The Federal Government, on Monday, slammed a seven-count charge bordering on treasonable felony against the convener of #RevolutionNow protests, Omoyele Sowore, before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Arraigned along with the former presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), is Mr Olawale Bakare.
While Sowore pleaded not guilty to the seven-count charge, Bakare also pleaded not guilty to the two-count charge against him in the charge sheet that was read out to them
In the seven-count charge preferred against them by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, through the Chief State Counsel, A. K Alilu, the publisher of Sahara reporter along with his co-defendant were accused of committing conspiracy to commit treasonable felony in breach of Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act Cap C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable the same section of the Act.
The prosecution also 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, on August 2019 in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, to stage the #RevolutionNow protest allegedly aimed at removing the President.
It also accused Sowore 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.”
It also accused 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.
Sowore and his co-defendant told the trial Judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu that they are not guilty in all the charges preferred against them by the federal government.
Earlier, the defendants, through their counsel, Olumide Fusika (SAN) objected to taking plea on the ground that they were not given access to their any of their counsel to discuss the charge sheet served on them.
Fusika told the court that the Department of State Security (DSS), which has held the first defendant since August 3, 2019, refused to release him, in spite of a court order to that effect.
He cited several cases to the effect that the DSS refused to obey the order of the court and that nobody, no matter how mighty is above the law and pointed out that the defendants cannot take their plea because they were denied access to their counsel to look at the charges preferred against them.
In his submission, the prosecution counsel, Hassan Liman (SAN) told the court that the order made by Justice Taiwo Taiwo on September 24 was made, pending arraignment of the defendants.
He said it is unfair for the defendants’ counsel to say he is not aware of the charge sheet served on the defendants and prayed the court to allow the defendants take their plea, as it will be a disservice to the administration of criminal justice to say that the defendants will not take their plea.
“The court of law is a very serious place of business and not where we play to the gallery and talking to the press”, Liman told the court.
In his response, Fusika argued that the defence counsel was denied interaction with the defendants since the charge was served on them, adding also that the DSS ought to have obeyed the order of the court before approaching the court for any benefit.
“When we served them with forms 48 and 49, they went to the press to say they will petition against the Judge before the NJC. It is not appropriate to say we are talking to the press.
“We were in their office, they did not tell us they will be arraigning the defendants in court today, we got to know of it on the pages of newspaper that they will be arraigned today,” the defence counsel stated.
After listening to the submissions of counsel, Justice Ojukwu ruled that there will be no breach if the defendants take their plea, adding that they have the right to change their plea if they so wish.
She said there is no impediment in the defendants taking their plea to the charges preferred against them and consequently ordered that the charges be read out to them.
She also adjourned the matter till October 4, 2019, and ordered that the defendants be remanded in the custody of the DSS.
Recall that Justice Taiwo Taiwo, who sat as a vacation judge, who earlier on August 8, granted the DSS permission to hold the activist for 45 days, had on September 24, granted him bail and despite meeting the bail condition on September 25, Sowore has not been released by the DSS, which, on August 3, 2019, arrested him for calling for a revolution through a protest scheduled to hold on August 5.
On August 8, Justice Taiwo Taiwo granted the DSS permission to hold the activist in custody for 45 days.
Barely 24 hours before the expiration of the 45 days period on September 21, the AGF office, on September 20, filed seven counts charge against the activist.
On September 24, upon a request by Sowore’s legal team led by Mr Femi Falana (SAN), Justice Taiwo granted bail to him with the sole condition that he deposit his passport in the court’s registry. He has since met the bail condition but the DSS has continued to hold him in custody their custody.