•Afenifere, IYC, others flay FG’s support for secret police
•Stop denying the obvious, says Falana
•US expresses concern over re-arrest of Sowore
Deji Elumoye, Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja, Segun James and Martins Ifijeh in Lagos
The presidency yesterday launched a pushback against attacks on it following the face-off between Sahara Reporters’ Publisher and Convener, #RevolutionNow, Mr. Omoyele Sowore, and the Department of State Services (DSS) within the precinct of the Federal High Court in Abuja, at the weekend.
One of the presidential spokesmen, Mallam Garba Shehu, in a statement, defended DSS’ re-arrest of Sowore, saying contrary to the claims of critics, the DSS did not need to clear with President Muhammadu Buhari before it could deal with any matter it considered as a threat to national security.
Shehu’s statement came against the backdrop of the attack on the Buhari administration over the alleged invasion of the courtroom of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu last Friday by the DSS to re-arrest Sowore and his co-accused, Mr. Olawale Bakare, who were released from detention, after spending over 120 days in detention.
The US Department of State had also joined the fray on Saturday evening in a tweet, expressing concern at the development. It said: “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.”
Some lawyers and activists had accused the DSS of invading the courtroom to re-arrest Sowore, after Justice Ojukwu had adjourned the trial for treason preferred against him and Bakare till February 11, 2020.
But the DSS in a statement on Saturday denied invading the courtroom, saying Sowore was re-arrested outside the courtroom and its agents were not inside the court.
However, Sowore’s lead counsel, Mr. Femi Falana SAN, in a statement last night asked the DSS to stop denying the obvious, saying the agency’s statement contradicted the apology the leaders of last Friday’s operation rendered to Justice Ojukwu after he was questioned by the judge on the rationale for the incident.
The presidency’s position also came under criticisms from the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere; Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC) and human and environmental rights activist, Dr. Nnimmo Bassey, for justifying the re-arrest of Sowore.
Amidst the tension generated by the re-arrest of Sowore, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) rose from a meeting yesterday, restating its call for the restructuring of Nigeria.
Shehu said it was not all the time the DSS needed the permission of the presidency to carry out its essential responsibilities as laid down in the Nigerian constitution – which was the foundation for the restoration of democracy in the country in 1999.
According to him, Sowore is a person of interest to the DSS in view of his actions and words and accused him of calling for a revolution to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nigeria.
“He did so, on television, and from a privileged position as the owner of a widely read digital newspaper run from the United States of America. He founded an organisation, Revolution Now, to launch, in their own words, “Days of Rage,” with the publicised purpose of fomenting mass civil unrest and the elected administration’s overthrow. No government will allow anybody to openly call for destabilisation in the country and do nothing,” he explained.
According to him, Sowore is not an ordinary citizen who is just expressing his views freely on social media and the internet but also a presidential candidate in the February 23 general election.
He said: “Nigeria’s democracy was a long time in the making, and was achieved after decades of often harsh, military-led overthrows of government: the kind of situation Sowore was advocating. To believe in and desire armed revolution is not normal amongst ‘human rights activists,’ as Sowore has been incorrectly described.
“Nigeria is already dealing with an insurgency that has left millions of people displaced and desperate in the northeastern region of our country.
“The Boko Haram militants, who are behind the violence, also fancy themselves to be fighting for some sort of revolution.”
Shehu said the DSS acted within its powers, adding: “Nigerians do not need another spate of lawlessness and loss of lives all in the name of ‘revolution,’ especially not one that is orchestrated by a man who makes his home in faraway New York – and who can easily disappear and leave behind whatever instability he intends to cause, to wit, Nnamdi Kanu.”
But in a swift reaction, Afenifere yesterday said recent developments in Nigeria had shown that the nation had slipped into an abyss of totalitarian rule.
Its spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, in a reaction to the presidency’s justification of the re-arrest of Sowore, told THISDAY that the statement is a proof that the country had slipped into totalitarian rule.
According to him, a truly democratic regime would have condemned the conduct of the DSS in court on Friday with a promise to investigate it.
He said: “But this presidency ignored the sacrilege of desecration of the temple and went after Sowore whom it describes as a ‘person of interest’ to the Gestapo.
“Does it occur to them what DSS did on Friday was a coup against the judiciary and worse than the unstaged revolution of Sowore.
“The statement shows this administration is far too gone in its way of riding roughshod over all that we hold dear as a nation. If Nigerians do not assert constitutionalism with all peaceful and democratic rule, this country may well be resting in pieces in the grip of dictatorship and arbitrariness.”
