Judge flees as SSS invades court to rearrest Sowore, Bakare
•I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I plead with Buhari to release my son —Sowore’s mum •It is desecration of judiciary —Amnesty International
JUSTICE Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court, Abuja, ran into her chambers on Friday as operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) invaded her court to re-arrest the convener of #RevolutionNow protest, Omoyele Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare.
Sowore and Bakare had resisted being rearrested by the officers of the security outfit shortly after Justice Ojukwu adjourned the case till February 11, February 12 and February 13, 2020 for definite hearing.
As everyone filed out of the courtroom, no fewer than 15 armed personnel of the SSS, who had laid ambush for the defendants, made their way towards Sowore and Bakare.
There was a stampede as the officers cocked their guns, scaring people away.
Sowore and Bakare, however, resisted being re-arrested running back into the courtroom.
The development led to the disruption of another case called by the court. The judge, lawyers and court staffers fled the courtroom in the chaos that ensued, while other people, including journalists, scampered for safety.
Amidst the commotion that pervaded the courtroom, the SSS operatives stood their ground on re-arresting the defendants.
Sowore, while speaking with newsmen in the courtroom, alleged that the ploy of the security agency was to kill him.
He said their action had shown that they had no respect for the law, the court and the citizens.
However, after over an hour battle, Sowore and Bakare were led out of the court by his team of lawyers, friends and surrounded by the stern-looking SSS officers.
The security agents, who remained adamant on re-arresting him, refused to listen to anyone, including counsel for the defendants, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), and they did not give any reason for their action.
As Sowore and Bakare walked out of the court premises, the SSS operatives drove their vehicle to accost the defendants but they refused to board the vehicle.
Falana, who was visibly unhappy with the treatment, cautioned them against re-arresting them in the court premises.
The human rights lawyer then insisted that if the defendants must follow them, they must go in his car.
Sowore and Bakare were later conveyed to the SSS office in Falana’s Lexus Sports Utility Vehicle with registration number: ABC 202 HV, while the officers escorted them with their vehicles.
The Cable News Network (CNN) said it spoke with Sowore’s mother — Esther Sowore — on Friday and reported that she became visibly shocked as she learned of her son’s re-arrest.
She told CNN about the toll her son’s arrest had taken on her health.
“I cannot eat, I cannot sleep. It is affecting my health. It has been four months now. I plead with [President Muhammadu] Buhari again in Allah’s name. I plead with him to release my son,” she said.
She also called on President Donald Trump of the United States to intervene and help free her son during the CNN interview.
Justice Ojukwu had on Thursday ordered the SSS to release Sowore and Bakare within 24 hours after meeting his bail conditions.
Ojukwu also awarded a N100,000 fine against the SSS over its delay to serve the defence counsel with the additional proof of evidence in the ongoing trial despite the court’s order to that effect.
The SSS had complied with the court order by releasing the defendants and also paying the fine.
At the Friday’s sitting, the SSS counsel, Hassan Liman (SAN), told the court that the security agency had already complied with the order of the court.
He also hinted that based on the agreement between the parties, the matter be adjourned till February 11, 12 and 13 to enable the parties respond to applications filed.
Also speaking, the defence counsel, Falana confirmed that his clients were released to him on Thursday evening.
“My Lord, at about 5 o’clock yesterday, I received a call from my respected colleague to send our lawyers to receive our clients.
“I am happy to tell you that our clients were released and the N100,000 cost was also paid.
“On account of this, on behalf of our defendants, we wish to express our profound appreciation to Your Lordship for standing up for integrity and for standing for the rule of law in Nigeria.
“I also thank my colleague for impressing it on their client to obey the court order.
“I hope my learned friend will allow the defendants to get their freedom, notwithstanding the charges,” he told the court.
Justice Ojukwu, who commended the SSS for obeying the court order, said everyone must be ready to allow the law to take its course.
“It is obvious that the SSS has demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law. No one is above the law,” she said, adding that those at the realms of power must respect the rule of law.
“The SSS has earned the respect of Nigerians for this,” the judge said.
She then adjourned till February 11, 12 and 13 for definite hearing.
Meanwhile, while Sowore was driven back to the SSS office in Falana’s car, where he is currently being detained, the operatives of the agency are currently searching for Bakare in different parts of Abuja.
The uncertainty surrounding Bakare’s whereabouts added a new twist to the matter.
