By Eric Elezuo
The DSS will have to explain why Sowore was rearrested. And the reason has to be HUGE. We just debated on the floor yesterday about separation of powers but this is a desecration of the judiciary. No matter whose side you are on, this cannot be right in anyway – Akin Oloye Alabi
A dangerous precedence was set on August 7, 2018 when a number of hooded and heavily armed operatives from the Department of State Service (DSS) invaded the National Assembly complex, took over the gates as early as 7 a.m. and prevented lawmakers from gaining entrance. The action, which attracted worldwide condemnation led to the dismissal of the then Director General of the agency, Lawal Musa Daura by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. He was replaced by Matthew Seiyefa. However, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was away in London on sick leave at the time of the incident, sacked him immediately upon his return. He was replaced by the incumbent, Yusuf Magaji Bichi.
Addressing a world conference afterwards, former President of the Senate Bukola Saraki condemned the invasion and commended Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for sacking the Director General.
Saraki described the barricade by the DSS operatives as act of ‘gangsterism”, which the legislature would not accept and bemoaned the drama, saying it was dangerous for democracy.
“What happened on Tuesday is not about me, Abubakar Bukola Saraki or Ike Ekweremadu. It is also not because of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara but the soul of Nigeria,” he said.
Today, another act of ‘gangsterism’ has been perpetrated, this time against the judicial institution and the hallowed chambers of the court, situated in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Less than 24 hours after the convener of #RevolutionNow and former Presidential candidate in the February 23, 2019 Presidential election, Omoyele Sowore, was released from the custody of the DSS, the agency invaded the Abuja High Court, disrupted court activities and reportedly threatened the judge and lawyers with guns in a bid to rearrest the activist.
Sowore was first arrested in his Magodo home on August 3, 2019, just two days to his planned #RevolutionNow protest. He has been held in DSS facility ever since, in spite of various court orders for his release.
Narrating the invasion, Sowore’s lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana SAN, who described the development as a “horrendous, bizarre, and barbaric contempt of court”, said he never witnessed such under “even the most brutal of past dictators that had ever ruled Nigeria”.
He added, “Under the military regime, the so-called enemies of the government would not be arrested in the web of the court which is considered a sanctuary.
“The military regimes would always show some respect for the court and would only arrest after the person left the court premises.
“What we have witnessed today is alien to Nigeria.”
Trouble started when Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, who confessed that she was made to ‘flee the court’ adjourned Sowore and his colleague, Adebayo Bakare’s trial till February 2020. The operatives made attempt to rearrest with guns cocked as the adjournment did not go down well with them.
Sowore and his co-defendant are being prosecuted on charges of treasonable felony following their call for ‘Revolution Now’ protest. They have in custody in the last four months and were only released after a 24 hours ultimatum issued the DSS for their release by the judge.
The judge had adjourned till Friday for a report of compliance with his fresh order for the release of the two men.
At the close of Friday’s proceedings, Sowore and Bakare were leaving the courtroom and the judge was already attending to another case, when about 15 armed DSS operatives who appeared to have laid an ambush for them, made to arrest them.
The move forced Sowore and Bakare to turn back to return to the courtroom, but Sowore was quickly held by an operative.
Sowore who managed to free himself ran back into the court with the invading operatives cocking their guns as they went after him.
The development disrupted the ongoing proceedings at Justice Ojukwu’s court.
The judge quickly fled the court and called off the day’s sittings.
Sowore, with his supporters, was able to resist the arrest for a while, raising the alarm that the DSS’ moves were an attempt to kill him.
After the meeting Falana and the prosecuting counsel, Hassan Liman (SAN), held with the judge, the defence lawyer criticised the operatives’ move to make an arrest within the court premises.
He offered to drive his client to the DSS headquarters in Abuja.
The operatives agreed with the arrangement as they drove in vehicles in front and behind Falana’s car while they made their way to the DSS headquarters.
Falana said on reaching the DSS office, he was not allowed to meet with Sowore as he was asked to come back later.
Following the incident, Nigerians have turned the heat on the DSS and the President, wondering why such a ‘despicable’ should be allowed to play out in the court.
