Alex Enumah writes about the ordeal of a rights activist and online news publisher, Omoyele Sowore, who recently regained freedom after 53 days in custody
September 24, exactly 53 days after one of the Conveners of #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore was in the custody of the federal government, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ordered his immediate release from detention.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo, had on August 8, 2019 given the nod to the Department of State Service (DSS) to keep Sowore, candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the February 23 presidential election in their custody pending the conclusion of criminal allegations against him.
Sowore was picked up in a Lagos hotel, by men of the security services on Saturday, August 3, for what the DSS described as ‘crossing the line’.
Before his arrest that fateful Saturday, the activist and publisher of SaharaReporters, an online news portal, had threatened to call out Nigerians to join him and his group to push out the Buhari administration over alleged corruption and ineptitude.
Sowore was also of the view that the election that brought Buhari to power for a second term was not credible.
The nationwide protest was scheduled for Monday August 5. Although pockets of protests took place in some parts of the country, Sowore at this time was already in custody at the DSS headquarters in Abuja.
To avoid running against the Provisions of the law, which stipulates that an accused person cannot be detained for more than 48 hours, the federal government then approached the court for an order to keep Sowore for the next 90 days pending its conclusion of investigation of treasonable felony among others against him.
The request was contained in an exparte motion marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/ 915/19 and filed on behalf of the agency by Godwin Agbadua.The order ex-parte was brought pursuant to Section 27 (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2013.
Delivering ruling in the exparte application on August 8, 2019, Justice Taiwo, rather than granting the 90 days as requested by the DSS, ordered that 45 days was enough for the officers of the Department of State Service to conclude investigation of alleged treasonable felony and other charges against Sowore.
Justice Taiwo said after consideration of the argument canvassed by the DSS’ lawyer, Agbadua, he came to the conclusion that there was an allegation of commission of crime by the respondent and that investigation was still on going.
He added that since the facts were allegations “which must be proved at the appropriate place and time”, he was inclined, “ to grant the application only to the extent that the respondent shall be detained for a period of 45 days for the applicant to conclude its investigation”.
Justice Taiwo however said if at the end of the 45 days, investigation was yet to be concluded the applicant could apply for a fresh order but must not keep him without an order of court.
The 45 days elapsed on Saturday, September 21. But barely 24 hours to the expiration of the detention order, the DSS filed a seven count criminal charge against Sowore bordering on treasonable felony, money laundering and insulting President Buhari.
The charge which also included one Olawale Bakare also known as mandate, accused the defendants of committing the actual offence of treasonable felony in breach of section, 4(1)(c) of the Criminal Code Act, by using the platform of Coalition for Revolution, in August 2019 in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, to stage the #RevolutionNow protest allegedly aimed at removing the President.
Sowore was further accused of cybercrime offences in violation of section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention) Act, by “knowingly” sending “messages by means of press interview granted on Arise Television network which you knew to be false for the purpose of causing insult, enmity, hatred and ill-will on the person of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
It also accused Sowore of money laundering offences in breach of section 15(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.In addition the federal government on September 23, applied for an order to keep Sowore for another 20 days.
Though the court had adjourned till September 25 for the applicant to report on status of the case, the matter was however rescheduled for September 24.
When the matter came up, prosecution counsel, Agbadua announced withdrawal of the application of the motion filed on September 23, seeking for extension of the detention order.He explained that the withdrawal was occasioned by the fact that the defenfant had already been charged with treasonable felony, money laundering as well as insulting the president.
He submitted that filing of a criminal charge that carries punishment of death is enough grounds for the court to allow for the detention of Sowore.
“The moment information is filed such a person cannot be said to be held illegally,” he said.
However, Sowore’s lawyer, Chief Femi Falana SAN reacting said, filing of information cannot metamorphos into a remand order.
Falana also submitted that treasonable felony, one of the charges against Sowore, was not a capital offence.
“He cannot ask the court to detained a citizen prospectively or in anticipation of arraignment of a defenfant under his custody,” Falana said.
He subsequently urged the court to make a consequential order for the release of Sowore since the earlier order expired on September 21.
Justice Taiwo in a short ruling held that there was no application before him for extension of the detention order and there were evidence that the prosecution has concluded its investigation of the defenfant. He accordingly ordered for the immediate release of Sowore.
Justice Taiwo ordered that Sowore be released to his lawyer, Chief Falana SAN, who must produce him whenever he is needed.He however ordered that Sowore to deposit his international passport with the court.
In compliance with the order, Sowore’s international passport with number A50255207 was on Wednesday September 25, deposited with the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The passport was accompanied with a letter of compliance and a supporting affidavit of six paragraphs deposed to by Marshal Abubakar in the Chambers of Femi Falana SAN.Evidence of compliance served on the DSS, was received by one Ayuba Adam, a staff at the DSS headquarters.
Following the fulfillment of the court’s order by Sowore for his release, it is expected that the agency as law abiding would not hesitate to obey and release Sowore to his lawyer.