The lawyer representing the detained publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, has reacted to a claim by the State Security Service (SSS) that it was not served with copies of the order directing the release of the publisher.
In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES Thursday evening, Mr Sowore’s lead counsel, Femi Falana, said he doubts that the statement made by the SSS spokesperson, Peter Afunaya, was authorised by the Director-General of the agency, Yusuf Bichi.
Mr Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, also said the SSS had a duty to comply, not only with this order, but also with all the orders made by courts of law in Nigeria.
The Punch Newspaper had reported a statement attributed to Mr Afunaya stating that the SSS was yet to receive the court order for Mr Sowore’s release.
“We have not received the court order. And his (Sowore’s) counsel is a very senior member of the bar and he knows the process to follow,” the paper quoted Mr Afunaya as saying.
In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Afunaya confirmed the Punch report. When asked again if it was true the agency had not received the order, he said: “No we haven’t, thank you.”
In his reaction, Mr Falana said he personally served the order and the notice of compliance by his client on the SSS.
“First of all, their lawyer was in court. And he heard the order when it was made. As a legal practitioner, he had an obligation to inform his client. Secondly, since Sowore was to be released to me, I have been going to the SSS office personally since Tuesday.
“We were not directed to serve them. But we did that for the avoidance of doubt. We submitted his passports, got the affidavit of compliance and I personally served them. I also sent the copies to the SSS DG through his phone line, because I have his personal phone line.
“We were there for hours. The head of the legal department pleaded with me to return today (Thursday). When I returned, they locked the SSS gates against me,” Mr Falana said.
The lawyer added that the information indicating compliance had been reported in both local and international media stressing that the least a truly law abiding institution would do in such circumstance was to send its lawyers to verify the reports.
“I’m not sure the person who is making this statement has the authorisation of his principals. We have filed the form 48 regarding the contempt of court. And in that form, the court order was also included.
“The SSS has a duty to comply with this order and not only this one, but every other order regarding the liberty of Nigerians, because this is a constitutional democracy,” Mr Falana said.
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court made the order for Mr Sowore’s release on September 24 after ruling that there was no legal basis for the continued detention of the defendant, since the SSS withdrew its application to extend the detention of Mr Sowore.
Following the failure of the SSS to comply with the order of court, Mr Falana’s chambers obtained a fresh order directing the secret police to release Mr Sowore or risk having its director-general in prison on Thursday.
Mr Sowore and another defendant, Olawale Bakare, are facing trial on seven counts, for alleged treasonable felony, fraud and cyberstalking among others.
Mr Sowore was arrested on August 3 and has been in detention since then.
There have been growing calls for his release, with local and international bodies condemning President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for the apparent disregard of court orders in Mr Sowore’s case and that of a former National Security Adviser, Samba Dasuki.