Godwin Tsa, Abuja and Romanus Okoye and Lukman Olabiyi
Detained convener of #RevolutionNow protests, Omoyele Sowore, will be arraigned today before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court by the Federal Government.
The planned arraignment is coming amid sustained efforts by his legal team headed by Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) to secure his freedom.
On Tuesday last week, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, who initially gave legal backings for his detention by the Department of State Security Services (DSS) ordered his immediate release from detention.
However, the order has not been complied with by the security outfit necessitating the filing of a contempt charge against its leadership by Sowore’s lawyers.
He is to be arraigned before Justice Ifeoma Ojukwu on seven-count of treasonable felony, money laundering and cybercrimes preferred against him by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
In the charges instituted, the prosecution accused Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, of committing conspiracy to commit treasonable felony in breach of Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act.
The prosecution alleged that the defendants committed the offence by allegedly staging “a revolution campaign on August 5, 2019 aimed at removing the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The prosecution also accused them of committing the actual offence of treasonable felony in breach of section, 4(1)(c) of the Criminal Code Act by using the platform of Coalition for Revolution, in August 2019 in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, to stage the #RevolutionNow protest allegedly aimed at removing the president.
Sowore is equally accused of cybercrime offences in violation of section 24(1)(b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention) Act by “knowingly” sending “messages by means of press interview granted on Arise Television network which you knew to be false for the purpose of causing insult, enmity, hatred and ill-will on the person of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The prosecution also accused Sowore of money laundering offences in breach of section 15(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 by allegedly transferring by means of swift wire, various sums of money from his United Bank of Africa Plc account with number 3002246104 into Sahara Reporters Media Foundation’s account with Guaranty Trust Bank in order to conceal the origin of the funds.
The DSS has been detaining the former presidential candidate since August 3 even after the order for his release by the court.
Meanwhile, lawyers have berated the Federal Government over the decision by the DSS to keep Sowore in their custody.
They said selecting which judgment to obey or disregard by agencies of government did not augur well for Nigeria’s democracy.
While reacting to the planned arraignment of Sowore, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said the Sahara Reporters publisher was not charged with treason which carries the death penalty under sections 37 and 38 of the Criminal Code but with treasonable felony which is punishable with life imprisonment under sections 40-49 of the same Criminal Code.
He said while section 161 permits a judge to grant bail to a person accused of a capital offence in cases of exceptional circumstances, section 162 allows such bail more easily for felonious but non capital except where certain conditions are shown to exist. “None of these extreme circumstances existed to have prevented Justice Taiwo from granting Sowore bail. The only option open to the DSS if dissatisfied with Justice Taiwo’s judgement is to first obey the court order and then appeal against it.”
In his reaction, former second vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani, said the attitude of law enforcement agencies could destroy the legal profession and called on lawyers to rise up against the menace.
“Judiciary is the only place where we operate, so if they succeed in destroying it, no one will have regard and respect for us and for the country. If lawyers allow the judiciary to be emasculated by the executive, we are finished; Nigeria is gone.”
Also reacting, Adetokunbo Mumuni, lawyer and SERAP’s Executive Director said government agencies must learn to obey court orders because Nigeria is not a Banana Republic or a lawless society.
Another SAN, Ebun-olu Adegboruwa said the Federal Government has no moral and constitutional justification to disobey court’s order.
“When government and its agencies refuse to obey lawful orders of court, society descends into the Hobbesian state where life becomes brutish and short and this encouraging citizens to resort to lawlessness,” he said.
President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Uguwumadu described the refusal by the DSS to release Sowore as a travesty of both the rule of law and the tenets of democracy in Nigeria.
Similarly, Kunle Adegoke flayed the continued detention of Sowore as utterly unacceptable.
He said it was executive recklessness for any government to trample on the rights of the citizens contrary to judicial pronouncements in the guise promoting national security
But another lawyer, Dele Igbinedion, argued that it was was too early to knocks Federal Government over their refusal to release Sowore despite court’s order granting him bail.
According to him, time frame to release Sowore was not stipulated in the order and any party which had declared his intention to appeal against court’s order couldn’t held for contempt.
“If government can show the court its intention of appealing against the order for the release of Sowore, backing it with application for stay of execution nothing will stop Sowore from being arraign,” he said.
However, Falana, has said there was no plan by the DSS to report Justice Taiwo to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for granting Sowore bail. In a statement, yesterday, he said the report on the secret service petitioning the NJC against Justice Taiwo is false. He said it was designed to blackmail and intimidate judges in the case of the activist. However, in a desperate bid to divert public attention from the contemptuous conduct of the SSS the Federal Government has hurriedly pressurised the federal high court to assign the case for the arraignment of Mr. Sowore,” he said.