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Ezekwesili, SERAP protest as court grants Sowore N100m bail

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja, Anietie Akpan, Calabar and Bertram Nwannekanma, Lagos
05 October 2019   |   3:50 am
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court, yesterday, admitted the detained convener of #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore, to bail in the sum of N100million.

[FILES] Convener of “#Revolution Now” Omoyele Sowore speaks during his arraignment for charges against the government at the Federal High Court in Abuja, on September 30, 2019. – Nigeria’s high court ordered on September 30, 2019, a former presidential candidate remanded in custody after he was charged with plotting treason over calls for a “revolution” in the West African nation.†Omoyele Sowore, a fierce critic of President Muhammadu Buhari, has been held since August by the Department of State Services (DSS) secret police after urging protests under the online banner “#RevolutionNow”. (Photo by KOLA SULAIMON / AFP)

Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court, yesterday, admitted the detained convener of #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore, to bail in the sum of N100million.

Also granted bail was Sowore’s co-defendant, Olawale Adebayo Bakare, who is equally facing alleged treasonable felony charges among others in the sum of N50 million.

In Calabar, the Cross River State capital, the Federal High Court sitting in Calabar and presided over by Justice Simon Amobeda has denied the Publisher of CrossRiverWatch online publications, Mr. Agba Jalingo, bail.

Jalingo is facing charges of treasonable felony, terrorism and attempts to topple the Cross River State Government.

Justice Ojukwu, while granting the defendants bail in a ruling, held that the offences they were charged with were bailable.

Part of the bail conditions includes that Sowore should produce two sureties in like sum, who must be resident in Abuja, and show evidence of tax payment for three years from 2014 to 2016.

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The court also requested that the two sureties must have landed properties worth N100million each and must deposit original copies of the property title with the court.

Sowore was also barred from travelling out of Abuja throughout the trial.

Bakare, on his part, was asked to produce one surety in the sum of N50million and also show evidence of tax payment within the same three years period.

The court, in addition, ordered the defendants not to participate in any form of protest, pending the determination of the suit.

They are also expected not to travel outside the country without the permission of the court.

Justice Ojukwu equally ordered that the defendants be remanded in custody of the Department of State Service (DSS), pending the perfection of their bail.

The matter was thereafter adjourned until November 6, 7, and 8 for the commencement of trial. Reacting to the ruling, Falana described the bail conditions of his client as “stringent.”

A former minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, expressed concern over the bail conditions.

In a tweet yesterday, Mrs. Ezekwesili said she hoped that the DSS would honour the bail if the conditions are met, accusing the Presidency of repression.

“Hopefully, the DSS under the supervision of the Presidency will honour this bail and release them.

“What kind of bail of N150m is this? Is the idea to place a steep condition that @YeleSowore cannot meet? What a shame @NGRPresident. What a BIG shame to repress your citizen.”

Also, the Lagos-based rights group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), welcomed the development, urging the government to immediately obey the order and release them.

The group, however, expressed disappointment that the court barred Sowore and Bakare from travelling out of Abuja and Osogbo, respectively.

SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, in a statement, stressed that the bail conditions were excessively high and harsh and inconsistent with the defendants’ right to presumption of innocence and freedom of movement.

The group, however, urged the defendants’ lawyers to apply to the court to vary the bail conditions once Sowore and Bakare are released.

Earlier, in arguing the bail application, Counsel to the defendants, Femi Falana (SAN), urged the court to admit them to bail on the grounds that they are entitled to bail and do not have any criminal record.

Falana submitted that the claim by the respondent that the defendant would jump bail, being a resident of the United States (US), is not tenable, stressing that the first defendant was a candidate in the February 23 presidential election.

On the first charge of treasonable felony, Falana argued that the word, “Revolution,” has never been criminalised, adding that Buhari, after losing the election in 2003, called for a revolution and was never arrested by the government of the day.

On count two, which accused Sowore of insulting the President, Falana said the law does not allow a public officer to use the machinery of state to “settle scores,” stressing that if the President feels insulted, the legal option before him was to sue for libel or defamation.

Reacting to the case of Asari Dokubo cited by the respondent in opposition to the bail application, Falana claimed that Dokubo was denied bail by the Supreme Court based on his confessional statement and not because of the severity of the charge against him.

He submitted that nowhere in Sowore’s statement was he associated with violence, assuring the court that if granted bail, the defendants would not interfere with evidence or witnesses of the prosecution.

He cited several cases where persons accused of a treasonable felony were granted bail, even on self-recognizance, urging the court to do the same for his clients or at most, admit them to bail on liberal terms.

While stressing that the case of Nnamdi Kanu, who jumped bail last year, was quite different from that of his client, Falana submitted that the respondent knows Kanu’s whereabouts and can easily extradite him if it wants to.

In his opposition to the bail application, Counsel to the prosecution, Hassan Liman (SAN), urged the court to disregard the submissions of the defendants because they touched on the substance of the case.

He stated that the charges against the defendants are severe, carrying life sentences if convicted; hence the high risk of the defendants jumping their bail if granted.

While citing the case of Kanu who absconded from his trial after a Federal High Court granted him bail, the prosecution submitted that the first defendant (Sowore) is a flight risk, being a resident of the US.

Liman said another reason the court should not release the defendants on bail is the possibility of the defendants repeating the act, adding that Sowore had on September 30, this year, after the court’s proceedings, was shouting ‘Revolution now.’

In urging the court not to admit the defendants to bail, he said the respondents have concluded investigation and are ready for an accelerated hearing of the suit.

The federal government had on September 30, arraigned Sowore and Bakare on a seven-count criminal charge bordering on treasonable felony, insulting President Muhammadu Buhari, money laundering, amongst others.

Justice Amobeda also dismissed the preliminary objection of the defence Counsel, saying one of the charges was punishable by death and the defendant did not prove special and exceptional circumstances to compel him to apply his discretion and grant Jalingo bail.

In the alternative of granting bail, the court ordered the accelerated hearing of the case, which was adjourned until October 16, this year.

In his reaction to the ruling, Prosecution Counsel, Dennis Tarhemba, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), said it was according to the law, adding: “Who am I to question the rule of law in this country.”

But Counsel to Jalingo, Mr. Attah Ochinke, told journalists that the court, in the exercise of its discretion, decided that enough reason was not given for Jalingo to be granted bail yesterday, basically on the basis that sufficient information on his medical health was not presented.

Ochinke said the conditionality for the bail for the charges preferred against Jalingo was a little bit “strenuous than ordinary offenses,” adding: “We still have remedies, which we will revert to, to represent the application before the court.”

He expressed worry over Jalingo’s health during the course of the trial, saying: “His health condition is still a very big concern because even while in custody, he collapsed and the Police themselves were forced to rush him to the hospital for his revival.”

Jalingo has remained incarcerated for about 42 days since his arrest on August 22, this year.

The word, ‘Revolution,’ has never been criminalises, adding that Buhari, after losing the election in 2003, called for a revolution and was never arrested by the government of the day, said Falana.