THE STORY SO FAR: Sowore and the SSS
“…this is a desecration of the temple of justice” these were the words and feelings of most of our prominent advocates in the nation. One month after this incident there have been multitudinous commentaries and reactions to the matter. The State security service (popularly known as the Department of State Service DSS) reserved their comments, US senators raised their concerns, Femi Falana held a series of interviews, then rumours began to spread that Sowore paid a supporter to try to strangle him in the court to give the government a bad name. but amongst all the commentary and reactions, lets take a moment to consider what really happened? Was the arrest legal or a violation of the court and Sowore’s rights?
In 2003 and 2011, mass protests were organised against the outcome of the presidential elections. In 2015, protests in Abuja were organised against the incompetence of the incumbent government termed the “Salvation rally”, headed by you know who. The relationship between Sowore and Buhari began in the 2015 presidential elections, where Sowore was rumoured to have celebrated the victory of APC over PDP. It was the consensus that PDP had ruled scandalously for 16 years and now their time was finally up. It felt like the dawn of a new beginning for many Nigerians and possibly Sowore. However, four years down the line, Nigeria overtakes India as the poverty capital of the world, the rate of unemployment increases by 23%, the rate of insecurity is still on a high and although EFCC became active, it has been rumoured to target the enemies of APC. Sowore then decides to run for president in the 2019 presidential elections under the African Action Congress. As expected his party didn’t win, the coalition failed between the AAA and other smaller political parties. Then rumours, and videos suggesting APC rigged the presidential elections go viral. Sowore refuses to give up and decides to start what we know now as “Revolution Now”.
Sowore decides with others to organise mass protests around the country against the Buhari led government. Unfortunately, on the 3rd of August 2019 two days before the protests, Sowore was arrested by the SSS or DSS. He was then charged for treason, treasonable felony, money laundering, insulting the president and others. There was a public outcry, many decried the death of democracy and the well renowned Femi Falana Sowore’s lawyer, decided to take up the case in court. After the first case, Sowore applied for bail and his application was granted subject to some bail conditions. However, the DSS OR SSS refused to release him and when asked about the situation, the spokesperson of the agency Dr Peter Afunnaya claimed that they had not received a copy of the court order. Sowore continued in detention till the courageous justice Ijeoma Ojukwu on the 5th of December 2019 gave an order for his release within 24 hours. He was released and was then expected to appear before the federal high court in Abuja the next day. Sowore’s supporters were in high spirits unsuspecting of what was about to unfold.
It is rumoured that before the incident Sowore was given a hint that the DSS or SSS was up to something. Femi Falana claims he had a tip that they will attempt to re-arrest Sowore in court. In some videos posted online Sowore claims that he was told by someone that he should enjoy his temporary freedom because when they take him in again he isn’t coming back alive. And then it happened, the moment where every proud lawyer lowers their heads, the DSS or SSS officer attempts to arrest Sowore in the courtroom but he doesn’t succeed. Femi Falana is informed that they just want to ask Sowore some questions. Femi Falana drives Sowore to the DSS or SSS headquarters and then Sowore is re-arrested.
There was a furore, people are devastated, confused and despondent. They wonder is the president aware? Does his vice have a voice? Femi Adesina the special adviser to the president for media and publicity issues a statement defending the actions of the SSS and stated only 100,000 Nigerians are “making noise”. However, when notable members of congress from the US joined the noise makers list, things where taken more seriously. Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker, and Bob Menendez all wrote a letter to the minister of justice expressing their concerns regarding the situation. In several interviews APC members support the actions of the SSS stating they have a right to arrest him then some recall the statement allegedly made by the president at the NBA conference that “Rule of Law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest”. The minister of justice Abubakar Malami decides to take over the matter. He then states any action that threatens the rule of law is worrisome and decides to commence an investigation into the invasion of the court case. And then on the 24th day of December 2019 Sowore is finally released but confined to stay in Abuja as part of his bail conditions.
LEGALITY OR ILLEGALITY OF THE CASE?
FIRSTLY, WHO ARE THE DSS OR SSS?
The security organisation was established by the National security agencies act of Nigeria, under section 1(c ) it was stated to be known as the State Security Service and well nowadays it’s also known as the Department of state security. However, in other to legally change the name of the organisation they would have to amend the National Agencies Act 1986 hence why we still decide to call them the SSS. Their function is to protect the national security of the nation within Nigeria and they are to take orders from the president, who is expected to base his orders on whether the matter amounts to the national interest of the country. Now this begs the question, was the SSS acting in the national interest in Sowore’s case?
