Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court in Abuja, on Monday, recused himself from the fundamental rights suit filed by Sahara Reporters Publisher, Omoyele Sowore.
He made the decision during the hearing of the fundamental rights suit filed by the detained activist.
Mr Sowore had in his suit dated November 20 against the State Security Service (SSS) said that his continuous detention by the agency is illegal and violated his fundamental rights to liberty as guaranteed by Section 35 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Article 6 of African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act (CAP A10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
The Sahara Reporters publisher is asking the court to order the SSS to pay him N500 million as damages for his detention and violation of his fundamental rights.
“An order of this court compelling the respondents to pay to the applicant the sum of N500,000, 000, 00 ( Five hundred million naira) as general and aggravated damages for the illegal violation of the applicant’s fundamental right to life, dignity of his person, fair hearing, health, freedom of movement and freedom of association.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents from further violating the applicant’s fundamental rights in any manner whatsoever and however without lawful justification.”
Joined in the suit is the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
When the matter came up for hearing on Monday before the vacation judge, the court held that it cannot preside over the matter.
Justice Mohammed said the publisher had on two occasions accused him of receiving bribe in a certain matter.
“This applicant is the publisher of Sahara Reporters. Sometimes in 2016, the same outfit accused me of taking money in a matter to compromise the cause of justice and I returned the case file to the then chief judge,” he said.
The judge mentioned the intervention of two senior advocates in the matter, Rotimi Jacob and Joseph Daudu, who he said argued the case should not be reassigned and that the chief judge should return the file back to him.
“It was returned back to me and I continued with the matter,” he added.
Mr Mohammed said a similar incident occurred earlier this year.
“Again, this year around June again, the same paper accused me of taking money again on the same case. So I had to hands-off again and then it was reassigned to Justice Okon Abang, who is now handling the matter.
“The case may go either way. It may succeed. It may fail. If my orders are not favourable to him, it would be seen as vengeful or while proceedings are ongoing, applicants will be apprehensive about what judgment I would give,” the judge held.
Responding, Mr Sowore’s lead counsel, Femi Falana, said he was not aware of the alleged publications mentioned by the court. He cited the case of MKO Abiola where the Supreme Court disqualified eight justices from hearing any of the appeals arising from Mr Abiola’s case.
The senior lawyer said that the concord newspaper of which Mr Abiola was the publisher had written a story concerning the eight justices which had led to the institution of libel suits against the newspaper.
Mr Falana said the unanimous decision reached by the apex court held that those justices recuse themselves in the interest of justice.
He then asked that the judge recuse himself from Mr Sowore’s matter.
Mr Falana, however, added that his team had no cause to doubt the court.
On his part, the SSS lawyer, Godwin Agbadua, said he largely agreed with Mr Falana.
“I will not state a position whether or not my lord can hear it because it could be misconstrued to be the form of the agency trying to delay the matter,” he added.
The AGF’s lawyer, Abdullahi Abubakar, on his part, said, “In view of your lordship’s observation, the second defendant leaves the issue to the discretion of the court.”
In his short ruling on Monday, Mr Mohammed held that “Justice is rooted in confidence. That is to say none of the parties should have any fear that he will not get justice before any particular court. It is my belief that the only fair just and proper cause to take in the circumstance is to recuse myself from taking this matter.”
“Consequence of the above development, this matter is remitted back to the chief judge for reassignment to another judge,” he ruled.
Apart from this fundamental rights suit filed by Mr Sowore, he is also facing trial for treasonable felony after he organised a nationwide anti-government protest tagged #RevelutionNow.
Mr Sowore was arrested in August for planning the protest. The Buhari administration claimed the planned demonstration was a treasonable act because it was aimed at causing a regime change.
He denied the allegations, saying his campaign was to mobilise teeming Nigerian youth to denounce poverty, insecurity and other national challenges assailing the country.
Many Nigerians and lawyers have said that the SSS’ refusal to comply with the order effectively meant that Mr Sowore was being held in illegal captivity by state agents.
Following Mr Sowore’s initial arraignment in September, he was granted bail by the trial judge. But the SSS disregarded the order and the government filed charges against the Sahara Reporters’ publisher.
He was later released on December 4 based on a court directive but was rearrested the next day.
After his re-arrest on December 5, no new charges have been filed against Mr Sowore despite being questioned by the SSS for alleged links to outlawed groups in Nigeria.
No new charges have been filed against the activist since his new detention, which is in violation of Nigerian laws which allow a maximum of 48 hours for such detention.
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