, human rights activists and many others over the invasion of the court by DSS men. In their respective reactions, they said the invasion was an attack on the rule of law and the sanctity of the nation’s justice system.
Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to control the excesses of DSS officers, whom he described as the President’s ‘dogs of disobedience.’
Soyinka, who spoke in a statement titled ‘Lessons from the African wild dog (Lycaeon Pictus)’, while reacting to Friday’s court invasion by the DSS to rearrest Sowore, said, “Soyinka noted, “It has become imperative and urgent to send this message to President-General Buhari: Rein in your wild dogs of disobedience. And for a start, get a trainer to teach them some basic court manners!”
The essayist and social critic in a symbolic analogy said a few years ago, he watched the video of a pack of the famed African wild dogs hunt, which eventually brought down, and proceeded to devour a quarry.
He added, “It was an impala, antelope family. The pack isolated the most vulnerable looking member of the herd–it was pregnant-pursued it, until it fled to a waterhole which, for such animals, is the nearest thing to a sanctuary.
“A few minutes ago, almost as it was happening, I watched the video of a pack of the DSS, bring down, and fight over their unarmed, totally defenceless quarry within the sanctuary of a court of law. I found little or no difference between the two scenarios, except that the former, the wild dogs, exhibited more civilised table manners than the DSS in court manners.”
Court invasion, attack on judiciary – Atiku, PDP, AI, SERAP
Former Vice-President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2019 elections, in a statement titled, ‘Without Rule of Law, There Cannot Be Rule At All’ said never in the history of the country’s democracy had a judge been treated in such a “disdainful and brazen attack, not just on her person and office, but on the judiciary.”
He added, “This is unacceptable. It is a rape on the sanctity of the court. We are a democracy, no matter how inconvenient this fact is to the powers that have forced themselves on us. I call for an immediate inquiry to be set up to identify those responsible for the maltreatment meted out to Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu and the desecration of her court, and indeed the Nigerian judiciary.”
The Peoples Democratic Party on Friday said the invasion of the court by DSS men further confirmed that Nigeria, under the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency, was finally sliding into a dictatorship.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement said, “The international community must have more than a passing glance at the situation in Nigeria as any crisis in our country, God forbid, given our population, is capable of having a negative spillover effect across the African continent and other parts of the world.”
Also the Coalition of United Political Parties, in a statement by its spokesperson, Mr Imo Ugochinyere, decried the invasion, saying the serenity as well as the sanctity of the court was utterly desecrated by the DSS officials.
While calling for the sacking of all the officers of the DSS involved in the invasion, he said CUPP would await the comments of the Chief Justice of Nigeria before taking a more formal position on the issue.”
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project also condemned the invasion, saying the violent rearrest of Sowore inside the courtroom was a textbook case of a mockery of justice and abuse of the judicial process.
SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said, “The United Nations Human Rights Council, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and members of the international community should urgently put pressure on the Nigerian authorities to end serious violations and abuses of human rights and threats to the rule of law in Nigeria.”
Also, Amnesty International said the action of the secret police indicated a total disregard for human rights and due process.
Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said, “These acts should not be condoned by the Nigerian authorities and does not reflect the commitment to human rights Nigeria agreed to during the UPR (Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council) earlier this year.”
The Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Mr Debo Adeniran, also faulted the actions of the DSS. He said, “Even if the DSS has any cause to file fresh or additional charges against the accused, either before the same judge or in another court of competent jurisdiction, this would have been done in cognizance of known procedures that would not precipitate contravention of law and order.”
The immediate-past President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, in his reaction, described Friday’s event as an “unfortunate display of recklessness and over-zealousness by agents of the DSS,” and called on Justice Ojukwu to jail the Director-General of the DSS for contempt of court.
Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, also said he was not surprised by the abuse of power perpetrated by the Buhari-led government, saying he warned Nigerians in 2015 about the excesses of Buhari and how he could never change his dictatorial ways but that he was heckled by the All Progressives Congress and selfish Yoruba leaders.
Ninety-one-year-old Adebanjo, while speaking with Saturday PUNCH about the invasion, noted that he would have expected that the likes of APC stalwarts, Bola Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande; as well as Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who is a senior advocate, to caution Buhari but that “the Yoruba elements in the APC are all sellouts; they cannot tell the President the truth because they have sold out.
“In all that has been happening, has Tinubu said anything? Has any Yoruba APC person said anything?”
Meanwhile, the presidential candidate of the Alliance for New Nigeria in the 2019 elections, Mr Fela Durotoye, in a series of tweets on Friday said, “Nigeria does not need rulers; Nigeria needs leaders. And now the leaders must arise and speak up with one voice against this rulership system that uses the ‘security’ forces to oppress us and suppress our rights and the power of the judiciary in securing those rights.”
Also, a non-governmental organisation, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, condemned the actions of the DSS, while urging Nigerians to resist the move which it described as part of a well-coordinated plot to destroy democracy and constitutionalism.
“The desecration of the Temple of Justice is an affront on the principle of rule of law and a desecration of the Nigerian Constitution,” National coordinator of HURIWA, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said in a statement.
Also speaking, an activist and President, Centre for Change, Joe Okei-Odumakin, in a statement titled, ‘This is crossing the line’, described the development as brazen and barbaric.
She added, “The only way the government can attempt to prove it does not sanction this bestial conduct is to fish out those responsible for this barbaric conduct and ensure the rule of law is followed in the case of Sorowe.”
While also faulting the invasion of the court, a pro-democracy movement, Centre for Transparency Advocacy, in a statement by its Executive Director Faith Nwadishi, said, “The DSS must be cautioned now before it turns into a monster that may consume all of us.”
Celebrities fault DSS
Meanwhile, Nigerian entertainers also faulted the rearrest of Sowore by officials of the DSS.
Entertainer and politician, Banky Wellington, described the action of the security agency as “absolute disgrace” and urged President Buhari to “surprise” Nigerians by doing the “right thing.”
On his Twitter handle, @BankyW, on Friday, said, “This brings shame to our fragile democracy. This is an absolute disgrace to our country and a blatant abuse of human rights. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with Sowore’s political ambitions or not. This is a new low, even for us.”
On his part, celebrity singer, David Adeleke, aka Davido, while reacting to the development via his Twitter handle, @iam_Davido, said, “Justice slowing becoming a thing of the past and our country….a kid somewhere in Nigeria dreaming of becoming a lawyer and bettering the community would see this and start having doubts…just sad (sic).”