By Ikechukwu Nnochiri— Abuja
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Thursday, declined to revoke the bail it earlier granted to the convener of #RevolutionNow protest, Mr. Omoleye Sowore, and his co-Defendant, Olawole Bakare.
However, the court, in a ruling by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, awarded a punitive cost of N150,000 against Bakare owing to his failure to appear for the continuation of their trial.
The ruling followed an application that was made by counsel to the Federal Government, Mr. Aminu Alilu, who came from the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
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, and Bakare, are answering to an amended two-count treasonable felony charge.
The Defendants were alleged to have conspired to stage a revolution campaign on August 5, 2019, tagged “#Revolution Now”, aimed at removing President Muhammadu Buhari from office as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria during his term of office, otherwise than by constitutional means.
When the case was called up on Thursday, neither the Defendants nor their lawyer was present, a situation that forced the court to stand down the matter.
At 1 pm when the court reconvened, only the Prosecution counsel was present.
However, shortly after Alilu announced his appearance, Sowore’s lawyer, Marshal Abubakar, walked into the court.
Abubakar explained that he had assumed that the case would not proceed, in view of a letter his principal, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, wrote to the Deputy Chief Registrar of the court on January 29, asking for another hearing date.
He said the defence team would have made the application on January 25, a day the matter was originally slated but was unable to do so as the court did not sit owing to the death of a Judge of the court, Justice Ibrahim Watila.
“We sincerely apologise for the communication gap between the Registry and the defence counsel”, Sowore’s lawyer pleaded.
Abubakar was still addressing the court, when his client, Sowore, entered the courtroom.
In his response, the Prosecution counsel, Alilu, accused the Defendants of disrespecting the court through their conduct.
He recalled that the court had in the past, compelled FG to pay a cost of N200, 000 after the Defendants accused it of not prosecuting them diligently.
Besides, FG’s lawyer contended that the Defendants failed to give a cogent reason why they wanted the slated trial date to be vacated by the court and the case deferred until after Easter break.
Relying on Section 266 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, the Prosecution counsel said: “My lord needs to take a stance for them to know that this is not an institution that is at the mercy of the Defendants.
“We pray, and relying on section 184 of the ACJA, that the bail of the Defendants be revoked and their sureties invited to show cause why they should not forfeit their bail bonds”, Alilu added.
He equally urged the court to award cost against the Defendants, in favour of witnesses he said were present in court.
In her ruling, Justice Ojukwu berated the Defendants, stressing that they failed to adduce cogent reason why their trial should be stalled.
Ojukwu held that the letter which was written to the court by Funmi Falana, wife of Mr. Femi Falana, failed to state the reason why the date that was originally fixed for the trial, should be vacated.
“It does not lie in the mouth of counsel to give the court date or take over the official duties of the court on the grounds that his letter should suffice.
“There was no letter from the Chief Judge that the court should not sit on February 4 and 5, or which declared those dates as a public holiday.
“No reason was offered for the absence of the Defendants or counsel. Only that the matter should proceed on the date convenient for the Defendants.
“I find that unacceptable as a reason not to hear the matter today”, Justice Ojukwu added.
Though the court declined to revoke the bail that was earlier granted to the Defendants, it however ordered Bakare who was not present throughout the proceeding to pay the N150, 000 punitive cost.
The matter was subsequently adjourned to April 28 and 29 for the continuation of the hearing.
FG had on December 11, 2020, called its first witness, Mr. Rasheed Olawale, a Principal Staff Officer of the Department of State Service, DSS.