US raises concern over Sowore, anti-democratic actions by FG

Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana on Sunday, refuted Department of State Services’ claim that its operatives did not disrupt proceedings at the Federal High Court, Abuja, in their bid to re-arrest his client, Mr Omoyele Sowore, on Friday.

Falana, in a statement, said contrary to DSS’ denial issued on Saturday, leader of the DSS team of operatives, who invaded the court, tendered an apology for their conduct when summoned after the incident by the presiding judge, Mrs Ijeoma Ojukwu.

Falana said this just as the United States expressed concern about the re-arrest of Sowore after a court had ordered his release.

DSS had, on Saturday, said the circulation of a video clip on an attempt to re-arrest Sowore in the courtroom was a product of mischief.

DSS Public Relations Officer, Mr Peter Afunnaya, in a statement said the video was meant to serve as propaganda to bring the service to disrepute.

He had said when Sowore stepped out of the court and sighted operatives of the service on the premises, he ran back into the courtroom.

He said, “In a bid to shield him from an imaginary arrest, his uncontrollable supporters mobbed him while chanting ‘you can’t arrest him’, thus the pandemonium that ensued.”

But on Sunday, Falana said the inability of DSS operatives to defend their conduct prompted their subsequent apology to the judge, who was made to adjourn cases on her list following the invasion of her courtroom by the agency’s operatives.

He described the statement issued by DSS spokesperson as “self-contradictory” and “an unsuccessful attempt to absolve the agency of   responsibility for the  invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, in general, the desecration of Court 7 presided by Ojukwu in particular, as well as the illegal re-arrest of Omoyele Sowore.”

He stated, “By the advantage of information technology, the whole world has placed responsibility for the gangsteric desecration of the court on DSS.

“DSS cannot extricate itself from the abominable acts of December 6, 2019.

“When I informed the court that fresh charges were being filed against our clients and that they could be re-arrested, the prosecution denied the plan.

“As soon as the case was adjourned, DSS pounced on Sowore and caused a disruption of the proceedings of the court.

“Having taken over the courtroom, Ojukwu hurriedly rose and asked the registrar to adjourn all other cases.

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

“When the lead prosecutor, Mr Liman Hassan, denied knowledge of the invasion of her court, she directed him to invite head of the DSS team.

“When challenged to justify the invasion of the court, the officer could not. He apologised to Ojukwu on behalf of DSS.

“The judge then directed the officer to withdraw 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.”

He demanded the release of Sowore “in obedience to court orders, pending the verdict of the court in their trial.

“We equally call for the release of all other political detainees and criminal suspects, who have been admitted to bail, pending trial by competent courts.”

He also demanded a stop to the “bizarre harassment of courts” which he said “cannot be tolerated under a democratically elected government that claims to operate under the rule of law.”

Falana noted that the operatives’ “abominable desecration” of the court on Friday was covered live by domestic and international media and journalists, some of whom he said were victims of the operatives’ acts of “gangsterism, barbarism and brutalisation” that day.

Pointing out contradictions in the DSS  statement, Falana noted that while the agency argued in one breath that “the arrest of Sowore was ‘stage-managed’ by his supporters in order to give the service a bad name, it admitted in another “that officers of the service arrested Sowore outside the court.”

Calling for Sowore’s release, he said, “Having declared that the service arrested Sowore ‘outside the court’, despite the ‘stage managing’ argument, what the Nigerian people want to see happen is the immediate release of Sowore, pending his trial as ordered by the court.”

He further picked holes in the security agency’s statement blaming Friday’s incident on Sowore’s supporters.

He noted that DSS operatives involved in Friday’s incident, including the one seen to be seizing and pinning down Sowore, were identifiable.

Falana said the operatives appeared in different types of wears with some of them even wearing masks.

He stated, “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.

“It is utter poor reasoning to say that Sowore’s supporters were also those bent on injuring him in order to arrest him.

“The argument of the service in this respect is as unfortunate and pitiable as the earlier argument of the service in respect of the late Gani Fawehinmi, who was once accused of wanting to set ablaze his own house.

“If Sowore’s supporters subjected him to such brutalisation in the presence of DSS operatives why were they not arrested for contravening the provisions of the Anti-Torture Act, 2017? Or were the DSS operatives expecting the supporters of a defendant wanted by the state to kill him in their presence?”

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

He said notwithstanding the failure of the operatives to produce any document to justify the arrest, he and members of his defence team took the decision that he should accompany Sowore to DSS headquarters “in view of his physical brutalisation inside the courtroom and the open threat to his life”.

He added, “I did  and ensured that he was driven in my car to DSS headquarters where I handed him over to the officers on duty.

“Thereafter, I requested a meeting with the head of the DSS, but I was informed that he was not in the office.”

He added that the DSS allegation that Sowore held meetings with some people could not be justified by the agency.

He asked,  “Why did the prosecution not inform the trial court that the defendant had breached his bail condition?”

Faulting DSS’ self-adulation as “a law-abiding institution,” Falana asked, “But why did it refuse to comply with the order of Mr Taiwo to release Sowore?

“Why did DSS threaten to report the judge to NJC for granting bail to Sowore?

“Why did DSS subject the order of Ojukwu for the release of Sowore to its own approval by asking the sureties already verified by the judge to report themselves to DSS?

“Why did DSS wait for the 24-hour ultimatum issued by the trial judge before releasing Sowore and Bakare?”

Our position, true reflection of what transpired – DSS

When contacted on Sunday, Afunnaya insisted that the DSS position stated in its press statement on Saturday was the true reflection of what transpired on Friday.

The DSS PRO said this in response to an enquiry over a claim by Sowore’s  counsel that DSS operatives went to Ojukwu to apologise for invading her courtroom. He stated, “Our statement on what transpired was explicit.”

Officials of DSS had on Friday invaded the Federal High Court in Abuja and rearrested Sowore, who was released alongside his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, earlier on Thursday after they had spent four months in the DSS custody.

DSS had also defied the court order that granted them bail, even after meeting their bail conditions, in spite of several appeals and protests to secure their release.

Sowore was arrested on August 3, 2019 over a planned protest, which he tagged ‘#RevolutionNow’ and was alongside Bakare charged with treasonable felony for allegedly planning to overthrow the government with the planned protest.

Respect for judicial independence, key tenet of democracy – US

The DSS actions have generated more reactions. The United States and the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, expressed concern over the re-arrest and detention of  Sowore.

US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour in a tweet on Saturday evening advised the Federal Government to respect the rule of law, judicial independence, political and media freedom, saying they represented the key tenets of democracy.

The tweet from the verified handle of the bureau, which operates under the US State Department read, “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.”

Afenifere, in a statement by its spokesman, Mr Yinka Odumakin on Sunday, berated the Presidency for effecting Sowore’s arrest in court by masked DSS operatives, describing the incident as “a coup against the judiciary.”

It said, “If there is any sign that the country has slipped into the abyss of totalitarian rule, it is the unfortunate statement by the Presidency on Sowore.”

Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, on its part, called for the disbandment of DSS.

National President of the CDHR, Mr Osagie Obayuwana, in a statement on Sunday, said because DSS had shown itself to be unworthy, the matter had gone beyond the sacking of just the leadership of the agency.

 

Punch

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