The alleged invasion of the Federal High Court Abuja by the personnel of the Directorate of State Security Service (DSSS) last Friday has generated no little fury in the polity. Kehinde Osasona and Joshua Egbodo take a look.
There was mild drama in a Federal High Court Abuja when about 15 operatives of the Department of State Services re-arrested Sahara Reporters publisher, Omoyele Sowore, and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare, after the Friday’s proceedings. It seems the operatives of the DSS invaded the courtroom to effect the arrest.
The operatives in a bid to effect fresh arrest, a stampede occurred as Sowore and his supporters tried to resist the operatives of the DSS numbering about 15. The development disrupted the proceedings which Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu was conducting after Sowore’s case was adjourned. The judge was forced to suspend sitting directing that the rest of the cases on her list for the day should be adjourned.
Following the furore the drama generated, the DSS first denied that its personnel were responsible for the uproar in the courtroom. According to the agency’s spokesman, Peter Afunaya, its operatives were not involved in the desecration of the courtroom, saying it is a law abiding agency that takes pride in observing the rule of law.
Some three days later, the Presidency threw its weight behind the DSS flowing the uproarious condemnations that greeted the invasion of the court by the DSS to re-arrest the embattled Presidential candidate of the African Action Congress on Friday in Abuja.
The presidency said that the DSS acted under its constitutional powers and that it does not necessarily need the permission of the presidency in all cases to carry out its essential responsibilities that are laid down in the Nigerian Constitution – which was the foundation for the restoration of democracy in our country in 1999.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, stated that the Presidency noted some of the insinuations in the media about the arrest by the DSS of the agitator, Omoyele Sowore.
“Sowore called for a revolution to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nigeria. He did so on television, and from a privileged position as the owner of a widely read digital newspaper run from the United States of America.
“He founded an organisation, Revolution Now, to launch, in their own words, “Days of Rage”, with the publicised purpose of fomenting mass civil unrest and the elected administration’s overthrow.
“No government will allow anybody to openly call for destabilization in the country and do nothing. Mr. Sowore is no ordinary citizen expressing his views freely on social media and the internet.
“He was a presidential candidate himself, who ran – and lost – as the flag bearer of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the February 23 general elections.
The APC comes to its defense
The Party said it would not be drawn into arguments over the powers of the Department of State Services (DSS) to arrest and re-arrest Sowore over his actions and utterances. The constitutional mandate of the DSS already addresses that.
“Also, the presidency has clarified that the DSS does not necessarily need the president’s permission in all cases to carry out its essential and constitutional responsibilities.
Again, whether Sowore flouted any of his bail conditions or staged the incident in court is another matter which the court and prosecuting agency should address.
“Documentary evidence such as videos and pictures have shown that the tales are a complete ruse until anyone is able to present a contrary evidence.
“The APC, therefore, unequivocally rejects the inciting messages and criminal antics of some individuals and partisans who have embarked on a campaign of calumny against this administration and are calling for a forceful takeover of government.
“We call on Nigerians to look at the issue of Sowore’s arrest and subsequent trial dispassionately and devoid of the skewed narratives and sentiments being propagated by the likes of Atiku and PDP.
Our laws are clear on treason and Nigerians would expect decisive actions from our law enforcement agencies and government. Any attempt to truncate our democracy and threaten our collective peace and safety must and will be resisted using the full weight and instrumentalities of the law”, the APC said in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu.
Sowore stage-managed drama- Coalition
However, the Convener of the Guidance for Democracy Initiative, Prince Danesi Mohmoh, who said he was speaking on behalf of some civil society organizations alleged that what took place in the court room on Friday was a drama plotted to misled the media, thereby misinforming Nigerians.
“Watch the video keenly, the people inside the court room were not DSS operatives. I am, not speaking for them, but they were not DSS operatives. Sowore and his master, Femi Falana, know best what they planned in the court; the simple message was just to give Nigeria a bad name amongst committee on nations.
“If you have ever had dealings with any Nigerian security outfit, you will discover that the laws that established them stipulate where and where they can operate, that was a court room for God sake,” Danesi said.
“We do not see any reason the media will be cajoled to misinform the public. I was at the court the same day, and my message there was clear, that the judiciary upholds only the constitution and jettison pressure from any political and tribal sentiment.”
He, however, urged the DSS and police to apprehend and prosecute those involved in the drama, saying “I am using this medium to call on the DSS to speedy the investigation on that video footage and those people perpetrated the act should be brought to book.
We did it- DSS
But the DSS swiftly rubbished the claims of the Convener of the Guidance for Democracy Initiative by issuing public to Justice Ojukwu, whose court was invaded.
In no uncertain terms the apology is a clear admittance it actually carried out the invasion and in some way washes it hands off the sycophantic claim by the Convener of the Guidance for Democracy Initiative that the invasion was staged-managed by Sowore and his counsel Femi Falana SAN.
Condemnation heats up
The Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) leapt into the fury by condemning the State Security Service (SSS) over its attempt to re-arrest the Sowore in a courtroom.
The coalition is an alliance of media and civil society organisations, including Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), Sahara Reporters (SR), Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), The Cable and Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ).
