In what appears alien to Nigeria’s recent history, the country on Friday witnessed an invasion of the Federal High Court in Abuja by officials of the State Security Service (SSS), in a bid to rearrest Omoyele Sowore.
“A warrant of arrest may be executed by any police officer at any time and in any place in any state other than the actual courtroom in which a court is sitting,” paragraph 2 of the section states.
Mr Sowore, whom Amnesty International described as a “prisoner of conscience”, was in SSS custody for 125 days, against two court orders granting him bail — first on September 24 and then October 18.
The SSS, which is domiciled under the office of the president, is a serial violator of court orders.
It has continued to detain a former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, and Shi’ite leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, despite court orders granting them bail.
Mr Sowore’s trial by the secret police began when he was arrested on August 3 for planning a nationwide #RevolutionNow protest, which was to demand better living for Nigerians.
While Mr Sowore was arrested before the protests were staged, unarmed protesters who carried on with the protest were repelled with force. Some were detained.
Mr Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, was charged alongside an activist, Olawale Bakare, for treasonable felony, fraud, cyber-stalking and abusing President Muhammadu Buhari.
The secret police said it sniffed a brewing plot to topple the government of President Buhari, although no weapon was found on Mr Sowore or any of the protesters.
With two court orders already flouted, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the federal high court again ordered that both defendants be released within 24 hours. She also fined the SSS N100,000.
The SSS obliged Mrs Ojukwu’s order. Messrs Sowore and Bakare were released Thursday night. But the former was violently apprehended Friday morning by armed officials of the SSS, some of whom went into the court premises.
The SSS spokesperson, Peter Afunnaya, has distanced his agency from any wrongdoing, saying Mr Sowore was mobbed by his “supporters” who were trying to shield him from “an imaginary arrest.”
Mr Afunnaya’s statement is at odds with what was witnessed by PREMIUM TIMES’ reporters and other witnesses who were at the court. They said armed agents invaded the court as the judge, lawyers and journalists scurried for cover.
Femi Falana, Mr Sowore’s lawyer, also said not only did the SSS invade the court premises, its official apologised to the high court judge, Ijeoma Ojukwu, afterwards.
Legal implication of SSS’ action
Ademola Owolabi, a legal expert, said that there was no time during the military era that court premises were ever invaded by law enforcement agents.
“What we have today has made Nigeria worse than all that Babangida did,” he submitted.
He added that the SSS needs to have a rethink on its operational strategy in handling Mr Sowore’s case as flouting the law is at best winking at anarchy.
“If the government chooses not to obey court orders, why will the citizens obey? And if we all choose to follow our government, then we will have anarchy.
“I think the present government is paranoid. It is afraid because it knows it has failed to deliver on its democratic promises. A settled government will be secured and as such, act with restraint and maturity. What we have today is a government acutely aware that it is unpopular, afraid and has therefore resorted to repression and stifling contrary voices. It has no respect for dissenting views. In the end, the strongest antidote against a revolution is good governance.”
For Mr Effiong, a counsel to Mr Sowore, those who invaded the court and carried out the illegal arrest should be punished in accordance with the law.
Axe SSS-DG, Nigerians call
The Director-General of the SSS, Yusuf Bichi, has come under fire since Friday. Many Nigerians, including the NBA and other human rights groups, have called on the president to sack the DG.
Mr Bichi’s predecessor, Lawal Daura, was sacked by the then acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, for ordering a siege to the National Assembly.
Many Nigerians have said the same punishment should be meted out on Mr Bichi.
Some activists, in fact, argued that the removal of the Director-General of the State Security Service (SSS) would position the current administration as one that upholds democratic ethos.
“So, what we expect is that he is relieved of that job, and that presupposes that the presidency itself and the president are opposed to these actions to the point that they regard these actions as despicable and not a characteristic of their own policy of governance,” Sam Amadi, a lawyer and activist, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Auwal Rafsanjani, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) said the DG should resign.
“He should honourably resign because he has brought shame not only to the institution but to the government itself. The whole international community is watching and will rate Nigeria in a bad way.
“It is very clear that the government does not know the repercussions of the actions they are taking because even during military regime, we did not see this barbaric act,” he said.
President Buhari, in a statement by his media aide, Garba Shehu, rallied behind the SSS actions, saying Mr Sowore’s revolution call deserves every repulsion possible.
Mr Shehu was evasive on whether or not President Muhammadu Buhari authorised the disobedience of court orders by the SSS in detaining Mr Sowore.
He also withheld comment on who authorised the invasion on Friday and whether or not the action was something the president was considering investigating.
“The DSS does not necessarily need the permission of the Presidency in all cases to carry out its essential responsibilities that are laid down in the Nigerian Constitution – which was the foundation for the restoration of democracy in our country in 1999,” the spokesperson said.
“However, it should not surprise anyone who has followed his actions and words that Sowore is a person of interest to the DSS. Mr Sowore is no ordinary citizen expressing his views freely on social media and the internet,” he added.
“Nigerians do not need another spate of lawlessness and loss of lives all in the name of ‘revolution’, especially not one that is orchestrated by a man who makes his home in faraway New York – and who can easily disappear and leave behind whatever instability he intends to cause, to wit, Nnamdi Kanu.”
Yusuf Akinpelu is PREMIUM TIMES' Head of Data Desk. Prior to this, he covered the National Assembly and fact-checked for Dubawa. He is a graduate of Statistics from the University of Ibadan. He has a penchant for books, debates, and wildlife.