In the meantime, Sowore’s counsel, Falana, has described the action of the SSS as a “horrendous, bizarre and barbaric contempt of court” never witnessed under “even the most brutal of past dictators that had ever ruled Nigeria”.
He said, “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.”
He said that at a meeting which Justice Ojukwu called to be held in her chambers with him and the prosecuting counsel, Liman, the judge “expressed dismay” over the development as she said “she was made to flee her court.”
After the meeting Falana and Liman held with the judge, the defence lawyer criticised the operatives’ move to make an arrest within the court premises.
SSS’s attack rape of court’s sanctity –Atiku
Former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, described the attack by personnel of the SSS on Justice Ojukwu’s court as a rape of the sanctity of the court.
In a statement he personally issued in Abuja, he called for an inquiry to fish out those involved in the incident, which he also described as unacceptable.
The former presidential candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was of the view that Nigeria was not a dictatorship and, therefore, called on the government to obey court orders, including those issued on Sowore, Sambo Dasuki and Ibrahim Zakzaky.
His statement reads: “Today, I am in extreme anguish of spirit, having watched the unfortunate drama that played out at the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, in which agents of the state not only caused a commotion in court in order to frustrate a judgment of a court of competent authority.
“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.
“I call for an immediate inquiry to be set up to identify those responsible for the maltreatment meted out to Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu and the desecration of her court, and indeed the Nigerian judiciary. They must be sanctioned to the highest extent permissible by our laws.
“I further call for all law enforcement agencies in Nigeria to immediately respect not just the court order made by Justice Ojukwu but the order of any court in Nigeria on any detainee, be it Omoyele Sowore, Sambo Dasuki or Ibrahim Zakzaky, among others.
“We cannot have a situation where our government is quick to obey foreign court orders and even quicker to disobey domestic court orders. This is symptomatic of a mindset that is servile to foreign powers and brutal to Nigerians.
“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.”
Nigeria eroding prospect for accountability and justice –Amnesty International
Amnesty International (AI) condemned the ambush and eventual arrest of Sowore in court on Friday.
It lamented that prospect for accountability and justice was being rapidly eroded by the Nigerian government.
Programmes Manager, Amnesty International Nigeria, Seun Bakare, in a statement made available to Saturday Tribune, said: “The attempted abduction and eventual re-arrest of prisoners of conscience, Omoyele Sowore and Olawale Bakare, including the desecration of the Nigerian judiciary by officials of the State Security Service, tells a bigger story of impunity and flagrant disregard for the rule of law by the Nigerian government.
“In a country where the government picks and chooses what court orders to obey, no one has hope of lawful protection under the law.
“The prospect for accountability and justice is fast eroding as the government has repeatedly demonstrated an unwilling ability to uphold human rights and justice.
“Despite Nigeria’s overwhelming ratification of human rights treaties and commitments at international and regional levels, human rights defenders and activist continue to face attacks, harassment and intimidation.”
AI said the “Nigerian government has clear national and international obligations to promote, protect, respect and fulfill human rights.”
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Nigeria sliding into dictatorship –PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said Friday’s invasion of the sanctity of the Federal High Court, Abuja, by the SSS further confirmed that Nigeria under the Muhammadu Buhari presidency was finally sliding into a “frightening” dictatorship.
In a statement issued in Abuja by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP said the SSS’s action was a vindication of its earlier stand that the nation was no longer governed by democratic principles of the rule of law and dictates of the constitution.
The main opposition party added: “Today, the world watched with shock as operatives of the presidency-controlled DSS, in a most horrific manner, swooped on the court, held the judiciary to ransom, disrupted proceedings, scared away the judge, chased away lawyers and journalists, attacked and re-arrested persons standing trial within the precincts of the court, in a manner that can only be obtainable in Idi Amin’s Uganda.
“The invasion is in a forceful suspension of our constitutional order and a further battering of the judiciary, which points to an emerging lawlessness that can only find space in a military regime.
“Without prejudice to the charge against the convener of the ‘Revolution Now’ movement, Mr Omoyele Sowore, the PDP holds that in a normal democracy, it is the duty of the court to determine the fate of an accused, according to the laws and not a resort to brute force by the government to silence persons with dissenting voices.
“Our party notes that such a violation, as embarrassingly witnessed in the Abuja court this weekend is a direct invitation to anarchy and a huge threat to the unity, peace, stability and corporate existence of our nation and the safety of our citizens.
