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Sowore’s re-arrest: Respect rule of law, US tells FG

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Presidency backs DSS, says no govt’ll condone open call for destabilisation
DSS operative apologised to Justice Ojukwu for invading court — Falana
Lawyers in Kaduna lambast DSS for invading court

By Ben Agande & Johnbosco Agbakwuru

Sowore, DSS, court

LAGOS — The US government has expressed concern over the re-arrest of convener of #RevolutionNow and publisher of online news platform, Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, and urged its Nigerian counterpart to respect the rule of law.

This came as the Presidency yesterday justified his arrest by the Department of State Service, DSS, saying no government would fold its arms and allow open call for destabilization by any individual or group.

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Sowore was re-arrested last Friday by DSS operatives who invaded the Federal High Court, Abuja, in a commando style.

In a tweet weekend, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Affairs, DRL, which is under the US Department of State, said it was deeply concerned that Sowore was rearrested.

Noting that respect for the rule of law, judicial Independence, political and media freedom and due process were the principles of democracy, the US Bureau said in the tweet:

“We are deeply concerned that Sowore has been re-detained in Nigeria, shortly after a court ordered he be released on bail.

“Respect for rule of law, judicial independence, political and media freedom, and due process are key tenets of democracy.”


DSS’ interest in Sowore not surprising — Presidency

But the Presidency in a statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, yesterday, said no government would allow anyone or group to openly call for destabilization, likening Sowore’s activities to Boko Haram’s which exploits had claimed thousands of lives and destroyed properties worth billions of Naira.

Shehu said it should not surprise anyone that Sowore had been of interest to the DSS because of his utterances and actions.

His statement, titled Sowore:  Between Facts and Fiction, read: “The Presidency notes some of the insinuations in the media about the arrest by the Department of State Services, DSS, of the agitator, Omoyele Sowore.

“The DSS does not necessarily need the permission of the Presidency in all cases to carry out its essential responsibilities that are laid down in the Nigerian Constitution — which was the foundation for the restoration of democracy in our country in 1999.

“However, it should not surprise anyone who has followed his actions and words that Sowore is a person of interest to the DSS.  Sowore called for a revolution to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nigeria.

“He did so on television, and from a privileged position as the owner of a widely read digital newspaper run from the United States of America.

“He founded an organisation, Revolution Now, to launch, in their own words, “Days of Rage”, with the publicised purpose of fomenting mass civil unrest and the elected administration’s overthrow.

“No government will allow anybody to openly call for destabilization in the country and do nothing.


‘Not an ordinary citizen’

Mr. Sowore is no ordinary citizen expressing his views freely on social media and the internet.

“He was a presidential candidate himself, who ran – and lost – as the flag bearer of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the February 23 general elections.

“Nigeria’s democracy was a long time in the making, and was achieved after decades of often harsh, military-led overthrows of government, the kind of situation Sowore was advocating.

“To believe in and desire armed revolution is not normal among ‘human rights activists’, as Sowore has been incorrectly described.  Again, it is no surprise that he should be a person of interest to the DSS.

“Nigeria is already dealing with an insurgency that has left millions of people displaced and desperate in the northeastern region of our country.

The Boko Haram militants, who are behind the violence, also fancy themselves to be fighting some sort of revolution.

Nigerians do not need another spate of lawlessness and loss of lives all in the name of ‘revolution’, especially not one that is orchestrated by a man who makes his home in far away New York – and who can easily disappear and leave behind whatever instability he intends to cause, to wit, Nnamdi Kanu.  This is a matter for the DSS, acting under its powers.”


DSS desecrated the court — Falana

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer and counsel to Sowore, Femi Falana, said yesterday that officials of the DSS were guilty of desecration of court.

He was responding to DSS’ denial that it didn’t attempt to arrest Sowore inside the court, alleging that his supporters only “stage-managed the drama” to bring the service to disrepute.

But responding last night, Falana said immediately the case was adjourned,  DSS operatives “pounced on Sowore and caused a disruption of the proceedings of the court.”

He said armed DSS operatives disguised in lawyer’s outfits were inside the courtroom, adding that Ijeoma Ojukwu, the presiding judge, summoned the head of the DSS team to her chambers and asked him to justify the invasion of the court after which he reportedly offered an apology before he was asked to withdraw his men from the courtroom.

Falana said:  “As soon as the case was adjourned, the DSS pounced on Sowore and caused a disruption of the proceedings of the court. Having taken over the courtroom with arms, Justice Ojukwu hurriedly rose and asked the Registrar to adjourn all other cases.

“After the learned trial judge had risen for the day, she summoned the heads of the prosecution and defence teams to her chambers.

“When the lead prosecutor, Dr. Liman Hassan, SAN, denied knowledge of the invasion of her court, she directed him to invite the head of the DSS team in the court. When challenged to justify the invasion of the court, the officer could not.


‘DSS man apologized to judge for invasion’

“He apologised to Justice Ojukwu on behalf of the DSS. The judge then directed the officer to withdraw the DSS operatives from the courtroom. The directive was complied with as the operatives withdrew from the courtroom but rushed out to join their colleagues who had taken over the entire court house.

