Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja and Tessy Igomu
A coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to order the release of Omoyele Sowore within 14 days or face mass action.
Speaking on behalf of the coalition, yesterday, Yemi Ademolekun, convener of Enough is Enough (EIE), said shrinking of the media and civic space call for concern. She said there was a need to rise up against any action of the government that will stifle free speech.
While listing five demands, she asked the president to obey all pending court orders and direct the release of all those illegally arrested.
The five demands include: “President Muhammadu Buhari should show accountability as commander-in-chief and address the nation on his commitment to the rule of law and human rights,” the EIE convener said.
“The release of all illegally detained persons by Department of State Service (DSS).
“That the government obey all pending court orders. An investigation of the officer who violated protocols and circumstances leading circumstances leading to the second arrest of Omoyele Sowore.”
She said if the demands were not met within the time given, they would occupy all offices of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) nationwide.
“If these five demands are not honoured within 14 days, we call on patriots across Nigerians to join us as we occupy National Human Rights Commission offices across the country as it is legally mandated to protect Nigerians and also report to presidency,” Ademolekun said.
In a related development, the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) said it has suspended the integrity award slated for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to protest Sowore’s rearrest in court.
The centre said in a statement that honouring Osinbajo with the award in the light of recent protests against Sowore’s travails and the “repression“ of free speech will be inappropriate.
The WSCIJ had announced it would present an “Integrity Specialty of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Anti-corruption Defender Award of 2019” to the vice president at its annual award ceremony in Lagos.
It said the recognition is for Osinbajo’s “invaluable work of overhauling the Lagos State Judiciary, facilitating far-reaching reforms in the administration of justice in the state, his work of promoting integrity in the civil society and business in Nigeria and his consistency as a strong voice for promoting integrity in the country.”
“But the vice president has been called out over the current administration’s clamp down on free speech and Sowore’s trial.”
In the statement signed by Motunrayo Alaka, its executive director, WSCIJ said the award ceremony will go on as scheduled, but was silent on whether the award will be presented to the vice-president on a new date.
However, Osinbajo has said he was “extremely grateful for the recognition and award.
A statement by Laolu Akande quoted Osinbajo as saying: “The award, I note, is for our Justice reform efforts in Lagos State. I had accepted the award with pride on behalf of the excellent Justice Sector team we had.
“However, two reasons explain my absence. First is that I am currently in Abu Dhabi for an international meeting under the auspices of the government of the UAE where I am the keynote speaker.
“Second, in view of the developments on Friday in the Sowore case, I think it would be insensitive and inappropriate to attend the ceremony.
“Please accept my heartfelt apologies and extend the same to the other members of the organising team. God bless you.”
Sowore was rearrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) last Friday — less than 24 hours after he was released on bail. He spent 125 days in custody before he was briefly released last Thursday.
The pro-democracy activist is accused of insulting the president, treasonable felony and money laundering.