The Federal Government and the judiciary came under attack on Thursday as a Federal High Court in Abuja granted the Department of State Services permission to detain the publisher of SaharaReporters and convener of the #RevolutionNow protests, Omoyele Sowore, for 45 days.
Operatives of the DSS, had on Saturday, arrested Sowore over his call for revolution ahead of the #RevolutionNow protests which held in some parts of the country on Monday.
Ruling on an ex parte application by the security agency to detain Sowore for 90 days to investigate him for treason-related allegations, the judge, Justice Taiwo Taiwo granted the agency permission to hold the activist for only 45 days.
According to the judge, the 45 days period, starting from Thursday, lapses on September 21,the date he also fixed for the next hearing session in the case.
He, however, said that the order of detention for 45 days was subject to renewal for further days upon an application by the security agency, in the event that its investigation could not be concluded within the first 45 days.
Applying for the detention order earlier on Tuesday, the DSS, through its lawyer, Mr G.O. Abadua, argued the ex parte application which it anchored on the provisions of section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2013.
Ruling on Thursday, the judge said, although the hearing of the application was one-sided as legally allowed under the provisions of section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, he said he had to act on the facts alluded to by the applicant in the application until the contrary was proved.
He noted that he had watched the video clips attached to the application as exhibits, one of which was said to have shown a conference held by Sowore and the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, earlier proscribed by the Federal Government, Mr Nnamdi Kanu.
The other, also a video clip, was said to have shown Sowore saying that members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, the body of Shiites movement recently proscribed by the government, would join forces with him to bring down the Nigerian government.
The judge also said the use of the word, “may”, in section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act, “is directory,” robbing him of discretion to decline to grant the application.
He said, “The word, ‘may’ is not always ‘may.’ Sometimes it is equivalent to ‘shall.’ See the PDP Vs Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
“I am of the view that the use of the word ‘may’ in section 27(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Amendment Act 2013 is directory and not mandatory.
“I have looked at the facts presented by the applicant, I will fail in my duties if I do not act on those facts at least until the contrary is proved.
“I shall therefore grant the application only to the extent that the applicant shall detain the respondent for a period of 45 days, in the first instance, which may be renewed upon application by the applicant for further number of days if investigation is not concluded by the applicant within the 45 days granted by the court.
“The return date shall be 45 days from today, August 8, 2019. It therefore means that this suit is adjourned till September 21, 2019.”
A handful of orange-beret-wearing supporters of Sowore were at the court on Thursday.
We’ll challenge order – Falana, Sowore’s lawyer
However, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), who is Sowore’s lawyer, indicated to The PUNCH on Thursday, that he would file an application to challenge the detention order.
Falana, who was unwilling to give much details, said Sowore had as of Wednesday envisaged the Thursday’s ruling and had instructed that it should be challenged.
The senior lawyer said, “I saw him yesterday (Wednesday) when he had already envisaged that the order for his detention would be granted. So he had already given us the instruction to challenge it.”
Despite this, many organisations including the European Union, Afenifere, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Free Nigeria Movement and senior lawyers including Mike Ozekhome (SAN), faulted the order.
While SERAP said it would petition the United Nations Human Rights Council on the continued detention of Sowore, Afenifere and Ozekhome called for the unconditional release of the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress in the 2019 presidential poll. They described the order as unjust.
SERAP petitions UN human rights council
SERAP on Thursday said it had petitioned the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva over the way police authorities clamped down on #RevolutionNow protesters on Monday.
The organisation asked the council to immediately convene a special session to probe Sowore’s arrest and repression of the protesters, including journalists who covered the protest. It described the order as repressive.
SERAP’s position was contained in an open letter to the council dated August 8 and signed by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare.
“There are serious violations of the rights of Nigerians to liberty, personal security, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and media freedom and a special session is urgently needed to help stem the attack on human rights and contribute to UN efforts to prevent further abuses, including arbitrary detention and excessive use of force,” it said.
SERAP said rights situation in Nigeria had deteriorated drastically as the federal and state governments refused to obey court orders.
It said, “We urge your delegation to actively support the holding of a special session of the Human Rights Council without delay and the adoption of a resolution that ensures meaningful attention to the situation with a view to stemming the abuses and ending impunity.
“The Human Rights Council cannot ignore persistent attacks on human rights and disregard for the rule of law in Nigeria.
“If the Human Rights Council does not assume its responsibility and give voice to the victims, it would exacerbate the impunity of perpetrators and continue to fuel further abuses.”
SERAP also called on the council to ask Nigerian authorities to release unconditionally Sowore and all those detained in connection with the #RevolutionNow protests.
It further asked the council to demand that Nigerian authorities cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteurs, by allowing them free access to the country to investigate all allegations of human rights violations against protesters, journalists, bloggers and other Nigerians.
It added, “The authorities have arbitrarily arrested Omoyele Sowore, the organiser of the #RevolutionNow protests and publisher of the online newspaper SaharaReporters.
“He is still currently detained by the Department of State Services. Several protesters and journalists continue to be targeted, including a former Politics Editor with Daily Trust, Ibrahim Dan-Halilu, who has been reportedly re-arrested
We stand on principle of free speech, says EU
Also, the European Union says protests remain a cardinal part of democracy as long as they remain peaceful.
The EU Ambassador to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, however, said it was not the job of the EU to tell Nigeria how to conduct its internal affairs but added that the judiciary should be allowed to do its job.
