In what it described as a “violation of the sanctity of the court”, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) on Saturday condemned the invasion of the Abuja high court and the rearrest of Sahara Reporters publisher, Omoyele Sowore, by officials of the State Security Service (SSS).
At least two Nigerian lawmakers have also condemned the rearrest of Mr Sowore.
Mr Sowore, who in August called for a nationwide #RevolutionNow protest to demand for a better Nigeria, had initially been held by the SSS for 125 days in spite of two court orders to release him. He was detained alongside a student and activist, Olawale Bakare.
The SSS finally released the duo December 4, after an express Abuja high court order for them to be released within 24 hours, only for the outfit, a secret security arm directly under the presidency, to rearrest Mr Sowore the next day having invaded the same court.
The NUJ in a statement shared with PREMIUM TIMES by its spokesperson, Usman Leman, condemned the SSS actions.
It called for disciplinary measures “against whosoever authorised that jungle behaviour of the DSS operatives and demand for an unqualified apology from the federal government for the dastardly conduct of the DSS and an assurance that such an unwholesome conduct will not repeat itself again.”
“We are afraid that such brazen acts only remind us of totalitarian regimes and not genuine democracies of which the Buhari administration prides itself on. We equally note with alarm that such lack of respect for the law is gradually pushing the country into implosion. It is however not too late to make amends.”
The union said it nurses the fear that its moves to foster the safety of journalists as well as building synergy with agents of the state has began to crumble as “brutalisation and impunity by security agents still pervade.”
It, therefore, said there is an urgent need to promote safety of journalists and fight impunity against them, “in order to create the enabling environment they require to optimally perform their fundamental functions in a democracy.”
In a recent global report by CIVICUS Monitor, Nigeria now ranks among countries with the second worst rating in terms of freedom of expression and free press.
The SSS in a statement by its spokesperson, Peter Afunnaya, Saturday denied any wrongdoing, accusing Mr Sowore’s supporters of “acting”.
However, PREMIUM TIMES’ reporters and other witnesses who were at the court said armed agents invaded the court as the judge, lawyers and journalists scurried for cover.
Nicholas Tofowomo, the senator representing Ondo South, in a statement on Saturday, condemned the re-arrest of Mr Sowore and the invasion of a courtroom as a “gross transgression on constitutionalism.”
Mr Sowore hails from Ese-Odo local government in Ondo State, which falls under Ondo South senatorial district.
”Sowore is my constituent and as much as I know, he is not a terrorist and does not have any criminal record in the past. The invasion of the courtroom to re-arrest him was unnecessary,” Mr Tofowomo said in a statement signed by his aide, Akinrinlola Olumide.
”I condemn the re-arrest of Mr. Omoyele Sowore by the personnel of the Department of State Services (DSS) inside the courtroom on Friday where Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu was presiding.
”The DSS should be more interested in proving the allegations they leveled against both of them. Whatever fresh charges could have been included through a mere application for amendment of their charge sheet before the court. They should allow the court to try Sowore and his co–defendant over allegations they leveled against them.”
Mr Tofowomo appealed to the SSS to change their approach and be more professional in the discharge of their duties “because power transcends from one political dispensation to the other.”
“I hereby demand the release of Sowore and Bakare forthwith. The DSS should know that our actions and inactions can determine our tomorrow.”
Another lawmaker, Akin Alabi, a House of Representatives member from Egbeda/Ona Ara federal constituency, Oyo State, in a tweet on Saturday described the SSS action as a desecration of the judiciary.
“The DSS will have to explain why Sowore was rearrested. And the reason has to be HUGE. We just debated on the floor yesterday about separation of powers but this is a desecration of the judiciary. No matter whose side you are on, this cannot be right in anyway,” the lawmaker wrote on Saturday.
Will the president axe?
When a similar siege was laid on the National Assembly by the SSS in 2018, the then acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, sacked the outfit’s DG, Lawal Daura.
With similar tape replaying itself this week, many Nigerians, including the NBA, have charged the president to mete out the same punishment on Mr Daura’s successor, Yusuf Bichi.
The presidency is, however, yet to speak on the actions of the SSS operatives.