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Timelines for Sowore’s legal battles with DSS

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In the run-up to the presidential election in 2015 and faced with questions as to his suitability as a leader in a democratic dispensation given his antecedents as a draconian military dictator, President Muhammadu Buhari had told the world that he was a born-again democrat. He swayed Nigerians with his ‘reformed character, who respects civil liberties and rights’ gospel.’ Under his watch, however, that perhaps could best be taken as mere talk by a man desperate for office, as not many occurrences have been in tandem with it.

When the convener of #RevolutionNow protests, Omoyele Sowore, was arrested by agents of the Department of State Services (DSS) sometime in August for mobilising Nigerians across various platforms in readiness for protests against what he termed ‘bad governance,’ it was the beginning of a needless melodrama in a democratic milieu.

A spokesperson for the DSS, Peter Afunanya, told the nation the day after his arrest that Sowore was taken into custody because he called for a revolution in the country. And while he could not confirm any credible intelligence about Sowore’s ‘plans’ to execute a takeover, he stressed that the agency knew that Sowore had been in touch with foreign actors to destabilise Nigeria.

The Nigeria Police Force also accused Sowore, in company with the Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria, of trying to force a regime change. The police said inciting Nigerians, home and abroad, to join the planned ‘revolution’ march against the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria amounted to treasonable felony and acts of terrorism.

The constitution of Nigeria provides that anybody who is arrested by the police shall be taken to court within 24 or 48 hours. But from day one, the government of the day, through its agents, disregarded and flouted all known laws and orders with respect to Sowore’s incarceration.

Only recently, renowned lawyer, Femi Falana disclosed that he has compiled a list containing 32 court orders that have been disobeyed by the government, noting that it was not the responsibility of a president or even an attorney-general to handpick which court order to obey. While stating that such conduct was not in line with the rule of law, which the democratically elected government swore to uphold, he sounded a warning that such disposition was capable of reducing the country to a banana republic.

Amid widespread calls for Sowore’s release, the state stuck to its guns, ensuring that protests did not see the light of day. Where attempts were made, dissidents were muzzled in a show of force. The Buhari-led government simply ensured that those Nigerians were denied their right, as enshrined in the constitution, to peacefully gather and express their opinion, be it for or against the state.

It would be recalled that the Buhari administration had extended the ambit of the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act to cover individuals and organisations that are critical of official policies or perceived marginalisation within the country. That act set the tone for the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist body in 2017 for agitating for the excision of the Republic of Biafra from Nigeria. It was also the premise for the proscription of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) for organising rallies to compel the FG to comply with a court order to release their leader, Sheikh Ibraheem Elzakzaky and his wife from custody. 

The Sowore debacle and government’s handling of the situation reminded Nigerians of the military days, just as opinions were rife that similitudes predate Nigeria’s independence. There were re-assertions of government’s intolerance to criticisms with many describing the development as a descent to authoritarianism.

Falana recalled that in 2011, Buhari, who is seemingly afraid of a revolution-focused protest now, publicly recommended Egyptian-style revolution for Nigeria. He wondered why a government being run by APC would now be intolerant of Nigerians protesting against insecurity and poor governance.

“You cannot clampdown on people and it is important for you to recognise our rights as yours was recognised. There can be no justification for what the government is doing now. I also think that the government has not been exposed to sound legal advice before embarking on clampdown on protesters,” Falana said.

On his part, Prof. Wole Soyinka stressed that government institutions must respect the right of Nigerians who wish to deploy demonstrative means to question its policies and programmes, decrying the recent attempt by security operatives to stop a pro-democracy gathering in Lagos as a display of intolerance by the Buhari government.

The Executive Secretary, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Ezike Ibuchukwu, said that all over the world, citizens could protest the activities of government that they believe are not in tandem with respect for their human rights or which offend their personal beliefs. He expressed dismay that on several occasions when Nigerians have protested the activities of this government, they were arrested, adding, “When the court directed that some of those persons be released, this government refused to honour the court’s pronouncements and have remained recalcitrant.”

AUGUST 8: In a ruling at the Federal High Court in Abuja, the court allowed the Department of State Services (DSS) to hold the political activist and publisher, Omoyele Sowore in custody for 45 days, without pressing any charges. The court’s ruling was on an ex-parte application made by the DSS, whose heavily armed agents abducted Sowore from his hotel room in the early hours of Saturday, August 3. The abduction happened ahead of a series of mass demonstrations and protests called for by Sowore and others.

SEPTEMBER 24: Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja orders the release of Omoyele Sowore from the custody of the Department of State Service immediately. The judge said the activist should be released to his lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, who is to produce him for arraignment whenever he is required. The judge, however, said since charges had already been filed against the activist, he must deposit his passport and other travel documents to guarantee his availability for trial.

OCTOBER 21: Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court in Abuja orders the immediate release of Sowore from prison. DSS flouts order.

DECEMBER 4: Sowore released based on Court orders but was rearrested on December 5 by armed DSS operatives. The judge fled the courtroom for her own safety.

DECEMBER 23: Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, recused himself from the fundamental rights suit filed by Sowore. He made the decision during the hearing of the fundamental rights suit filed by the detained activist.


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