A former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, on Friday joined his voice with those of many other Nigerians in condemning the rearrest of Omoyele Sowore by officials of the State Security Service (SSS).
The officials of the agency rearrested the activist on the premises of the Federal High Court in Abuja a day after the SSS released him.
Mr Sowore and another activist Olawale Bakare, were released on Thursday night on the order of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu having spent 124 days in SSS custody. Officials of the SSS forced their way into the courtroom in their bid to rearrest him.
However, joining other Nigerians to condemn the development, Mr Abubakar who was the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general elections, described the incident as unfortunate and “a rape on the sanctity of the court.
“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,” Mr Abubakar said in a statement made available by his press office to PREMIUM TIMES Friday evening.
He called for sanction on those responsible for the court invasion and demanded the release of Mr Sowore alongside other detainees.
He also called on Nigerians to speak out in order to preserve the democracy of the country.
“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,” Mr Abubakar concluded.
In his reaction, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka likened the action of the SSS on Friday to a pack of wild dogs attacking their prey.
“I apologize for underestimating the DSS capacity for the unthinkable. I reiterate the nation’s concern, indeed alarm, about the escalating degradation of the judiciary through multiple means, of which disobedience of court orders is fast becoming the norm,” Mr Soyinka said.
In its reaction, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) “strongly condemned the violent re-arrest today of Omoyele Sowore and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare by officials of the State Security Service (SSS), and the apparent harassment and intimidation of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu.”
Reacting, SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said: “The appalling invasion of the courtroom and the ill-treatment of Sowore and Bakare is a blatant attack on the rule of law and the sanctity and integrity of our justice system. An independent judiciary, free from intimidation and harassment is a basic precondition to a functioning democracy under the rule of law.”
Similarly, a human rights and good governance advocacy initiative – Make A Difference (MAD), and the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), described the SSS action as a reminder of the dark era of military rule in the country.
MAD, in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Lemmy Ughegbe, recommended the boycott of all cases instituted by the SSS in all courts nationwide in protest of the invasion of the court.
“The gestapo invasion and desecration of the court by agents of the Department of State Security (DSS) is a sad and debasing testament of how deeply Nigeria and the people have retrogressed into darker ages worse even than the military era,” Mr Ughegbe wrote.
On its part, HURIWA urged “Nigerians to speak out and defend democracy before it is too late” and called on the “world leaders to save democracy from the imminent death.”
“The Gestapo invasion and desecration of the court by agents of the Department of State Security (DSS) is a sad and debasing testament of how deeply Nigeria and the people have retrogressed into darker ages worse even than the military era.
“I challenge the Chief Justice of Nigeria to order the courts nationwide to suspend hearings of all cases brought by DSS until the deviant organisation purges itself of its sins and complies with all orders of courts issued against it,” Mr Ughegbe wrote in anticipation of the presidency’s reaction.
In his comment on the video of the commotion in court, a public commentator, J.J Omojuwa (@Omojuwa), said: “If the DSS does something not sanctioned by the president, the head of the DSS gets fired or at least suspended. Any insanity displayed by the DSS that doesn’t result in the DG getting fired or sanctioned is backed by the president himself! It’s as simple as that.
“Any country where jungle justice is rampant, take a look at how the government of said country treats the rule of law. That’s where you find the answer for jungle justice.”
Other Nigerians also made comments on social media.
“Just seeing the videos of the Sowore re-arrest by the DSS in open court. To say I am shocked beyond words is an understatement. I am horrified. This is not just an affront to the judiciary, it is an assault on the Judiciary. The President Must intervene to #FreeSoworeNow” Yinka Ogunubi (@yinkaanubi) wrote on his wall.
Another twitter user, A Better Nation, challenged the main opposition party, PDP, to play its role well to galvanise resistance to human rights violation by the government.
“Is it that @OfficialPDPNig as the major opposition party cannot stand up and organise a resistance to this impunity going on so that citizens can have a strong platform to key into? Las las they are all in it together. It’s mind-boggling. #FreeSoworeNow – @chuks4uche commented.