*Kick over ‘stringent’ bail terms
*Court bars them from participating in any form of protest
*Why we want defendants in detention, FG
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
Four days after they were arraigned and remanded in custody, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Friday, granted bail to detained activist and convener of the RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare (aka Mandate).
Whereas the court, in a ruling by trial Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, gave Sowore who was the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the last general election, bail to the tune of N100million with two sureties in like sum, the 2nd defendant, was granted N50m bail with one surety in like sum.
The court stressed that all the sureties must be resident within the Federal Capital Territory and must own landed properties in Abuja that are worth the total bail sum.
It further directed the sureties to submit the original title deeds of the properties, as well as, their three years tax clearance certificate for verification.
More so, trial Justice Ojukwu ordered the 1st defendant, Sowore, to deposit the sum of N50m in the account of the court as security that he would be available to face his trial, even as it barred him and his co-defendant from participating in any form of protest, pending the determination of the seven-count charge the Federal Government preferred against them.
The Judge equally ordered Sowore to surrender his international passport to the Deputy Chief Registrar of the court.
While Sowore was warned not to travel outside the country without permission, Bakare was asked not to travel outside Osogbo in Osun State, until the conclusion of the trial.
The court held that the defendants should remain in custody of the Department of State Service, DSS, pending when they are able to perfect the bail conditions.
It adjourned the case till November 6, 7 and 8 for commencement of trial.
Meanwhile, the defendants, immediately the ruling was delivered, expressed their displeasure with the conditions they described as “very stringent”.
Counsel to the defendants, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, told newsmen that he would re-approach the court to vary the conditions in the event that his clients were unable to meet them.
The court had dismissed a counter-affidavit that FG filed to oppose the release of the defendants on bail.
FG had before the court gave its ruling, adduced reasons it wanted Sowore and his co-defendant to remain in custody pending the determination of the charge of treasonable felony against them.
In a 27-paragraphs counter-affidavit it filed before the court, FG insisted that Sowore, who has been in detention since August 2 when he was arrested by operatives of the DSS, posed “a threat to national security”.
Arguing through its team of lawyers led by Mr. Hassan Liman, SAN, the government expressed fears that the 1st defendant would call for another revolution once he is freed from custody, saying there was “likelihood of the defendant committing the same offence again”.
Besides, the prosecution urged the court to consider the severity of the allegation against the detained activist, contending that he posed flight risk, having realised that the charge contained a capital offence that would attract a life imprisonment upon his conviction.
Relying on a Supreme Court decision in Asari Dokubo Vs FRN, which it said also involved treasonable felony charge, the prosecution, argued that Sowore deserved to be denied bail, saying he had on the day he was arraigned, kept chanting and calling for a revolution while he was being led out of the court.
“This is a clear indication that once released on bail, he will go out there and engage in acts that will amount to threat to national security”, Liman added.
Consequently, FG urged the court to deny Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Adebayo Bakare (aka Mandate) bail, and order their accelerated trial.
“Investigation has been concluded and we are willing and ready for accelerated hearing, if possible, on a day-to-day basis so that the 1st defendant can return to the USA”, the prosecution added.
However, Sowore’s lead counsel, Mr. Falana, SAN, argued that FG failed to give any cogent reason why he should not be released on bail pending his trial.
He argued that since he is presumed innocent by virtue of section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, the onus was on FG to establish why he should remain in detention.
Falana contended that despite its allegation that Sowore planned to overthrow the government of Nigeria by staging a protest tagged RevolutionNow, FG, failed to adduce any evidence to substantiate the charge.
He told the court that current leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, including President Muhammadu Buhari, had in 2011, called for the kind of revolution that took place in Egypt, which he said was violent.
He noted that in the instant case, Sowore had specifically warned his followers not to engage in any form of violence but to protest peacefully.
“We submit that the use of the word Revolution is not a criminal offence in Nigeria and it has never been criminalized. Hence, President Buhari called for a revolution and was never arrested or prosecuted”.
He noted that the only time some youths were arrested for using the term “Revolution” was in 1948 under the colonial era, adding however that they were not charged with treason but with sedition.
On count-two of the charge that bordered on allegation that Sowore insulted President Buhari, Falana, argued that under the law, no public office is allowed to use the machinery of the state to settle scores with his opponent.
“If the President feels offended by any statement made by the 1st defendant, the only option open to him is to sue for libel.
“In Nigeria today the right to protest has been guaranteed and recognised by the Constitution”.
Falana told the court that Buhari had in 2003 after he lost election under the defunct ANPP and decided to stage protest all over the country and was stopped by police, briefed him to go to court to challenge the action.
He said the Court of Appeal, in its judgement in 2008, upheld the right of Nigerians to protest against the government without firstly securing a police permit.
He further argued that allegation of money laundering in the charge was not enough to deny the defendants bail, “when those that stole billions have all been granted bail”.
He contended that whereas Dokubo admitted in a statement that he was involved in the blowing up of pipelines in the Niger Delta, Sowore never admitted that he committed any offence in the statement he offered at the DSS.
Falana therefore urged the court to grant Sowore bail on self recognizance or on very liberal terms, describing him as “a political leader”.
He drew attention of the court to the fact that Sowore was earlier granted bail on the condition that he should deposit his international passport with the Registrar of the court.
Meanwhile, in her ruling, Justice Ojukwu held that the charge contained bailable offences, even as she upheld Falana’s arguments.
The Judge said she was minded to exercise her judicial discretion in favour of the defendants.
Sowore, who is the publisher of an online media platform, Sahara Reporters, was arrested after he called for a nationwide protest against perceived maladministration by the President Buhari-led government.
Despite his arrest, the protest held in various parts of the country on August 5, with security operatives clamping down on some of the participants.
The defendants were in the charge marked FHC/ ABJ/CR/235/2019, accused of conspiracy, money laundering, cyber-stalking and insulting President Buhari.