Bassey, however, said the government’s position was not surprising, adding that the federal government and its agencies had consistently overreacted in their dealing with the call by Sowore for a revolution.
He said:“Governments in Nigeria over the years have clamoured for a revolution. This includes the one that was headed by General Buhari in his time as a military dictator. War against indiscipline was a sort of revolution. We have heard of many revolutions including the one that was tagged “ethical revolution.” No one was harassed, arrested and imprisoned.
“When anyone says that statements calling for a revolution amount to a call for insurrection, that is going too far. That can qualify as policing our thoughts. It suggested the operation of an opaque system in which citizens can be ambushed and gagged.
“Arresting Sowore whether inside or on the verandah of the court is despicable and utterly objectionable and cannot be justified. The government can bring this episode to a close-by simply allowing the rule of law to prevail. The DSS is an agency of government and the presidency can take a higher ground at this time.”
On his part, the President of IYC, Mr. Eric Omare, faulted the presidency’s statement, pointing out that in one breath it said it had nothing to do with the re-arrest of Sowore and at the same time said no government would allow anybody to openly call for the destabilisation of the country.
“It is obvious that the illegal actions of the DSS in the desecration of the hallowed temple of justice have the blessing of the presidency. This is unfortunate and condemnable. The issue is not about a government trying to enforce its laws against someone who called for insurrection but about respect for due process in trying to enforce the rule of law,” he added.
Also, former Political Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, said: “There is nothing to add to what eminent Nigerians like Professor Wole Soyinka have said. In addition to the prevailing unspeakable misgovernance, there is also the element of a self-destructive streak in its behavior.”
Stop Denying the Obvious, Says Falana
Falana described the explanation of DSS over the re-arrest of Sowore as self-contradictory, saying the agency made an unsuccessful attempt to absolve itself of responsibility for the armed invasion of the Federal High Court last Friday
Falana said in a statement yesterday that, contrary to the DSS’ denial, issued on Saturday, the leader of the DSS team of operatives, who invaded the court, tendered an apology for their conduct when summoned after the incident by Justice Ojukwu.
He said the DSS operatives were unable to defend their conduct, hence their subsequent apology to the judge, who was forced to adjourn cases on her list following the invasion.
He described the Saturday’s statement issued by the agency’s spokesperson as “self-contradictory press release” and “an unsuccessful attempt” to absolve itself of responsibility “for the armed invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, in general, and the desecration of Court No 7 of Hon. Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu in particular, as well as the illegal rearrest of Omoyele Sowore.”
According to Falana: “By the advantage of information technology, the whole world has placed responsibility for the gangsteric desecration of the court on the DSS. The 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 rearrested, the prosecution denied any such plan.
“As soon as the case was adjourned, the DSS pounced on Sowore and caused a disruption of the proceedings of the court.
“Having taken over the court room, Justice Ojukwu hurriedly rose and asked the registrar to adjourn all other cases.
“After the learned trial judge had risen for the day, she summoned the heads of the prosecution and defence teams to her chambers.
“When the lead prosecutor, Dr. Liman Hassan (SAN), denied knowledge of the invasion of her court, she directed him to invite the head of the DSS team in the court.
“When challenged to justify the invasion of the court, the officer could not.
“He apologised to Justice Ojukwu on behalf of the DSS.
“The judge then directed the officer to withdraw the DSS operatives from the court room.
“The directive was complied with, as the operatives withdrew from the court room but rushed out to join their colleagues who had taken over the entire court house.”
He insisted that the agency’s “abominable desecration” of the court 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.”
Southern, Middle Belt Leaders Insist on Restructuring
Meanwhile, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) rose from its meeting yesterday restating its call for the restructuring of the country.
The group said its reaction followed “an unsolicited opinion offered our member bodies by a legal practitioner, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), to suspend the campaign for the restructuring of Nigeria,” adding that they will not back down on the demand for restructuring the country.
The SMBLF in a statement signed by Mr. Yinka Odumakin, South West; General C. R. U Ihekure, South-East; Senator Bassey Henshaw, South-South and Dr. Isuwa Dogo, Middle Belt, said outside restructuring, there was no other option for the survival of Nigeria.
SMBLF described Agbakoba’s suggestion for the suspension of the clamour for restructuring because President Muhammadu Buhari does not believe in it as “akin to somebody suggesting to our founding fathers to stop the struggle for independence because the colonial lords were opposed to the idea.”