Karlsen said this while responding to a question by The PUNCH at the departure orientation for the 2019 Erasmus+ Scholarship Awardees in Abuja on Thursday.
He said he was not aware of any petition sent to the EU by rights groups who have criticised the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government over the clampdown on protesters.
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The ambassador said, “The European Union stands firm on the principles of freedom of speech and our fundamental values. Of course, it is important in any democratic society for people to be able to participate.
“What I can say is that as long as people seek peaceful means to demonstrate and voice their political opinion, this is what we see as a natural part of a thriving democracy.
“Of course, any democracy or any society in the world must jealously guard and make sure that such pronouncements are always non-violent and that they respect the fundamental rules of the game and democracy.
“It is for the Nigerian justice system in the end to follow up on specific cases and as long as these cases are being dealt with in the Nigerian justice system, it is not for the EU or the EU ambassador to judge what is right or wrong in these occasions but of course we always follow very carefully when there are dissenting voices in the countries where we operate and we listen very carefully to all of them.”
Court ruling great injustice on Sowore, says Afenifere
However, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, the Afenifere, has slammed the Federal Government for arraigning Sowore under the Terrorism Act.
It also condemned the court ruling remanding the former presidential candidate in DSS custody for 45 days.
The National Publicity Secretary, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, said the order marked “a new phase in the orchestrated conscription of the democratic space in Nigeria.”
The group said, “Sowore was arrested before he could commit an offence and the DSS seems to want to go shopping for evidence to prosecute him.”
Odumakin advised the government to act in conformity with the democratic tenets in dealing with the rights of Nigerians, describing Sowore’s detention as a great injustice.
Detention order depicts DSS misguided mischief – CDHR
Also, the CDHR described the detention order as mischief orchestrated by the DSS.
The President of CDHR, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “The present dimension of the ordeal of Sowore is nothing short of the DSS’ misguided mischief to legitimise an otherwise illegal action through the courts.
“Clearly, we have all condemned the illegal arrest and detention of Sowore in the circumstance that it was made which was rightly characterised as a breach of his fundamental rights.
“To be sure, you cannot place something on nothing and expect it to stand. Thus, while the court may have found a way of justifying the continued detention of Sowore, it does not detract from the illegality of his arrest and detention in the first place.
“When did the Federal Government change the charge from treason and treasonable felony to anti-terrorism? This unholy wide fishing of both a charge and evidence is despicable against a person whose rights have been violated.”
Court-ordered detention of Sowore, bad news for democracy – Ozekhome
Similarly, Ozekhome has condemned the decision of Justice Taiwo, saying the judge “wrongly exercised his discretion,” and that he did not decide the case “judicially and judiciously.”
Questioning the judge’s decision, Ozekhome said, “Didn’t we, civil society and labour leaders, during successive military hunts and also during Obasanjo’s presidency, serially called for ‘revolution’, without any arms and ammunition?
“What happens to our citizens’ fundamental rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association as guaranteed by sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights?
“What happens to the Court of Appeal’s decision in IGP V ANPP, where it was held that no Nigerian required police permit to demonstrate and protest peacefully on the streets of Nigeria?
“To me, what all this boils down to is an intolerant government that is gravely and pathetically allergic to respect for human rights.”
Ozekhome said he found it ironical that the Federal Government easily obtained an interim order to detain Sowore from the same court, whose orders it had serially disobeyed.
“The court-ordered detention of Omoyele Sowore on the application of the Federal Government is bad news for democracy and human rights, especially because the application was made and granted ex parte (behind Sowore’s back).
“What was the extreme urgency in the matter (usually the main grounds for granting ex parte orders) that the Judge couldn’t order the government (who, in any case was already detaining Sowore) to put him on notice?” Ozekhome queried.
Frank slams judiciary, seeks travel ban on corrupt judges
However, a political activist and former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Timi Frank, has described the judiciary as Nigeria’s major problem.
According to him, most judges are now shy and afraid of delivering fair judgment because of their corruption records.
He called on the international community to ban judges who could not summon courage to deliver the right judgment and their immediate family members.
Frank in a statement on Thursday in Abuja condemned the court ruling ordering Sowore’s detention for 45 days.
He said, “When people cannot get justice, they would sooner than later resort to self-help. Some corrupt judges presently manning some courts should not add to Nigeria’s woes because posterity’s unavoidable judgment awaits both the judged and the judges.
“I hereby call on Nigerians to prepare to take the protest to the door-steps of the judiciary as they are the biggest problem we have today.’
Charge Sowore with crime – CC
But the Centre for Change on Thursday condemned the ruling and called on the Federal Government to charge Sowore with crime rather than detaining him illegally.
The CFC in a statement by its President, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, said, “We insist, that if there is any iota of truth in the allegations being levelled against Sowore, by the Federal Government, it should be courageous enough to prosecute same in the open court, without further delay.”
Order unjust, release Sowore now, says FNM
Also, the Convener, Free Nigeria Movement, Raphael Adebayo, said Nigerians were appalled by the court order which he described as unjust.
He said the ruling was a testament to the entrenched injustice in the country which the #RevolutionNow protests intended to end.
The movement demanded Sowore’s immediate release, stating that his continued incarceration “will only hasten the revolution which has already begun in different parts of the country.”
Adebayo stated, “Any society where it is easier to persecute ordinary citizens than it is to prosecute the thieving elite is a society heading towards anarchy.
“By ordering the DSS to further detain Sowore, the court has made it clear that it is far from being an institution of justice in which the people can trust.”