In his remarks, a former Vice President and Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, condemned the action, describing it as unfortunate and “a rape on the sanctity of the court.”
He said: “Never in the history of Nigerian democracy has a judge been treated in such a disdainful and brazen attack on not just her person and office, but on the entire judiciary. This is unacceptable. It is a rape on the sanctity of the court. Nigeria is not a dictatorship. We are a democracy, no matter how inconvenient this fact is to the powers that have forced themselves on us.
“Without the rule of law, there can be no rule at all. Power in Nigeria still flows from the people, not from the barrel of a gun. I call on all men and women of goodwill not to keep quiet or sit on the fence at times like this.
“To keep Nigeria a democracy is the paramount duty of all concerned stakeholders. Please speak up against this tyranny and side with the Nigerian people.”
Lending his voice to the rearrest of Sowore and attack on the judiciary, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka said the action of the DSS has a great resemblance to a pack of wild dogs attacking their prey.
“I apologize for underestimating the DSS capacity for the unthinkable. I reiterate the nation’s concern, indeed alarm, about the escalating degradation of the judiciary through multiple means, of which disobedience of court orders is fast becoming the norm,” Soyinka said.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in its reaction, through the Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “The appalling invasion of the courtroom and the ill-treatment of Sowore and Bakare is a blatant attack on the rule of law and the sanctity and integrity of our justice system. An independent judiciary, free from intimidation and harassment is a basic precondition to a functioning democracy under the rule of law.”
Other human rights organisations as well as a private individuals have risen in condemnation of the DSS and the desecration of the rule of law, saying it is a reminder of the dark era of military rule in the country.
Make A Difference, in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Lemmy Ughegbe, recommended the boycott of all cases instituted by the SSS in all courts nationwide in protest of the invasion of the court.
“The Gestapo invasion and desecration of the court by agents of the Department of State Security (DSS) is a sad and debasing testament of how deeply Nigeria and the people have retrogressed into darker ages worse even than the military era,” Mr Ughegbe wrote.
The group challenged the Chief Justice of Nigeria to order the courts nationwide to suspend hearings of all cases brought by DSS until the deviant organisation purges itself of its sins and complies with all orders of courts issued against it.
Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) on its part urged “Nigerians to speak out and defend democracy before it is too late” and called on the “world leaders to save democracy from the imminent death.”
Most Nigerians have fingered the President in the malady that took place at the court on Friday, saying that the DSS DG would have long been fired if the President has no hand in it
“If the DSS does something not sanctioned by the president, the head of the DSS gets fired or at least suspended. Any insanity displayed by the DSS that doesn’t result in the DG getting fired or sanctioned is backed by the president himself! It’s as simple as that,” a public commentator, J.J Omojuwa (@Omojuwa), said.
Other Nigerians also made comments on social media.
“Just seeing the videos of the Sowore re-arrest by the DSS in open court. To say I am shocked beyond words is an understatement. I am horrified. This is not just an affront to the judiciary, it is an assault on the Judiciary. The President Must intervene to #FreeSoworeNow” Yinka Ogunubi (@yinkaanubi) wrote on his wall.
Another twitter user, A Better Nation, challenged the main opposition party, PDP, to play its role well to galvanise resistance to human rights violation by the government.
“Is it that @OfficialPDPNig as the major opposition party cannot stand up and organise a resistance to this impunity going on so that citizens can have a strong platform to key into? Las las they are all in it together. It’s mind-boggling. #FreeSoworeNow – @chuks4uche commented.
Another twitter user @Mrpossidez blamed the desecration on the judiciary/executive fraternisation, saying the executive would never have had to impetus to invade the court. He also took a swipe a Buhari taking a revenge at the judiciary for refusing to give him a standing ovation at the NBA conference. He also called for a boycott of proceedings.
“By complicity, as omission is enough. Refusing to give Buhari a standing ovation at the NBA conference is not enough. There are too many unprecedented desecrations; the judiciary should boycott proceedings, a strong message has to be sent by the bar and the bench.”