Sowore, Bakare’s journey to freedom
ON SATURDAY, August 3rd, 2019, seven men of the State Security Service (SSS) in an SUV, dressed in usual black on black discreetly stormed a hotel in Lagos in the middle of the night and abducted Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of Sahara Reporters and convener of the RevolutionNow protests.
In a video posted by Sahara TV on July 31st, 2019, the human rights activist was shown highlighting his reasons for coming up with the RevolutionNow protest bordering on human rights infringement, poor leadership and insecurity in Nigeria.
“Nigerians are frustrated, they are tired and they have reached a point of no return in terms of rejecting the lacklustre, mediocre, wicked, insensitive leadership in the country and the REVOLUTION has become inevitable,” he said in his characteristic fiery voice.
His proposed protest quickly gained public acceptance including support from Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, a radical musician, Eedirs AbdulKareem among others.
The Nigeria Police Force in an attempt to stop the proposed protest issued a press statement condemning it as an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected president which according to them is treasonable.
“The Force wishes to state unequivocally that the call amounts to treasonable felony and acts of terrorism and will therefore not stand idly by and watch any individual or group in the society causes anarchy in the land,” Frank Mba, the force’s spokesperson said in the statement.
PLANNED ‘‘REVOLUTION’’ MARCH, A TREASONABLE FELONY – IGP WARNS
The attention of the Nigeria Police Force has been drawn to a video circulating on the social media by the ‘Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria and others’, inciting Nigerians, home and abroad,
— Nigeria Police Force (@PoliceNG) August 3, 2019
It took the SSS two days before admitting that Sowore was in their custody after an outcry from the masses.
On Monday, August 5th, 2019, RevolutionNow protesters undeterred by the NPF statement staged protests in Lagos State.
Although reports stated that the protest was unable to hold due to police and military clamp down on some cities including Unity Fountain in Abuja and some places in Port Harcourt in Rivers state.
The Lagos RevolutionNow protest witnessed varieties of human right abuses bordering on brutality, illegal arrest among others as security agents were seen beating up and dispersing non-violent protesters infringing on the constitutional right of peaceful gathering.
On August 8, 2019, Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja granted the SSS a 45-day holding order against the activist.
Although the SSS had filed for a 90days holding order, the judge held that the order is only for 45 days which was renewable after it elapsed.
On September 8, 2019, the SSS arraigned Sowore in court on charges bordering on money laundering, treasonable felony and cyberstalking Nigeria President, Muhammadu Buhari.
On Friday, October 4th, 2019, a federal High court granted bail of 100 million naira to Sowore and Olawale Bakare aka Mandate but after fulfilling all bail conditions, the SSS refused to obey the court order. On December 5, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu ordered the Federal government to pay a fine of N100,000 to Sowore and Bakare for failing to comply with the bail order.
She said the trial would not commence if the SSS fail to release Sowore and Bakare within 24 hours, in compliance with Ojukwu’ order, the SSS released Sowore and Bakare on bail.
The Courtroom Show of Shame
Sowore and well-wishers celebrated his release from SSS custody after 124 days but little did they know the SSS had another plan.
On December 6, Justice Ojukwu adjourned the case to a later date but men of the SSS grabbed and held Sowore inside the courtroom in the presence of the judge who had granted him bail creating raucous in the courtroom.
Eventually, the SSS re-arrested the duo of Sowore and Bakare against the order of the court, an action that caused wide criticism of the Buhari administration on disregard for rule of law.
On December 24th, 2019, Sowore was finally released from illegal detention following the order of the Attorney General of the Federal (AGF) Abubakar Malami.
On February 12, Justice Ojukwu slammed another fine, this time, a sum of N200,000 against the SSS for delaying the trial of Sowore and Bakare and wasting the court’s time before she eventually struck out seven-count charges against Sowore and Bakare and amended the two-count charges presented by the prosecuting counsel.
Ojukwu further adjourned the case to March 11, 12 and 13 for definite trial.
A win for human rights
After more than six months of the clamped down on RevolutionNow protests in Lagos state, a federal high court sitting in the state has ordered the FG to pay a fine of one million naira to a Lagos-based lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje.
In the ruling delivered by Justice Maureen Onyetenu, he declared the disruption of the peaceful protest by the Nigerian Government through the police, as “illegal, oppressive, undemocratic and unconstitutional”.
The judge also condemned “the mass arrest, harassment, tear-gassing, and clamping into detention” of the protesters.
According to Ogungbeje, the disruption of the protest was a denial of his fundamental human right.
“I was tear-gassed by agents of the respondents and the peaceful protest was forcefully disrupted by the respondents.
“I have been denied my fundamental constitutional rights of peaceful assembly and association by the respondents without cause,” Ogungbeje said.
Apart from the N1m award, the court also ordered the Nigerian Government to tender a public apology to the applicant in three national daily newspapers.