By Rotimi Fasan

This is the third straight week this column will be commenting on the arrest (properly speaking, abduction) and detention of Omoyele Sowore, the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the February 2019 election, publisher of Sahara Reporters and convener of the #Revolution Now protest.

Sowore, court
Omoyele Sowore

This is for reasons that call into question actions of the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration that amount to disrespect of the rule of law.

For calling for protests against the All Progressives Congress-led government of Buhari, Sowore was arrested by agents of the Department of State Service in his hotel room in Lagos on the eve of the morning the protests were to begin.

He was thereafter transferred to Abuja while the DSS sought court orders to hold him in detention. Even without evidence, the DSS was able to file an ex-parte motion before an Abuja High Court seeking to detain him on a treasonable but nebulous charge of attempt to overthrow a constitutional government. He was charged essentially on the basis of his words and nothing more. But the   State through the DSS was able to convince the trial judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, and secured a renewable order to detain the accused for 45 days.

The DSS failed to seek an extension of this order that was, from the get-go, in the opinion of many Nigerians a violation of the right of a Nigerian to free expression and individual liberty. Convinced there was no reason for the continued detention of Sowore after the expiry of the 45 days order and in the absence of any request for an extension of the original order by the DSS, Justice Taiwo ordered the release of Sowore.

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As I write this in the evening of September 29, 2019, almost a week since his detention order was revoked, Sowore is yet to be released for reasons that keep changing but all of which point to the bad faith and duplicity of the DSS and the government it works for. Initially the DSS claimed it was yet to receive a copy of the document ordering the release of Sowore. On another occasion, it accused Sowore’s lawyer, Femi Falana, of failing to take the steps required for the release of his client by not filing for his release. At yet another time, the DSS claimed it was “consulting” (God-knows-who) before it would comply with a legitimate court order.

At the material time of this “consultation” activities, President Buhari was out of the country, attending the United Nation’s General Assembly in New York and speculations were rife that the DSS did not want to offend the powers that-be by going ahead with the release of Sowore without appropriate clearance- perhaps from the President or his surrogates?How would it look, perhaps, if Buhari or his handlers return to discover that Sowore has been released? How would this sound? This, it was apparent, was the reason for the “consultation”.

There are now side talks that Justice Taiwo might have incurred the wrath of the Buhari administration for making the order for the release of Sowore who could be arraigned for another set of charges soon. The DSS apparently knows more about the law and the Nigerian Constitution than Justice Taiwo or the learned justice would know what is trite knowledge to any aspiring student of law: a treasonable offence or treason is not bailable.

This government wants to be both complainant and adjudicator in its own case. It does not matter to the DSS that the initial order for the detention of Sowore was made by Justice Taiwo, however deviously it was secured. For as long as that order favoured Abuja it was fine and had to be implemented.

But now that a succeeding order does not favour it, it must be the product of a misreading or wrong interpretation of the law and should not be complied with. This action of the DSS feeds into existing narratives about the readiness of the Buhari administration to ignore legitimate court orders, especially where they concern the release of real or perceived opponents of the administration.

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It cherry-picks which court orders are deserving of compliance and which should be ignored. A notorious case in point is that of erstwhile National Security Adviser of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Sambo Dasuki, who has been held in detention in flagrant disobedience of court orders for about four years. Sheik Ibrahim El Zakzaky, leader of the now outlawed Islamic Movement of Nigeria (the Shiite Movement) is another example of the penchant of the Buhari government to disdain court orders that do not go its way.

Yet this same government continues to boast of its respect for the rule of law while mouthing claims of integrity in its anti-corruption campaign. What could be more corrupt than the violation of a citizen’s human and civil rights? The judiciary as well as the legislature in spite of loud protestations to the contrary are being reduced to mere rubber stamps and appendages of the executive. Justice Tanko Muhammed, the CJN, may wish to recall his own words at the commencement of the new legal year about the position of the judiciary alongside the executive.

A couple of weeks ago, Speaker of the House of Representative, Femi Gbajabiamila, was like a school boy ventilating about reporting military chiefs that had ignored the House invitation to discuss the state of insecurity in the country to the president. Apparently, after he reported them to their “father” they honoured his invitation.   The same military have been taking the law into their own hands by shutting down NGOs that are perceived as not toeing the path dictated by the military in the North-East in their unending so-called fight against insurgency. The country belongs to us all and there is just no justification in a few individuals or groups ascribing patriotism to themselves because of their position in government while demonising others.

Some people may argue that the President has no hand in all of this, but he does not have to be directly implicated or comment for Nigerians to know that those that have committed themselves to serial violations of the law have and are doing so for his and the benefit of his administration. He does not need to talk. His (in)famous body language is enough for his attack dogs to read and act accordingly. Otherwise, a clear word from him would be enough for members of his base, including law enforcement agents, to know that he does not support their disregard of the country’s law. But President Buhari has chosen to see and speak no evil and so he turns a blind eye to all the abominations being committed in his name.


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