A statement at the weekend by the Department of State Security that the reason it had not released the founder of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowopre and his partner, Olawale Bakare, was because no one came for them, belies logic. Shola Oyeyipo writes
Two days after the Department of State Services (DSS) refused to release the founder of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowopre and his partner, Olawale Bakare following a fresh bail terms by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court, the security agency has come out to claim the reason Sowore was still in its custody, was because no one had come for him.
A statement by its Public Relations Officer, Peter Afunanya, confirmed that the DSS “has received the Court Order for the release of Omoyele Sowore,” but added that, “It is important that the public notes that since the receipt of the Order, no person has turned up at the DSS to take delivery of him. This becomes imperative for reasons of accountability.
“However, the Court has been properly briefed on this development and the steps being taken to ensure compliance with its Order.”
According to the statement, the DSS also noted that, “The Service, under the leadership of Yusuf Magaji Bichi (fwc), as the Director General, is not a lawless organisation and will never obstruct justice or disobey Court Orders. It, therefore, affirms that it will do all that is needful once the appropriate processes have been concluded.”
Although either by accident or design, Sowore was forced to sleep in the DSS detention all weekend again, making it his 96th day in detention today, it may not be out of place to infer that the nation might be fast inching towards anarchy.
This is not just because men of the DSS flagrantly refused to release Sowore and Bakare even though their statement appears to belie logic, because impunity might have become the signature tune of the current administration.
The news was first that the DSS had on Wednesday turned back the court bailiff and the defendants’ lawyers, who went to serve the court order signed by Justice Ijeoma after the perfection of bail conditions, on the grounds that they had closed for the day, at 3:30pm.
This had also given meaning to the views of a staunch critic of President Muhammadu Buhari and chieftain of pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who had never agreed that the Nigerian leader was capable of transforming into a true democrat.
At every given opportunity, Adebanjo always referred to Buhari as a dictator with anti-democratic principles and this is exactly what is playing out in Sowore’s case.
The duo of Femi Falana (SAN) and Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika (SAN), who appeared for Sowore and Olawale Bakare, had pointed fingers at the Nigerian secret police. The lawyers said they were unable to defend the accused persons, because of the refusal of the SSS to release them after the last order of Justice Ijeoma.
Even where the president’s handlers were openly against castigation and classification of their principal as Adebanjo would, instances abound to strengthen the septuagenarian’s position that the President Buhari leadership is not capable of complying with all the tenets of democracy, particularly, its penchant for ignoring court orders.
It is evidently clear that the DSS was doing the bidding of the government of the day and this might have corroborated the views that the activist’s failure to align with some powerful forces within the system had led to his continued detention despite various court rulings granting his bail.
It is similar tyranny that explains why the government has continued to ignore several court orders demanding the release of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki; the leader of the outlawed Islamic sect, Shiite, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakizaki and others awaiting trials.
These have continued to put the administration in bad light, painting the government as having no iota of respect for the rule of law.
This was again exhibited when Sowore and Bakare were arrested and since kept in detention for conceiving the idea of #RevolutionNow protest to demand better governance from the government.
Although this time, the fault was not entirely that of the government, but of Sowore and Bakare, who were unable to satisfy the conditions set for their bail.
But many had believed that the bail conditions put in place by Justice Ojukwu, for their release were questionable after she took over the case, thus worsening their plight. Indeed, the judge recently passed a snide comment, suggesting that Sowore and Bakare had been abandoned.
The federal government had dragged Sowore and Bakare to court on seven-count charge of treasonable felony, cyberstalking and money laundering.
When Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja initially granted them bail and dismissed the objection raised by the DSS to his bail, there were reports in some national dailies that the government planned to report him to the National Judicial Council (NJC) on the account that he granted bail to Sowore.
Though the claim was that anyone standing trial for treasonable felony was not entitled to bail and as such, Justice Taiwo shouldn’t have granted them bail, many Nigerian were aware that those were trumped up charges and also questionable.
The charges seemed designed to keep him away and prevent him from ‘instigating’ Nigerians against the government, which is believed to have continued to fail the aspirations of those who looked forward to genuine change and prepared to showcase their angsts.
