Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Omoyele Sowore, the detained publisher of online newspaper Sahara Reporters and convener of the #RevolutionNow protests, will be arraigned before the Abuja division of the Federal High Court by the Federal Government on Monday, September 30.
The arraignment comes amidst sustained efforts by Sowore’s legal team, headed by Lagos lawyer and activist Mr Femi Falana (SAN), to secure his release from his nearly two-month-long detention.
Only Tuesday last week, September 17, presiding judge Justice Taiwo Taiwo, who had initially laid out the legal backing for Sowore’s detention by the Department of State Security Services (DSS), had ordered his immediate release from detention.
However, the order has not been complied with by the DSS, necessitating the filling of a contempt charge against its leadership by Sowore’s lawyers.
The activist is to be arraigned before Justice Ifeoma Ojukwu on seven counts of treasonable felony, money laundering and cybercrimes preferred against him by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
In the charges instituted against Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, the prosecution accuses them of conspiracy to commit treasonable felony in breach of Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act.
The prosecution alleges that the defendants committed the offence by 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 protests allegedly aimed at removing the President.
Sowore is further 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 accuses Sowore of money laundering offences in breach of section 15(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 by alleged 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 held Sowore, a former presidential candidate, in detention since August 3 even after the order for his release by the court.
There were insinuations in the media that the DSS wants to file a petition against Justice Taiwo for ordering Sowore’s release.
Reacting to the development, a constitutional lawyer and activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said it is barefaced impunity.
“To me, it is extremely silly and idiotic for anyone, least unexpectedly of all the DSS, to petition against Justice Taiwo Taiwo before the NJC (National Judicial Council) for granting bail to Sowore,” he said.
“Why didn’t the same DSS petition against the courageous Judge when he used his same undoubted discretion to order Sowore’s detention for 45 days in the first instance?
“This government is one given to cheap duplicity, irreconcilable contradictions and barefaced impunity. It dances on governance principles like a yoyo! How can you petition against a Judge for exercising his discretion judicially and judiciously as permitted him by law? The Judge was right in his order. Sowore was not charged with treason, which carries the death penalty under sections 37 and 38 of the Criminal Code.
“He was charged with treasonable felony, which is punishable with life imprisonment under sections 40-49 of the same Criminal Code.
“Even then, while section 161 permits a Judge to grant bail to a person accused of a capital offence in exceptional circumstances, section 162 allows such bail more easily for felonious but non capital, except where certain conditions are shown to exist.
“None if these extreme circumstances existed to have presented 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. It has no right or power to choose, whimsically, capriciously and arbitrarily what order to obey and which to disobey.
“Why didn’t the same DSS disobey an earlier order made by the same Justice Taiwo himself to keep Sowore in its gulag for 45 days in the first instance? Oh, I know why: the order favoured the government. At that stage, the Judge was incorrutuptible.
“For God’s sake, can someone please help me nudge this vindictive and intolerant government to the inescable reality that we are operating a constitutional democracy driven by adherence to rule of law, observance of human rights and obedience to court orders? Can’t this government come to terms that we are not in a military junta or a totalitarian, absolutist and fascist state? Hello, DSS, please, release Sowore immediately,” Ozekhome stated.