Some senior lawyers have condemned the court’s order, which permitted the Department of State Services (DSS) to keep the Convener of RevolutionNow, Omoyele Sowore, in custody for 45 days.
Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, noted that the court-ordered detention of Sowore is bad news for genuine democracy and human rights.
He argued that there was no urgency attached to the case to warrant the court’s decision.
He said: “The court could 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 criminalise treason envision a dire situation where an intention to overthrow a government, or overcame the president or governor of a state (called “mens rea”) is accompanied by overt acts (called “actus reus”), such as stockpiling and possession of arms and ammunition to physically carry out an insurrection, coup de’tat, or to use Sowore and his group’s terminology, ‘RevolutionNow’.
“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 have carefully itemized their grievances in writing?
“Do these 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 Muhammadu 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?
“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 fundantametal rights, political choices, plurality of voices, dissenting opinions and independence of the judiciary.”
In his own submissions, another member of the inner Bar, Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, said the court’s decision runs foul of the spirit of the constitution.
His words: “The court has powers to do it, but I think the power that has been exercised by the court is not in line with the spirit of the constitution which guarantees citizens’ right to liberty. This is a wrong exercise of judicial discretion.
“I think the court should have ordinarily allowed Sowore out on bail and the Department of State Services (DSS) can continue with whatever investigation it wants to do. Conditions can be attached to the bail, which will for instance, forbids the man from engaging in any protest and things like that.
“It’s like the DSS want to perpetually keep the man in their custody with its action and the court should not be part and parcel of that. I think if Sowore’s lawyer is not happy with what has happened, an appeal can be lodged against the court’s decision.”
On his part, Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN), faulted the approach adopted by the DSS to secure the order.
He said: “By the time you are detaining somebody beyond the constitutionally allowed period, it must not be through an ex-parte application.
“The man ought to have been represented in court, so that he would see what evidence is being presented by the DSS to back up its request. The action of the DSS amounts to an infringement on Sowore’s constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom.
“To me, a judge also has discretion in a matter like this to ask the DSS to present whatever evidence it has against Sowore to justify the request to keep him custody for certain number of days.”
A former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, said it is wrong for the DSS to seek Sowore’s continuous detention, when it has not provided any evidence to sustain the allegations against him.
His words: “Sowore’s lawyer should bring an application to set aside the detention order. The constitution only allows maximum of 48 hours to keep anyone in detention.
“The proper thing to do by any law enforcement agency with anyone accused of committing any crime is to ensure that it finishes with investigation before clamping the accused person into detention.
“Detention is the final aspect of investigation which we see in other climes but here somebody will first be arrested before we begin to look for evidence. I don’t think that should be allowed.
“If the DSS is saying the man has committed treasonable felony, evidence of such offence must be placed before the court. It is wrong to ask court to put someone in detention while you are still looking for evidence to prove your case against him.
“I don’t know what evidence has been provided by the DSS before the court granted its request to detain the man beyond the time permitted by law.”
Another lawyer and a former chairman of the Public Interest Lawyers League, Dr. Abdul Mahmud, described the ruling as a clear case of the government, through the DSS, fishing for the law to fit its fictional crime.
He said: “Recall that the government through the IGP had claimed that Sowore attempted a regime change by calling for the days of rage protests that it termed a revolution.
“There’s nothing in sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 that make the 5th August protests terrorist acts. Absolutely nothing!
“The 5th August protests passed off without the breakdown of law anywhere in the country. Dictatorship is here; Nigerians must fashion ways of dealing with it as they dealt with IBB and Abacha’s dictatorship.