The coalition called on President Muhammadu Buhari to punish the agents involved in the attack on the court as well as the agency’s leadership.
It said this is to assure Nigerians and the international community that the officials were not acting under the president’s instructions and that his government does not condone their actions.
In a statement signed by Stephanie Adams, the group’s media officer on Saturday, the coalition said the failure of President Buhari and his government to take immediate and decisive action would put a permanent blemish on the administration’s human rights record.
The coalition described the action of the SSS operatives who invaded the court as an assault on the authority and independence of the judiciary.
It said prior to the release of Messrs Sowore and Olawale Bakare on Thursday, the SSS had refused to release the activists for months, despite orders for their release on bail issued by different judges of the Federal High Court.
It described the action of the agency as an unacceptable violation of the principles of the rule of law in a constitutional democracy.
The coalition called on the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to investigate the human rights situation in Nigeria, warning that the country is rapidly descending into totalitarianism and tyranny.
The coalition said any delay by the international community in taking firm action to address the Nigerian situation could result in a violent conflict in Africa’s most populous nation, which would constitute a grave threat to international peace and security, particularly in the region.
SANs demand action
Two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) Ade Adedeji and Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa advised the Attorney-General of the Federation to met with the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to meet and jointly condemn the invasion among other steps.
‘Adedeji said: “There’s urgent need for the Attorney General of the Federation and the President of the NBA to have a joint press conference and condemn in unequivocal terms the trend of undermining the integrity of the court by invading court rooms with arms, forcibly arresting and harassing citizens and generally abusing the rule of law through disobedience of the court.
“It is equally imperative that all heads of the arms of government: the president, the CJN, and the Senate President, should immediately come together to sincerely work out modalities to stem the tide. We are living in a perilous times but must be encouraged to have the audacity of hope that things will change”
the NBA did well by promptly responding to the invasion through a press release, but more needed to be done.
Like Adedeji, he suggested a meeting with the CJN and AGF to consult on possible steps to be taken to protect judges and the courts from further invasion.
Olu-Adegboruwa said: “The purpose of this meeting is: to secure the courts with a functional police post as is done in the National Assembly and even houses of assembly of the states.
“To ensure that the DSS is made to account for the events of December 6, 2019. To also meet with the leadership of the National Assembly, the Committees on Judiciary and Human Rights and Law Enforcement with a view to getting the DSS to be brought to book.
“To demand the immediate disengagement of the present leadership of the DSS and all its officers involved in the invasion. To meet with the AG of Lagos State to unravel the invasion of Lagos court and bring those involved to book. To visit Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and Hon Justice Ojukwu for solidarity and consultations.”
The Silk also suggested that henceforth, the Bar should get its members who are involved in any government to be held accountable for any breach of the rule of law by the government and its officers and agencies.”
Falana and issues of courtroom invasion
The counsel to Sowore, Femi Falana, SAN known for his erudite interpretation of legal matters brought some dimensions into the issue. First he accused the SSS of not being truthful.
While debunking the claim by the SSS, Femi Falana, Mr Sowore’s lawyer, said not only did the SSS officials invade the court premises, causing the court to hurriedly end its activities, their leader also apologised to the judge.
“When I informed the court that fresh charges were being filed against our clients and that they could be re-arrested, the prosecution denied any such plan.
“As soon as the case was adjourned the SSS pounced on Sowore and caused a disruption of the proceedings of the court. Having taken over the court room vi et armis Justice Ojukwu hurriedly rose and asked the Registrar to adjourn all other cases. After the learned trial judge had risen for the day she summoned the heads of the prosecution and defence teams to her chambers.
“When the lead prosecutor, Dr. Liman Hassan SAN denied knowledge of the invasion of her court she directed him to invite the head of the sss team in the court. When challenged to justify the invasion of the court the officer could not. He apologised to Justice Ojukwu on behalf of the sss.
The judge then directed the officer to withdraw the sss operatives from the court room. The directive was complied with as the operatives withdrew from the court room but rushed out to join their colleagues who had taken over the entire court house,” Mr Falana wrote.
Read Mr Falana’s full statement below.
FALANA REPLIES SSS
SSS APOLOGISED FOR INVASION OF COURT!
Our attention has been drawn to the self contradictory press release of the SSS in which an unsuccessful attempt was made to absolve itself of responsibility for the armed invasion of the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division, in general, and the desecration of Court No 7 of Hon. Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu in particular as well as the illegal rearrest of Omoyele Sowore.
First, pretending to forget that the abominable desecration of the Federal High Court was covered live by domestic and international media outfits and journlists, some of whom were also direct victims of the gangsterism, barbarism and brutalisation displayed by officers of the Service on the 6th day of December 2019, the Service has conducted “eye witness” accounts of what transpired with the aim of showing that officers of the Service were not involved in the rearrest of Sowore.
Second, the Service argues on the one hand that the arrest of Sowore was “stage managed” by his supporters in order to give the Service a bad name whilst also admitting at the same time that officers of the Service arrested Sowore outside the Court. Having declared that the Service arrested Sowore “outside the court”, despite the “stage managing” argument, what the Nigerian people want to see happen is the immediate release of Sowore, pending his trial as ordered by the court.