LEGALITY OR ILLEGALITY OF THE CASE
As aforementioned, Sowore has been charged for several crimes treasonable felony, treason, money laundering and others. The fact that Sowore is being charged for treason, and treasonable felony is enough to get the SSS involved in the matter which is fine. The charge for treason and treasonable felony could be based on the evidence that Sowore at an interview with arise tv stated “I’m not talking about protest I’m embarking on revolution 85% of Nigerians are in support.” This may cause on lookers to consider he wanted a bit more than a protest. However according to section 37 of the criminal code 2004 Sowore would have to have levied war against the state to overawe president or conspired with to levy war. Again, the matter is in court and we are uncertain if the SSS knows something we don’t. But to the best of public knowledge, Sowore hasn’t levied war against the state. This in turn means Sowore hasn’t committed the ACT of treason. With regards to treasonable felony, the criminal code act 2004 section 41 (a) any person who forms an intention to the effect of the following purposes (a) to remove during his term of office otherwise than by constitutional means the president as the head of state…” the words at the interview suggests there was an intent to do so but what is the substance of this statement? On the 5th of August 2019 members of the Revolution Now attempted to protest with their placards however, it was reported that security forces fired teargas at the protesters in Lagos. There was no evidence found that Sowore was harbouring and purchasing arms or the members killed or rallied violently down the street. The protests can easily be frustrated Nigerians taking to the street to express their dissatisfaction with the performance of the government. In law, an intention to perform an act isn’t limited to mere words said at an interview active steps most be taken to achieve the aim.
The next issue is with the detention of Sowore for about 125 days after two different court judges had endorsed court orders to release him. The law states that to allow the police fully prepare its case against an accused person they are permitted to detain the person with leave of court for 45 days and if they intend to extend this time they must apply. There are two cases of illegal custody here. Sowore was arrested on the 3rd of August 2019, then appeared in court on the 24th of September which means he was kept in custody for 51 days. Justice Taiwo Taiwo granted him bail on the condition that he provides his international passport. It is said that his continued detention was since they couldn’t provide his international passport. However, it was stated it was provided that evening. This led to his detention from the 24th of September to the 5th of December 2019. This clearly amounts to a contempt of court as Oswald stated in his book titled ‘Contempt of Court’ that “…contempt of court may be said to be constituted by any conduct that tends to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrespect or disregard…” this definitely fits the bill as Anietie Ewang describes the situation as “…a flagrant disregard of the rule of law”.
The second incident was that of his re-arrest in the court room. Mr. Oghenejabor Ikimi Esq states that a warrant for arrest can be conducted anywhere except where a court is in session and this is evident in section 28(2) Criminal Procedure Act 2004. However, it was expressed that after justice Ijeoma Ojukwu adjourned the case an agent of the SSS attempted to arrest Sowore. this is what we call contempt in curiae facie meaning in the face of the court as it was in the courtroom in the presence of the judge who hurriedly fled the courtroom. This act led to a massive public outcry as institutions such as the Nigerian bar association, Nigerian union of journalists and other notable speakers condemned the actions of the SSS as a contempt of the court.
Our honourable minister of justice Abubakar Malami recently released a statement claiming that they had the right to detain Sowore despite the court orders because the execution of a court order is to be put on hold pending the determination of an appeal against the order. However, there was no appeal against the order and when the representatives of the SSS where asked about it Dr Peter Afunnaya sounded quite nifty by stating “…we cannot just release Sowore and ask him to go because he maybe knocked down by a vehicle at the gate”. Mr Falana stated that there was no evidence of an application to appeal the court order and cited the case of Nigerian Army v Mowarin 1992 were it was established that where government files an appeal against the order of a high court for release of any person from custody, the order can’t be stayed pending the determination of the appeal because the liberty of the citizen cannot be out in abeyance. Based on these authorities Sowore has the right to have been granted bail and his continuous detention for about 125 days was illegal and an abuse on his fundamental human rights.
THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSION
Sowore has never been one to shy away from taking a bold stance. Apparently, he has been expelled twice for political reasons and activism even as a student. His also once boldly stated that he can run the country better than the incumbent president “even in his sleep”. However, in a country like Nigeria which is expected to be one of the leaders of Africa, the respect of the rule of law and freedom of expression are fundamental qualities that must exist in the society. Let’s take America for example and the insatiable backlash president Trump and sometimes even Obama received as the president of the nation. now try replacing them with the current president with all the issues we faced in his first tenure and all the issues we are facing now in his second tenure. The rate of insecurity, boko haram, the herdsmen and farmers clashes, and our dear girls who have been adopted for 5 years and counting. It feels me with sadness each time I pass the Falomo roundabout and see the faces of them all. Imagine if 200 girls suddenly went missing in the UK or US what would be the reaction of the citizens? Although the girls where adopted in Jonathan’s tenure, many of them still haven’t returned home. The fact is things seem to be getting harder for the average Nigerian and the one of the ways to pressure on the government to do their job is through peaceful protests. Sowore has also been quoted stating that “…we don’t want war we want a very clean, quick, succinct revolutionary process…that we put an end to the shenanigans of government, that we put an end to the oppression, the corruption of government”. Aren’t these the thoughts of many concerned Nigerians today?
Sowore’s arrest seems to me like an attempt to shut him up or do away with him. Based on what we know there is no concrete reason to suspect him of treason besides that statement he made on air and if the accusations are based on his words then he has made many other statements that imply that he only wanted a peaceful protest. This then leads to the question does our present government have an issue with influential individuals calling for peaceful protests? This is to the “March against Buhari” where Tuface decided to lead the protest. Apparently, Tuface announced he wasn’t marching anymore after a visit from the SSS a day before the march. The whole story seems like an infringement on individuals right to carry out peaceful protests. This raises questions on the government’s attitude towards freedom of expression as there are rumours another journalist Agba Jalingo still in custody.
These incidents are footprints on the sands of time. Regardless of the statements the government makes about its time in office, this will be part of their legacy and its beginning to look more like the Nigeria of 1983.
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