“Indeed, this is not the Nigeria our citizens yearn for and it is imperative to restate that Nigeria under the Buhari presidency is fast sliding into a dark country where laws are suspended, the judiciary is assaulted and citizens are stripped of their fundamental rights.”
The PDP called on well-meaning Nigerians and the international community to call the Buhari presidency to order before its “actions derail the nation and trigger a breakdown of law and order” in the land.
“The international community must have more than a passing glance at the situation in Nigeria as any crisis in our country, God forbid, given our population is capable of having a negative spillover effect across the African continent and other parts of the world,” the party said.
It urged Nigerians, irrespective of political, religious and ethnic leanings, to unite in condemnation of the “dictatorial tendencies of the present administration and in defending our democracy and unity as a nation.”
SSS’s action treasonable, barbaric –CUPP
The Nigerian opposition political parties under the umbrella of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), described the action of the SSS at the Federal High Court, Abuja, as treasonable and barbaric.
In a statement made available to newsmen by its national spokesperson, Ikenga Ugochinyere, the CUPP said “the serenity as well as sanctity of the court was utterly desecrated by the men of the DSS who, believing they are above the law, launched their attack even while the court was in session.”
The coalition, while calling on the presidency to immediately sack all the operatives involved the attack to demonstrate its innocence in the matter, urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria to speak on the “barbaric” action.
“The arrest of Sowore right inside the courtroom while trial was on is treason against constitutional governance.
“This attack is the worst level of contemptuous act ever witnessed in Nigeria’s democracy and could not have happened without express approval and backing of the presidency. It has formally announced the total collapse of democracy and constitutionality and ushered in a descent into totalitarianism, anarchy and despotism. Nigeria is now officially a police state
“This very attack is worse and graver than the barricading of the National Assembly for which a former Director General of the DSS was summarily sacked.
“The court is the temple of justice. It is ordinarily the inner chamber of civility that even the military in their decades of rule in Nigeria could not suppress. If the presidency will claim it did not directly approve the desecration of the Federal High Court in session, we call for the immediate sack of all the officers of the DSS involved in this show of shame and for them, including their superiors who gave the order, to be docked immediately for the contempt in facie curie and sentenced appropriately.
“While we note that this type of action can only happen where the executive does not have respect for the judiciary, its leadership, structure and powers, we shall, however, await the comments and position of the Chief Justice of Nigeria before we take a more formal position on this abomination”
It’s further desecration of judiciary –Okei-Odumakin
The president of the Centre for Change, a rights group, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, described the development as an assault and desecration of the judiciary.
In a statement, she said: “The gangsteric conduct of the men said to be SSS operatives which led to the chasing away of the presiding judge, harassment of lawyers and journalists and manhandling of Sowore was a crude assault on the hallowed seat of justice and further desecration of our judiciary.
“Any society that tolerates this thuggish disposition of its security forces is lost beyond redemption.
“The only way the government can attempt to prove it does not sanction this bestial conduct is to fish out those responsible for this barbaric conduct and ensure the rule of law is followed in the case of Sowore.”
SSS a monster that may consume us all –CTA
The Centre for Transparency Advocacy condemned Sowore’s re-arrest by SSS inside the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The CTA, in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Faith Nwadishi, described Sowore’s arrest inside the courtroom as show of rascality and desecration of the judiciary.
The body called on the National Assembly to protect the rights of citizens and maintain the sanctity of the judiciary and the courts.
The statement reads in part: “The Centre for Transparency Advocacy condemns in totality, the sordid and nauseating arrest of Mr Sowore by the personnel of the Department of State Services (DSS) inside the courtroom where Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu was presiding.
“This commando style rascality by the DSS led the judge, lawyers and members of the public scampering for their dear lives. This is nothing but a desecration of the hallowed justice chamber and a disgrace to Nigeria as a nation. This is a drawback for our hard fought democracy and a clear slide into full dictatorship and anarchy.
“You may recall that Justice Ojukwu on Thursday, 4th of December, gave a clear ruling ordering the DSS to release Mr Sowore within 24 hours, an order the DSS carried out some hours after same day about 7.00 p.m., November 5, only to march back inside a courtroom to re-arrest Sowore today, Friday, 6 December.
“CTA, therefore, calls all men and women of goodwill and Nigerians to come together not only in condemning this uncalled-for act by the DSS but to call on the government and the National Assembly to protect the rights of citizens and maintain the sanctity of the judiciary and the courts. The DSS must be called to order now before it turns into a monster that may consume all of us.’’