INDUBITABLE FACTS CONFIRMING DESECRATION OF COURT AND RE-ARREST BY THE SERVICE
However, the following facts underscore our insistence that the Service was solely responsible for the desecration of the hallowed chambers of the court:
By the advantage of information technology, the whole world has placed responsibility for the gangsteric desecration of the court on the SSS. The SSS cannot extricate itself from the abominable acts of 6th December, 2019.
When I informed the court that fresh charges were being filed against our clients and that they could be re-arrested, the prosecution denied any such plan.
As soon as the case was adjourned the SSS pounced on Sowore and caused a disruption of the proceedings of the court. Having taken over the court room vi et armis Justice Ojukwu hurriedly rose and asked the Registrar to adjourn all other cases. After the learned trial judge had risen for the day she summoned the heads of the prosecution and defence teams to her chambers.
When the lead prosecutor, Dr. Liman Hassan SAN denied knowledge of the invasion of her court she directed him to invite the head of the sss team in the court. When challenged to justify the invasion of the court the officer could not. He apologised to Justice Ojukwu on behalf of the sss. The judge then directed the officer to withdraw the sss operatives from the court room. The directive was complied with as the operatives withdrew from the court room but rushed out to join their colleagues who had taken over the entire court house.
Notwithstanding that the sss could not produce any warrant of arrest for Sowore the defence team decided that I should accompany him to the sss headquarters in view of his physical brutalisation inside the court room and the open threat to his life. I did and ensured that he was driven in my car to the sss headquarters where I handed him over to the officers on duty. Thereafter, I requested for a meeting with the head of the sss but I was informed that he was not in the office.
Though, ordinarily, officers of the Service do not wear any uniform, on the 6th day of December, some of them were in mufti, many were not only armed but also masked while others disguised in lawyer’s black and white suit. Regardless of the form of appearance, the officers of the Service inside Court No. 7 were identifiable by their roles and acts of seizing Sowore and pinning him down. It is an utter poor reasoning to say that Sowore’s supporters were also those bent on injuring him in order to arrest him. The argument of the Service in this respect is as unfortunate and pitiable as the earlier argument of the Service in respect of the Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi who was once accused of wanting to set ablaze his own house.
If Sowore’s supporters subjected him to such brutalisation in the presence of sss operatives why were they not arrested for contravening the provisions of the Anti Torture Act, 2017? Or were the SSS operatives expecting the supporters of a defendant wanted by the State to kill him in their presence?
Before submitting himself for arrest Sowore had rightly demanded for a warrant of arrest and detention order but the sss operatives were unable to produce either.
ON RATIONALISATION OF RE-ARREST OF SOWORE BY THE SERVICE
In rationalizing the re-arrest of Sowore, which is denied in the same Press statement, the Serivce alleged that Sowore held metings with some people. Assuming without conceding that Sowore held meetings with some people in Transcorp Hotel as alleged by the sss, why did the Prosecution not inform the trial court that the defendant had breached his bail condition?
ON THE CLAIM OF THE SERVICE THAT IT IS LAW-ABIDING
The sss says it is a law abiding institution. But why did it refuse to comply with the order of Justice Taiwo to release Sowore? Why did the sss threaten to report the judge to the NJC for granting bail to Sowore?
Why did the SSS subject the order of Justice Ojukwu for the release of Sowore to its own approval by asking the sureties already verified by the judge to report themselves to the sss? Why the SSS wait for the 24-hour ultimatum issued by the trial judge before releasing Sowore and Bakare,?
Incidentally, the current prosecutor, Dr. Liman Hassan SAN was the counsel to the defendant in the case of FRN v Air Commodore Mohammed. In that case the order of Justice Nnamdi Dimgba for the release of the defendant on bail was flouted by the SSS. As if that was not enough, the sss invaded the home of the judge on 8th October 2016 when the houses of judges accused of corruption were raided. Even though I have never appeared before Justice Dimgba I have always known him as a judge of impecable integrity. So, I challenged the sss for painting an incorruptible judge with the brush of shame. It was after my intervention that the NJC gave the judge a clean bill of health.
Thereafter, the judge was compelled to withdraw from the case. The SSS thought that it had won but it was a phyrric victory. Thus, Justice John Tsoho (current Chief Judge of the federal high court) to whom the case was re assigned reiterated the orders of Justice Dimgba and proceeded to rule that trial would not commence in the case until the defendant was released from custody. It was at that stage that the sss complied with the order of the federal high court.
In the light of the foregoing we reiterate our demand for the release of not only Sowore in obedience to court orders, pending the verdict of the court in their trial. We equally call for the release of all other political detainees, and criminal sispects who have been admitted to bail pending trial by competent courts.
Finally, it is common knowledge that this country was ruled by military dictators for about three decades. On no occasion did security operatives invade court premises to arrest political activists inside a court room. Therefore, the bizarre harassment of courts cannot be tolerated under a democratically government that claims to operate under the rule of law. Femi Falana, SAN.