Concerns as activists plan fresh Free Sowore protests
Forty-seven days after the publisher of SaharaReporters, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, was whisked away from his hotel room in Lagos, right activists have finalised plans to begin another round of protests to press for his release by the Federal Government. Sowore, who is also the convener of #RevolutionNow protests, was forcibly taken by officials of the Department of State Services (DSS) on August 3, 2019, while mobilising Nigerians to protest what he termed bad governance and declining social welfare.
To legalise his seizure, the DSS had approached a Federal High Court in Abuja for an order to detain the online publisher-cum-politician for 45 days, which would, in the first instance, lapse on September 21, 2019. The DSS had originally applied for a 90-day detention order from the court, pleading that the time frame would enable it complete investigations into the treasonable activities of the suspect.
However, peeved by the antics of the secret police and encouraged by the position of some lawyers that the suspect committed no offense that warrants such punitive detention, Sowore’s supporters and other good governance and human rights activists staged a peaceful demonstration in Abuja, promising to continue such marches until their colleague gets justice.
One month after the initial protest, the activists are set to resume. Specifically, a two-day global protest will be held tomorrow, September 18 and 19, to demand for the release of the presidential candidate of Africa Action Congress (AAC) accused of calling for a revolution.
According to the organisers, the protests will take place across various states in Nigeria and at the country’s embassy in Germany, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands tomorrow, while another round would be staged at the United Nations General Assembly in New York and at the Nigerian Embassy in Canada on September 19. They threatened that if Sowore is not released, Nigerians in the diaspora, under the #TakeitBack movement, would create embarrassing spectacle for President Muhammadu Buhari during the 74th session of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA74) on September 24.
President Buhari is expected to speak at the 74th UNGA. And already, in an online flier ahead of the protests, the organisers assert: “Nigerians will not be silenced. We will show him for the tyrant that he is and call him out on the injustices meted out to Nigerians at home. We will not let him portray an image of wellbeing to the outside world when he operates a regime of oppression and military force on our people.”
The protest in Nigeria will be organised by Coalition for Revolution (CORE) in association with other civil society organisations. The group released modalities for the planned protests as follows, “All protesters should assemble at a venue/time decided by the local coordinating team. Modalities should be designed to have access to centres for open address and solidarity talks. Provisions should be made for distribution of leaflets and display of banners. Pre-arrangement should be made for media coverage. All conducts should be peaceful. For briefing and or other needs, coordinators are to link up with the national hub on assigned numbers”.
Already, the detained activist has filed a motion before the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking bail on self-recognition. In a motion filed last Friday by his lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, he maintained that his right to fair hearing, dignity of human person, liberty, health and freedom of movement are under threat and being violated.
The human right lawyer said by Section 28 (4) of the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act 2013, a person detained pursuant to Section 27 (1) can be admitted to bail by the court, adding that other Nigerians, who participated in the protests of August 5, 2019 in different states had been released on bail upon arraignment. He said his client had been detained since August 3 and had never been charged with any criminal offence.
Meanwhile, Nigerians have continued to urge the Federal Government to grant the journalist unconditional release. Action Democratic Party noted that it is the fundamental rights of all citizens to show their concern or agitation where necessary, urging the government to embrace constructive criticisms.
In a statement by the Lagos State Publicity Secretary of the party, Prince Adelaja Adeoye, organising a revolutionary protest does not amount to a plot to topple the government, quoting, “when former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government planned to remove fuel subsidy in 2012, majority of the people in government today took to the streets in protest, a protest that grounded the economy until the government rescind its decision to remove fuel subsidy”.
Adelaja lamented the spate of arrests citizens are facing from this government, citing how Steven Kefas was whisked to Kaduna from Port Harcourt by operatives over his Facebook post.
“Also, a prominent youth who is a member of the opposition, Abubakar Idris, popularly known as Dadiyata is missing till date,” he said. “His last place before he was abducted was in Kaduna State. ADP prevails on the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasiru el-Rrufai to set Kefas free and also help in the search for Dadiyata whose family members are in hard times due to the abduction of their child.
“In the same vein, a journalist, Agba Jalingo, was arrested in Cross Rivers State. We urge those who sent him to prison for doing his job to show humanity, and not allow him to die in detention as he was rushed to the hospital over his illness a few days ago. Another journalist, John Abiri, was also arrested and detained for doing his job. The government must bring an end to all this barbaric acts.
“Government should not be afraid of critics, because most of the citizens want good governance. In the absence of that, they will continue to agitate and demand for improved economy, welfare and things that will better their lives. Government must be able to take feedback from the people they are governing; they must not see their wailing as plot to sabotage or destroy their government. They should be in harmony with every citizen.
“It is our belief that if the government is working for the citizens and making the economy to improve, there won’t be any need to clamp down on the citizens. A working government will be too busy to be clamping down or arresting critics.”
Also, veteran journalist, Dele Momodu, said Buhari’s government was massaging terrorists while Sowore, who carried no weapon, had been held in detention for over a month.
In a post on Twitter, Momodu said, “My heart prays for Omoyele Sowore as I find it painful that a man who carried no weapon is in detention while those who terrorise others are being massaged like new born babies. Please, join me in pleading with the Federal Government to dialogue with Sowore like the others.”
Earlier, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and 45 other international and Nigerian human rights and press freedom organisations filed an appeal to the UN and African Union (AU) Special Mechanisms calling for their intervention in what they termed the arbitrary arrest and detention of the Nigerian journalist.
The 48 organisations which filed the appeal argued that Sowore’s treatment constitutes a violation of his right not to be arbitrarily detained, right to a fair trial, right to freedom of expression, right of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and his rights as a human rights defender. The organisations, assisted by Nani Jansen Reventlow from Doughty Street Chambers, charged the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the situation of human rights defenders, and African Commission Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and human rights defenders to intervene urgently to secure the immediate release of Sowore, and declare his arrest and continuing detention a gross violation of his human rights.
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