Since the principle of natural justice suggested that no person could judge a case in which they have an interest encapsulated in the Latin thus: ‘nemo judex in causa sua, meaning “no-one is judge in his own cause,” being a cardinal point in jurisprudence, the government and the DSS shouldn’t have assumed that those allegations against an accused person should be taken hook, line and sinker by the court.
The reported shock of the Nigerian security and intelligence community over Justice Taiwo’s judgment only pointed to one thing, a mindset targeted at ensuring that the political activist spent a longer time behind bars and that best explained why the DSS initially refused to comply with the court order granting them bail.
Earlier explaining why it opposed the request by Sowore and his co-defendant, to be released on bail pending the determination of the allegation that he committed a treasonable felony, government tagged him as “a threat to national security”.
Government lawyers led by Mr. Hassan Liman (SAN), expressed fear that once set free, Sowore would organise another revolution.
Drawing inference from the case of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, who fled Nigeria after he was granted bail on a similar charge and noting that Sowore was based in the United States of America especially, that his charges attract capital punishment that could earn him life imprisonment if found guilty, he is likely to jump bail.
Whilst a cross section of Nigerians still expressed disapproval for government’s decision to ignore the previous bail granted the activist by a court of coordinate jurisdiction, Justice Ojukwu handed down a new bail conditions that had hitherto remained a talking point.
She had initially granted Sowore bail of N100m on October 4 and two sureties in the same amount and barred him from travelling out of Abuja. She also ordered him to deposit N50m in the account of the court as security. Bakare, on the other hand, was granted bail for N50m with a surety in the same amount and barred him from travelling out of his base in Osogbo, except while coming for the trial in Abuja.
According to the judge, the sureties, who must be resident in Abuja, must also have landed assets worth the bail sum in Abuja and should deposit the original title documents of the assets with the court. She further ordered that the defendants should remain in the custody of the DSS pending, when they were able to meet their bail conditions.
But following public outcries and the fact that Sowore and Bakare were unable to meet the conditions, their lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), applied for variation of the terms and asked the court for leniency.
The judge, as a result, set aside the previous conditions of N50 million security deposit by one of the sureties and also reduced the N50 million bail of the second defendant, Bakare, to N20 million while their conditions stand.
The charges against Sowore and the bail conditions have continued to elicit reactions among Nigerians, who feel the government was only working to silence the opposition and dissenting voices by making the two scapegoats.
Recently, a victim of similar detention by a state governor, the Convener, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, said the bail condition imposed on Sowore and Bakare was a mockery of judiciary and travesty of justice.
He said: “It makes mockery of our judicial system if the said offence allegedly committed by Omoyele Sowore would attract such conditions while the politicians, who looted and are still looting our commonwealth will be given light bail.
“We understand that it is the nature of the offence that determines the bail that is given to a defendant but in Sowore’s case, it is ridiculous and laughable. Bail must be exercised judiciously and judicially in order not to undermine the right of the defendant.”
Sowore’s wife, Opeyemi, said in an interview with a US-based media that the amount set for the bail “is outrageous, almost impossible to meet.” According to her husband’s lawyers, she called it “stringent.”
“It is a step backwards for free press,” Mrs. Sowore said, contending that the ruling by Justice Taiwo stands and that the Nigerian authority was in violation of the order. She also claimed not to have spoken to her husband since August, because the Nigerian government stopped all communication between them after she gave an interview to Democracy Now.
There was also the belief in many quarters that Sowore and Bakare were not initially able to meet their bail condition, not because there was no one to help, but the possibility that government could go after whoever did, sending their agents to query their source of wealth and media shame them.
However, while a lot of Sowore’s supporters hang on to the promise by his lawyer, Falana, that he would take appropriate steps to ensure that he and Bakare gained their freedom as soon as possible, those in the corridor of power in the Aso Rock, must not be oblivious of the fact that the President Buhari’s regime was fast attracting condemnations across the world.
There is no doubting the fact that this case amongst many others has continued to put the administration in bad light, even though it had begun to look like Sowore and Bakare were at their mercy.
But with the DSS forced out of its mischief corner to say it was ready to release him to his people whenever they come forward – the same people that had been itching to have him reunite with his family, coupled with the needless drama that ensued at the DSS office on Saturday after all its pretence – it is hoped that Sowore would be freed latest by tomorrow or next.