Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) and Omoyele Sowore are free to go home after several dashed hopes, when agents of the state denied them freedom granted by different courts
The first indication that the Federal Government was ready to adopt a different attitude to the travails of Omoyele Sowore, publisher of the news website, Sahara Reporters could be gleaned from the directive of Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), that Department of State Services (DSS) should transfer the case against the #RevolutionNow protests convener, Sowore to his office.
Government had been thoroughly embarrassed after the DSS attempted to rearrest Sowore in a court premises. The public outage that followed inflicted maximum damage on the reputation of the government. There were strident calls from respected international personalities and institutions, demanding that the Nigerian government should respect court orders.
The pressure from within Nigeria was even stronger with a national newspaper clearly labelling the President Muhammadu administration as a dictatorship, opting to register a symbolic protest against his alleged disdain for rule of law by addressing him by the designation with which he retired from the Nigerian military. World acclaimed activist and critic, Professor Wole Soyinka also registered a strong condemnation against the administration.
Coming at the time it did, Malami’s directive to the DSS was viewed by many discerning stakeholders in the polity as a strategy to work towards a ‘no case’ submission in the matter of Sowore. Malami had written to the Director-General of DSS, Yusuf Bichi, directing the security agency to “promptly forward all the case files” to him.
The recent position of the government in the Sowore matter was expected. A statement by Malami revealed that the administration has succumbed to pressure to respect court orders. The Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation noted that it has reviewed the pending criminal charges against the duo of Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.) and Omoyele Sowore.
Rather than engage in rhetorics as it has done previously, Malami opted to demonstrate that the administration in which he serves as a principal officer respects the laws of the land. He said, “I wish to reiterate again the utmost regard of my office for the entire judicial structure of Nigeria. This administration remains unrelenting in deepening the rule of law and the administration of justice in general.”
Malami said further, “Whilst the Federal High Court has exercised its discretion in granting bail to the defendants in respect of the charges against them, I am also not unmindful of the right of the complainant/prosecution to appeal or further challenge the grant of bail by the court having regards to extant legal provisions, particularly Section 169 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. However, my office has chosen to comply with the court orders while considering the pursuit of its rights of appeal and/or review of the order relating to the bail as granted or varied by the courts.”
The AGF was unequivocal in his directive. “In line with the provisions of Sections 150(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and in compliance with the bail granted to Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd) (as recently varied by the Court of Appeal) and the bail granted to Omoyele Sowore, I have directed the State Security Services to comply with the order granting bail to the defendants and effect their release.”
The government, however, made clear its position that both Dasuki and Sowore have a part to play to retain their freedom. “The two defendants are enjoined to observe the terms of their bail and refrain from engaging in any act that is inimical to public peace and national security as well as their ongoing trial which will run its course in accordance with the laws of the land.”
Dasuki, a former National Security Adviser has been in detention for about four years following his arrest and prosecution for alleged embezzlement of funds meant for procurement of arms. Against the pronouncement of different courts granting him conditional freedom, the government denied him liberty.
Sowore, a naïve student-union activist, raised his voice when others, perhaps better placed to advance the nation’s democracy, stayed docile.
On July 27, Omoyele Sowore announced that his political party, the African Action Congress (AAC) was set to spearhead a revolution-protest across Nigeria, starting from Monday, August 5. The plan was to mobilise hundreds of thousands of Nigerians to fill cities across the country until a governance “revolution” emerged.
“We didn’t choose to go for a revolution, they chose it by ensuring that there was no level-playing field in the last election,” Sowore told journalists after the announcement.
Sowore said on Twitter, “#RevolutionNow #DaysofRage will cure all these madness once and for all!” On August 3, two days to his planned D-Day, armed operatives from the Department of State Security (DSS) invaded his Lagos hotel in the wee hours of the morning and hustled him into custody.
Security agents denied him freedom since, flouting different court pronouncements to let him go on bail. They insist that Sowore was not out to stage an ordinary protest but to overthrow the government by illegitimate use of force, in order to achieve through the backdoor what he was denied by popular vote. His incarceration heightened concerns within the country and abroad that the Buhari government may be steadily closing the civic space and turned Sowore to the face of defiance against the Nigerian government.
Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, were released when Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court in Abuja, gave an order at the scheduled commencement of the defendants’ trial on charges of treasonable felony.
Both he and his co-defendant are facing seven counts bordering on conspiracy to commit treasonable felony in breach of Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, money laundering and cybercrimes, amongst others.
They pleaded not guilty to the charge and were granted bail on October 4, in the sum of N100m and N50m respectively with two sureties in like sum.
An Abuja-based senior lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) has said that the order by the Federal government through the Attorney General of the Federation,Abubakar Malami (SAN) or the immediate release of Colonel Sabo Dasuk who has been in detention for about four years,and Omoyele Sowore,who has been detained since August,2019,is salutary for democracy,respect for fundamental rights of the citizens and observance of rule of law.”
Ozekhome said he was happy the government “has finally realised its faux pas and is seeing the same light which I saw since 2015, when I kicked against the illegal incarceration of Dasuki. It is never too late to take corrective measures and make amends. There is nothing like something good happening at a bad time, or something bad happening at a good time. This government is beginning to see the importance of the rule of Law prevailing over rule of the thumb and over so called national security, which is an euphemism for security of a government in power.”
While commending the government for its reformed attitudes towards human rights, Ozekhome made a case for another ‘prisoner of conscience’ Elzakzaky, leader of the Shi’ite Islamic sect in Nigeria. According to Ozekhome, the Moslem cleric should be added to the “list of detainees to be released, because the whole world, aside government apologists and grovellers, see all of them as political prisoners. Respect for rule of law and citizens’ fundamental rights constitute some of the key building blocks of democracy. Obedience to court orders, however distasteful, constitute the irreducible minimum of a civilised nation. The government should build on this fresh air of freedom to stop tormenting Nigerians with maximum fear and subjugation, making them discuss in whispers.”
The government, however, made clear its position that both Dasuki and Sowore have a part to play to retain their freedom. “The two defendants are enjoined to observe the terms of their bail and refrain from engaging in any act that is inimical to public peace and national security as well as their ongoing trial which will run its course in accordance with the laws of the land