Following a 24-hour ultimatum that was handed to it by the Federal High Court in Abuja, the Department of State Service, DSS, on Thursday evening, released pro-democracy activist and convener of the RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore, from detention.
Sowore, who was the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the last general election and publisher of an online news outlet, Sahara Reporters, was detained since August 2 when he was arrested for calling for a nationwide protest against perceived maladministration by the President Muhammadu Buhari led government.
A member of his legal team confirmed to Vanguard last night that Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare (aka Mandate), regained their freedom yesterday evening.
The duo are answering to a seven-count treasonable felony charge the Federal Government preferred against them.
Vanguard learned that Sowore was released to his lead counsel, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, by the DSS around 7:15pm last.
Confirming the development, a civil society activist and convener of #ConcernedNigerians movement, Deji Adeyanju, in series of social media messages, thanked Nigerians for protesting against Sowore’s detention.
“To God alone be the glory forever. Thank you, everyone, for lending your voice to this. You will never be a victim of oppression & injustice”, Adeyanju wrote.
The trial court had when the defendants were brought for trial yesterday, ordered DSS to release them within 24 hours.
Trial Justice Ojukwu expressed her anger over the continued detention of the defendants in disobedience to an express order of the court that they should be released on bail pending the determination of the charge against them.
Consequently, she awarded a cost of N100, 000 against the DSS, stressing that prosecution of the defendants would not proceed until the fine was paid.
The court fixed today to resume hearing on the seven-count treasonable felony charge against the defendants.
Counsel to the defendants, Mr. Falana, SAN, had complained to the court that DSS spurned the bail warrant it issued for his clients to be released on bail, even as he decried that the prosecution refused to comply with an order that directed it to furnish the defendants with some documents that will be used against them in the course of the trial.
Falana told the court that he was only served with some of the documents on Thursday would, therefore, need time to study them.
Aside praying the court to order the prosecution to serve him with full statements of all its listed witnesses instead of summary of their statements, Falana further complained that he found it difficult to have access to his clients at the DSS detention facility.
Irked by the development, Justice Ojukwu wondered why the security agency would deliberately refuse to obey a legitimate order of court.
The trial Judge demanded to know if the DSS had constituted itself to a parallel court by refusing to release the defendants after they perfected their bail conditions.
Responding, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Hassan Liman, SAN, admitted that though the bail warrant was served on the prosecution, he said the defendants were yet to be released because the DSS asked their sureties to come for identification.
Not satisfied with the response, Justice Ojukwu asked the prosecution counsel whether such request by the DSS was part of the order of the court.
“Is that part of the order? Is there a parallel court here? Who is directing that? Is there another court elsewhere?” Justice Ojukwu queried.
The judge said she was disappointed that DSS could flout her orders after she took time to ensure that all the bail conditions were fulfilled.
In a short ruling, she ordered that the defendants should be released within the next 24 hours and adjourned till Friday for report of compliance.
On request by counsel to the defendants for an adjournment to enable him study some documents and videos that were tendered in evidence before the court, Justice Ojukwu said she was inclined to award cost against the prosecution since its failure to comply with its initial order occasioned the application for the trial to be adjourned.
The development came on a day a group of women stormed the court to protest the continued detention of the defendants by the DSS.
The placard wielding elderly women took the protest a notch higher by removing their clothes after they were denied entry into the court premises by security operatives.
They lamented that Sowore was their benefactor, with some of them claiming that he gave scholarship to their children that are attending various schools in Ondo state.
The defendants were in the charge marked FHC/ ABJ/CR/235/2019, accused of conspiracy, money laundering, cyber-stalking and insulting President Buhari.
Though the defendants were initially granted bail on October 4, trial Justice Ojukwu, in a ruling on October 21, varied some of the conditions it gave for the release of the defendants on bail.
However, though the defendants had since perfected their bail conditions, the DSS declined to release them on the premise that no surety came forward to receive them.
Aside initiating contempt of court proceeding against the Director-General of the DSS, Yusuf Bichi, the defendants also filed a N1billion suit against him and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, alleging gross violation of their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights.
In separate fundamental rights enforcement suits, the defendants maintained that they are entitled to general and aggravated damages of N500million each as a result of violations of their rights to personal liberty, the dignity of person, fair hearing, family life, freedom of association and freedom of movement.
They further prayed the court to compel the two respondents to issue a public apology to them that will be published in five national dailies.
DSS had in a fresh application it brought before the court, sought leave to transfer the defendants to a correctional facility, an application they opposed.