“Though, ordinarily, officers of the Service do not wear any uniform, on the 6th day of December, some of them were in mufti, many were not only armed but also masked, while others disguised in lawyer’s black and white suit.

“Regardless of the form of appearance, the officers of the Service inside Court No.7 were identifiable by their roles and acts of seizing Sowore and pinning him down.”

Falana said the DSS could not provide a warrant of arrest for Sowore, insisting that the re-arrest of his client was illegal.

“Before submitting himself for arrest, Sowore had rightly demanded a warrant of arrest and detention order but the DSS operatives were unable to produce either.

“In rationalizing the re-arrest of Sowore, which is denied in the same press statement, the Service alleged that Sowore held meetings with some people. Assuming without conceding that Sowore held meetings with some people in Transcorp Hotel as alleged by the DSS, why did the prosecution not inform the trial court that the defendant had breached his bail condition?” Falana queried.

He called on the DSS to release Sowore and other political detainees, pending the verdict of the court in their trial.


Kaduna lawyers flay DSS

Also yesterday, lawyers in Kaduna State took umbrage at the DSS for invading the  Federal High Court, Abuja, in the bid of its operatives to rearrest Sowore, saying the action of the secret police was not only condemnable but also portended great danger for the country’s democracy.

In an interview with Vanguard in Kaduna, former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Barnawa branch, Napoleon Idenala; Vice Chairman of Kaduna State branch of NBA, Mike Nwakanma, and another prominent Abuja-based lawyer, Soji Olowolafe, said there was no justification for the actions of the DSS.

Napoleon Idenala, who was the immediate past chairman of the NBA, Barnawa branch, said in his reaction: “The action of operatives of the DSS in using aggravated and unwarranted force to arrest Sowore is sad, unfortunate and an utter insult to the sanctity of our judicial system and it is utterly alarming that it happened in the court!

“I am afraid that it portends a total erosion of the respect, powers and influence of our Judiciary as enshrined in the Constitution, with regards to separation of powers of the three arms of government.

“We are not at this point talking about the allegations against Sowore which is already before the court but the sad actions of the operatives of the DSS.”

In his reaction, the vice chairman of the NBA, Kaduna main branch, Mike Nwakanma, said the action of the DSS was  illegal and condemnable.

“Democracy in legal parlance simply means due process and obedience to the   rule of law. It is evident that what we have witnessed as a people and a nation over the past five years of demoncracy is unprecedent impunity; disobedience and selective obedience of court orders and judgements; lack of respect for the rule of law; invitation to anarchy; denigration and desecration of the judiciary in Nigeria by the executive arm of government at different levels.

“Section 43(2) of d Administration of Criminal Justice Law ( ACJA) 2015; forbids law enforcement agents from effecting arrest of any person in the court room or within the court promises. There is nothing esoteric about the above section,” he said.

On his part, Soji Olowolafe said the action of the DSS was condemnable’ as it posed a threat to the nation’s democracy.

“It is the highest level of the desecration of any hallowed chamber of justice anywhere you can ever find. It portends serious danger to our democracy.

“In any democracy where the executive can ride roughshod over the judiciary in that manner, such democracy is in name only. It is absolute autocracy,” he said.

Reacting yesterday to the DSS’ invasion of court to re-arrest Sowore, human rights lawyer, Ebun Adegoruwa, SAN, while commending the Nigerian bar Association, NBA, for its prompt response to the issue, said the bar should hold accountable any of its members in government involved in breach of rule of law.

Adegboruwa in a statement issued last night also suggested:  ‘’A meeting with the CJN and AGF to consult on possible steps to be taken to protect judges and the courts from further invasion.

‘’As it was happening in Abuja, so also was it happening in the Federal High Court in Lagos, where it was reported that members of the Lagos State Environmental Task Force stormed the court and even stabbed an officer of the court.

‘’The purpose of this meeting is to secure the courts with a functional police post as is done in the National Assembly and even houses of assembly of the states, to ensure that the DSS is made to account for the events of December 6, 2019; to also meet with the leadership of the National Assembly, the Committees on Judiciary and Human Rights and Law Enforcement with a view to getting the DSS to be brought to book.

‘’To demand the immediate disengagement of the present leadership of the DSS and all its officers involved in the invasion; to meet with the AG of Lagos State to unravel the invasion of Lagos court and bring those involved to book; and to visit CJ of Federal High Court and Hon Justice Ojukwu for solidarity and consultations.

‘’Henceforth, let the Bar get its members who are involved in any government to be held accountable for any breach of the rule of law by the government and its officers and agencies.

‘’In any state where there is glaring disobedience of the order of court or brazen infraction of the Constitution, the AG of that State should be referred to the LPDC and if he’s an SAN, also to the LPPC.

‘’The same should happen to the AGF when it involves the federal government and its agencies.  Then the counsel involved in such cases for the government should be held accountable by the NBA and the Bar generally and be suspended forthwith.

‘’Unless we act swiftly and urgently now, there seems to be more ahead, in the coming day.”


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